Share Your Wisdom: Catherine Nguyen – St. Joseph Worker Program, Orange, CA

Catherine is one of five CVN Serving with Sisters Ambassadors – volunteers sharing the joy, energy, and fulfillment of serving alongside Catholic Sisters in CVN member programs, through creative reflection, conversation, and experience. This is her last post as her volunteer year comes to a close – thank you for following Catherine and her fellow Ambassadors over the course of their service year! 

All is Grace – The Gift of Presence

The photo is of the current St. Joseph Workers (in the back, from left to right – Katie, myself, Yadira, and Sarah), with (in the front) Sr. Joanna (program director), Fernanda (a 2016-2017 SJW), and Gena (a 2015-2016 SJW and current program manager).  We took this photo in October when we went to Northern California to visit the places where the CSJ sisters serve.   

As my service year comes to an end, I slowly realize how it will actually never end.  The spirit of the St. Joseph Worker Program, and all that I have received through it, has become a part of me that I will carry throughout my life.  Upon college graduation, our formal education in a school-setting ends, but the learning and growth in our area of expertise (and beyond) is a lifelong experience.  All of these moments are opportunities to explore the unknown and challenge ourselves to grow.  Thus, I am grateful for the experiences I have had in my year of service.  Whether it was a pleasant undertaking, or one that proved to be difficult and challenging, all is a grace from God and has helped transform me into the person I am today.  Through it all, this year has taught me to simply be present, and to embrace the present moment rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.  It is in being present to my journey and those I have been blessed to encounter, that I am able to soak in all the graces God pours upon me.  

During my year of service, I am blessed to have the opportunity to begin my days with Jesus in the Holy Celebration of the Mass.  It is in this celebration, particularly the Celebration of the Eucharist, that resonates with my own journey in the St. Joseph Worker Program.  In my day-to-day ministry, I work with small groups of students who need more one-on-one instruction because of their different learning styles.  I also watch over all of the students during lunch and recess times, coach Decathlon, and remind track runners of how powerful the human will is.  Now it can seem almost mundane, if only looked at only from the surface.

So too, before consecration, the host is merely a wafer – so simple and insignificant.  Yet it is in the consecration, that we pray the words that implore the Holy Spirit to come down to transform the “wafer” and “wine” into the Real Presence of Jesus – The Body and Blood of Christ.  And so I’ve learned…Though the works I do at St. Anne and in other program activities are not too difficult nor have a major impact on the world as a whole, I strive to offer all my students and the works entrusted to me to God, so that He may sanctify them and fill in where I am lacking.  This has taught me to be free to serve without being so concerned about the results of my works. After all, it is not my work, but God’s work.  So trusting Him, I have learned to love and care more about my students’ growth in character and as beloved Children of God, rather than results such as passing and temporal grades (though education and knowledge are important).

In a year of service, it can get to a point when I feel so burned out that I wish to reserve my energy and focus solely on my own needs.  It is in these sometimes too often moments when I feel out-of-touch with my dear neighbors – be it my students, those experiencing homelessness in our neighborhoods, or even my SJWP community.  However, looking at Jesus, I see that He, in the most loving and compassionate way possible, always made Himself available to those in need – from the lepers to the tax collectors, from the crowds of 5,000 to the one woman at the well. And He still does make Himself available, especially in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  He says, “This is my Body…”  so to remind me of His sacrificial love for His Universal Body – the Church – the dear neighbors that are my own brothers and sisters.  Jesus as well says, “This is my Body, which will be given up for you.”  Following His example and invitation, I too experience “giving up” myself.  From the external comforts of being home with my family, having a salary, and focusing solely on my own needs and ambitions, to the internal comforts of following my own will…this year of service has allowed and nurtured within myself a more compassionate presence – a presence to the needs of others, a presence that is simply open and available.

It is in being broken, that I am able to be given out to others.  Therefore, perfection is not my goal, but rather to love as Jesus loves.  Despite my weaknesses and faults, God can still somehow use me as an instrument of His love, peace, and joy.  Being with the students at St. Anne’s has proven the fact that I am no savior.  I cannot magically make their struggles disappear, be it academics or familial.  However, I can journey with them by simply listening and being available when they need me.  Despite being an instructional aide, the irony is, I have learned and received much more from the teachers and students at St. Anne’s than I have given. In and through their sharings, and even from their smiles, everyone brings to life Christ’s unconditional love to me. The students are the image of what Scripture refers to when calling us to be like children – so pure and totally trusting and dependent on God the Father.

The word Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving,” and to live a Eucharistic life means to live with gratitude.  This year of service has taught me to always be present, being aware and responsive to God’s invitations through my dear neighbors.  In knowing that God is in all persons and situations, I am grateful for all the experiences and the graces received this year. I pray that imitating Jesus in the Eucharist, I may continue to give myself to the Church and to my dear neighbors, even in the most simple form of presence.  

 Catherine, a current St. Joseph Worker, will be blogging about her service experience as part of our ongoing Serving with Sisters Ambassadors series. This series is sponsored by CVN’s From Service to Sisterhood Initiative, a project made possible thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

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