My service experience with the Augustinian Volunteers was really a journey to three different oceans. First, the Atlantic. Then the Pacific. Then the Atlantic again – but a different Atlantic than the one I’d left behind.
The journey began in August, after a week of orientation in sweltering Philadelphia with about two dozen volunteers. After so many icebreakers and formal activities, we were thrilled when the staff announced a surprise beach trip to the Jersey Shore. As soon as we parked the cars and got changed, we hurried to the water and played together under the bright sun. I cherished that day, especially the conversations with volunteers who I’d not previously had time to bond with. We all shared a delicious meal together that evening.
Two days later each volunteer community separated, travelling to five different cities across the US. My community – Emma, Mike, Sarah and I – arrived in Southern California on a late Monday afternoon. We’d heard from previous volunteers that our residence was close to the beach, but only when we dropped our bags and took our first community drive did we realize how close we lived. We parked and walked to the sea. A pink-gold sunset lit up the horizon. We scraped a giant heart into the sand, and placed our feet in the Pacific surf.
We returned to the sea often that Fall, and we enjoyed the seemingly invincible sunshine that maintained through September, October, November, and even December. The warmth and daylight were invigorating for those of us raised in the Northeast. We went to the sea with our program staff on site visits, with our worksite supervisors, with the other California AV community, and even made the sea part of our community prayer nights. I always felt lucky to be there, as if the Pacific lent my experience some of its depth.
Finally, at our mid-year retreat in January, all five communities gathered again at the small retreat house at the Jersey Shore. This time the sand and sea were joined by snow – and the ocean breeze became a snapping wind. And it was during that three days that we had the chance to re-join, and to reflect on the journey. In the dark, around the prayer candle, we remembered why we had volunteered in the first place – to light the fire inside.
I have always loved the quote by Albert Camus – “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
That is what I felt, and still feel – that faith is my invincible sunshine. Summer is fleeting, but the Spirit is forever. On the final, cold morning we celebrated Mass together in the retreat house living room. Fr. Joe Mostardi, OSA, the program’s founder, reminded us that like the three wise men, “We are strangers, travelling in a strange land.” The windy, lonely Atlantic beach certainly was a strange land. And that particular Eucharist was strange as well – with volunteers in pajamas seated in a circle of La-Z-Boys and desk chairs. Yet that Mass was like sunlight penetrating every flat cloud that day – and that memory still brightens my soul.
– Mike McCormick
1) What role does environment have upon your volunteer experience? How does the natural landscape affect your service, community, or ability to live simply?
2) What may be some sources of “hidden sunlight” in your current service experience?
3) What are the steps of your journey so far? What physical destination do you hope to reach by the end of your time? What spiritual destination?
Shared Visions is the result of a partnership between Catholic Volunteer Network and Catholic Apostolate Center.