In this annual series, current and former volunteers reflect on the Lenten Gospels and the Four Pillars of Faith-Based Service: Social Justice, Simplicity, Community and Spirituality.
Presented by Catholic Apostolate Center and Catholic Volunteer Network.
First Sunday of Lent Reflection By Anthony Russo, Jesuit Volunteer Corps
“It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:1-11)
I don’t like the word “normal.” Though often used innocently, it carries with it a mandate for a particular way of being. This mandate diminishes the beauty of our uniqueness as beings formed in God’s image and likeness. Standards of normality extend to many widely-held societal benchmarks and biases, such as the way we define success, or characterize the “other.” We are plagued in myriad ways through modern manifestations of Jesus’ third test, tempted by “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence.” Countless false gods of “normality” tempt us toward a life distant from our true vocation: service to God and neighbor, rooted in the type of inclusive, life-giving relationships into which God invites us.
During my year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, I worked at Civicorps, a high school diploma and job training program for 18-26 year-olds who dropped out of high school. I was the school’s liaison to a partnership with the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival. That fall, we put on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, and in the spring, worked with a playwright to create a modern rendition of Merchant based on students’ stories. There is a line from one student that has stuck with me in a particularly powerful way – “Our normal is something that shouldn’t be normal.”
Throughout my year with JVC, I was prompted to deconstruct many societal temptations of normality, both through my work and that of my other community-mates – the belief that that those experiencing homelessness deserve it based on bad choices they made, that those formerly incarcerated are not worthy of a second chance, or that healthcare is a right limited to those who can afford it.
Triune God, help us to remember that You created us in Your image and likeness, the image and likeness of life-giving relationality. In a culture that so often values the individual over the community, help us return to You this Lent, moving beyond ourselves and focusing more deeply on the needs of others. Enable us to embrace community as we engage the world in the fullness of its beauty, brokenness, and complexity, resisting easy answers and status quo standards of normality. And empower us with the faith and boldness to live a life of courageous public ministry, nourished by Your loving guidance and the love of those around us.
Focus on Community
A key to the strength to overcome temptation can be found in today’s Gospel. When read carefully, we see that Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the desert. He was not alone. The Spirit of God, our Triune God who exists in-relation, was with him. Community, to me, is the felt-sense of a God who exists in-relation. It is through authentic and meaningful relationships that we might come closer to seeing the world as God sees it. These communities support us in difficult times, and also challenge us to make decisions with the common good in mind.
Responding to a God in-relation beckons us to nurture radical relationality, near and far, as central to our life’s vocation. Through it, we might find the courage and strength to confront the temptations of our world, allowing us to move forward on our path of discipleship, committed to public service and ministry. This is the journey that Jesus himself began when he left the desert.
Rather than suggest a particular type of service this Lenten season, I’m offering a suggestion to engage in service, broadly understood, from a starting point of relationality. Let’s all try to invest more fully into our relationships and communities, through which we might come to feel and respond to the presence of God in a radical way this Lent. May we also seek to expand the network of communities in our lives, working to better understand realities outside of our own and challenge what counts as “normal.”
Anthony Russo, assistant dean for enrollment management at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, served as a Jesuit Volunteer from 2014-15. He served at Civicorps in Oakland, CA, a high school diploma and job training program for 18-26 year-olds who had dropped out of high school. Anthony is a graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and also holds two master’s from Boston College: a master of arts in higher education administration from the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, and a master of arts in theology and ministry from the School of Theology and Ministry.
Looking for more reflections like this one? We invite you to download our Lenten Reflection Guide in its entirety, available by clicking here. You can also find an extensive library of Lenten resources by visiting the Catholic Apostolate Center website – click here.