Who Is My Neighbor?

Driving cross country from California to New Jersey gave me a lot of time to reflect on my past two years as a Dominican Volunteer. I have seen and learned more than I ever imagined possible. I know I am a different person than I was two years ago, even one year ago when I began my second service year.

Elizabeth, my fellow Dominican Volunteer, and I had the honor of celebrating Sr. Christina Heltsley’s 40th Jubilee at the Sinsanawa Mound (the Sinsanawa Dominican Sister’s Motherhouse). It was a weekend-long celebration rooted deep in Dominican.

The gospel that weekend was that of the Good Samaritan. Sr. Marilyn Durr,  who ministers and lives at House of Connections with Dominican Volunteers in Chicago, offered a reflection before Mass. Sr. Marilyn was also celebrating her 50th jubilee. There was one line that stuck out to me and played over and over in my head: “Who have you been a neighbor to?” While this question was penned toward the other jubilarians, I felt it was being offered to me as a point of reflection for my time as a Dominican Volunteer. I did something I never do and turned on my phone in church to write the line down in my notes, afraid I would lose the line in the hustle and bustle of the celebration.

The question came back to me on our closing retreat a few days later. One of our reflections asked us to create a shield of things that represented our time in DVUSA. I sat there for a long time not sure what I wanted to put down, but the one thing that kept coming back to me was all of the folks who had been neighbor to me and I to them.

I thank the students, faculty, and staff whom I interacted with during my time in the Dominican Youth Movement who were my neighbor.

I thank the students and mothers of Holy Family School who were neighbors to us, welcoming us into their community, homes, and lives.

An illustration Sean gifted to Sr. Christina at the end of the year, by artist Paulby Kim.

I thank Sr. Christina Heltsley who opened up Casa Alianza to Elizabeth and I this year. Sr. Christina created a warm and playful space that allowed us to live in community with each other.

The Dominican Volunteer year ended with mass at the Racine Dominican’s Motherhouse. This week’s gospel was again from Luke. It told the story of Mary and Martha and their interactions with Jesus. The priest offered a very different interpretation of the Gospel. One that emphasized the importance of Mary’s work, but highlighted Martha’s role in the early church. Father said that Martha was the first Christian, in the sense that she was offering hospitality to all whom she encountered. Her hospitality laid out what we are called to do as Christians – to show the same love we want for ourselves to others. Father went on to say that the time we spend at mass is the root of our faith, but it is what we do after we leave the doors of the church that is most important. My time in DVUSA could be seen as a parallel to the time we spend in church. Now, what am I going to do now that I am leaving church and returning to the world?

How will I show my hospitality, and who will I be neighbor to? I await the challenge the world and the creator lays in front of me.  I am reminded of a phrase my mom says when something in life changes, “Man plans, God laughs.” My time in DVUSA changed my career trajectory. When I graduated in 2017, I had hopes of completing my first volunteer year and returning to New Jersey to pursue a job in the design field. Now, I have plans to return to school to receive a degree in art education. Without the volunteer experience I never would have known this was something I was called to.

Special thanks to Sean for sharing his service journey with our CVN community this year as a Serving with Sisters Contributor. 

Sean Puzzo is a volunteer with Dominican Volunteers USA and a CVN Serving with Sisters Contributor. This blog series is sponsored by our VOCARE Initiative, thanks to the support of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. 

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