Throughout my studies at The Catholic University of America, I had the opportunity to witness and participate in the sacred traditions and rites of various religious orders I would never have encountered back at home. A great blessing of my place of study was the constant flux of various clergy, seminarians, and religious throughout campus who were undertaking a degree program or simply passing through campus in their respective ministries. God bless the Franciscans, Little Sisters of the Poor, Marians, Sisters of Life, Sisters Servants of Mary Immaculate, Pallottines, and the Missionaries of Charity, to name a few, who joyfully lived out their vocations—inspiring observers to get to know them and their spiritualties and facilitating an encounter with the Lord.
In God’s providence, I frequently found myself at the Dominican House of Studies at the far side of campus and was able to join the community of brothers and priests in their night prayers and certain liturgical celebrations which were open to the public. Personally, I found the house to be a commanding presence and a bit daunting on the inside: the intellectual prowess of the Order of Preachers and its faithful carrying out of its mandate to preach conveyed a certain spiritual seriousness which drew me in all the more. How striking were the resonating, unified, and almost haunting tones of the sacred chants of prayer, together with the corresponding gestures and postures and the dimmed lights! And yet, in wonderful moments of levity, the very same Dominicans could be found performing excellent bluegrass music as “The Hillbilly Thomists”!
Before Dominic’s mother conceived him, she dreamt a dog leapt from her womb and set the world on fire. Dominic went on to become a priest and ultimately founded the Order of Preachers—the Dominicans. The Dominicans rose to the forefront of the intellectual life of the Middle Ages as they announced the Gospel, combatted heresy, gave quality spiritual and scholastic instructions, and contributed unmatched gifts to schools of theology and philosophy. They are lovingly nicknamed “the hounds of the Lord.” The Order has raised up many saints and conferees who ministered to every corner of the world, advocating for the rights of Native Americans, standardizing the liturgy of the Mass, compiling the Church’s canonical laws, composing timeless sacred hymns, caring for the poor, advancing the correlation of faith and science, and promoting the holy Rosary. Western civilization owes a debt of gratitude for the contributions of Dominicans such as Saints Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Pope Pius V, Catherine of Siena, Rose of Lima, Louis de Montfort, and Martin de Porres.
Participating from time to time in the life of that religious community gave me a lovely insight into the incredible mysticism of the Order and of the Church Universal. Such a powerful instrument of personal and theological devotion is not the closely held property of one religious order or vocation, but a gift available to anyone who seeks to enhance their personal spirituality with deeply historic and touching methods. This involves realizing the soul as something more sacred than just consciousness; the soul is able to love which helps to better relate to God, who is Love incarnate, emotionally and ecstatically rather than merely intellectually. And you don’t need the philosophical and theological background of a Dominican to similarly enhance your own prayer life! You can begin by quietly placing yourself in the holy presence of God and focusing on the love He offers and the ways He is being loved (or not) in return. Going deeper, it could be beneficial to read the thoughts and reflections of various Dominican saints who embraced a similar spirituality.
How good God is to have called upon Saint Dominic hundreds of years ago to begin such an incredible religious order committed to promoting Truth and the mandate to praise, to bless, and to preach (In fact, that is one motto of the Order!).The work of the Dominicans is especially needed today in our society of moral relativism and secularism. Let us pray that many more answer God’s ongoing call for holy religious and priestly vocations. And may we, as lay people, continuously support the Church which offers so many varied spiritual treasures for our sanctification.
“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:25).
For about three months, culminating on Easter Sunday, I took part in a spiritual program for Catholic men focused on prayer, ascetism, and fraternity. During this program, men ‘unplug’ from the world, deny themselves, and live in a specifically intentional way for the Kingdom of God.
This journey requires men to participate in fraternity with other men, read Scripture and reflections each day, spend at least 30 minutes in prayer with the Blessed Sacrament, and then other things, including: no social media, no computer or phone if not for work or other mandatory tasks like paying bills, taking a cold shower every morning, no sweets, no snacking between meals, no alcohol, getting at least 7 hours of sleep each night, no watching sports, and fasting and abstaining from meat every Wednesday and Friday.
This is a journey through the Book of Exodus alongside Moses and the Israelites as they escape slavery in Egypt and learn how to live in true freedom in the Promised Land. The Book of Exodus is a brilliant metaphor for the modern man, called to a freedom rooted in the ability to choose the good for the sake of God and His Kingdom as opposed to a having a ‘false freedom’ and being a slave to desires and passions.
Receiving screen time reports on my iPhone each week made me realize how much of a slave I am to my cell phone – to social media, to sports, to instant gratification. I desired to free myself from my phone in a radical way, which this program helped me achieve. This is just one example of how this journey invited me to restructure my day and rid myself of lazy habits.
This journey was hard: the first few weeks were hard; the last few weeks were hard. I wasn’t perfect at maintaining all of the disciplines of the program. I can recall starting the cold water for the shower in the morning and letting it run for 5 minutes trying to pump myself up to jump in. This happened many times. But after 3 or 4 weeks, I was jumping right in. The old adage is true: First we make our habits, then our habits make us. The more we exercise true freedom – denying ourselves and making choices that counter our desire for comfort – the easier it is to live in freedom.
Feeling much more liberated, I still do not have any social media apps on my phone, I take a cold shower from time to time, and prayer time is a staple of my daily routine. Making these types of continued choices is not easy, and that is why participating in community with the Body of Christ – much like the disciples did— is essential to continued spiritual growth. Though each choice and discipline of this program is deeply personal, a community of like-minded men working through the same disciplines in their own right was a crucial element of this process. This community allowed me to give and receive motivation and encouragement and ensured that the disciplines were being completed in a physically and spiritually healthy way. This is why the Church, in her wisdom, has encouraged the formal development of many religious communities – such as the Dominicans, Franciscans, and Pallottines. I believe this is also why the Church today is stressing Collaboration and Co-Responsibility in ministry. The journey to heaven is not one that should be walked alone. I would encourage you, in whatever spiritual journey you undertake for God and his Kingdom, to do so in community.
Question for Reflection: Have you ever participated in a spiritual program, conference, or retreat that had a positive impact on your faith?
The candy has gone on sale, the post-Thanksgiving “leftover sandwich” has been eaten, but it’s not time to deck the halls just yet. As many prepare for the joyful season of Christmas, complete with mall Santas, holiday movies, and plans to celebrate the Nativity of Jesus Christ, the Church prepares during the season of Advent. This time isn’t just for buying gifts and putting up the tree, but to prepare ourselves spiritually for the coming of Christ. This season of preparation can be traced back to 4th century France, though the Advent we are familiar with can be traced back to Pope Gregory I and Rome in the 6th and 7th centuries.
Whereas Lent is a time of penance for Christians, Advent is a time of preparation and hope. Not only do we prepare for the birth of the Lord, but we also look to the Second Coming of Christ. The first coming of Jesus at Christmas opened the doors for our salvation and prefigures his Second Coming. It is because of this hope that Advent focuses on light and not darkness. This light can be symbolized in the Advent wreaths that adorn Churches and the houses of the faithful. The four candles represent the four weeks of Advent, three purple and one rose. The purple candles represent prayer and sacrifices that are undertaken in preparation for the coming of Christ. The rose candle, lit on Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent), is a symbol of rejoicing as the faithful have reached the midpoint of the season.
When we thank God for the forgiveness of our sins and for the chance to be with him for all eternity in Heaven, we often think of Easter, but Christmas is necessary in the plan for our salvation as well. Before Christ could suffer and die for us, achieving our redemption and the path for our salvation, he had to become man. What a gift this is! If you follow the Franciscan theology of the incarnation as proposed by Bl. Duns Scotus, Christ would’ve become man with or without the original sin of Adam and Eve, but his mission of salvation makes his Incarnation that much more special for us. As Pope Benedict XVI said at a General Audience, “[Bl. Duns Scotus] reaffirmed that the Incarnation is the greatest and most beautiful work of the entire history of salvation.”
Jesus, the God of all the universe, became man. But he did not just become a man—he became a vulnerable baby born in a manger. As we encounter him every time we partake in the Eucharist, let us pray and meditate upon the fact that God became vulnerable for us. God loved us so much that he became man. Years after his birth in a manger, he took on our sins so that we may be with him forever. Just as we prepare to receive him into our bodies when we receive the Eucharist, let us prepare to receive the Lord into the world this Advent and make ourselves more worthy of him.
Advent is our time to come closer to Christ, to meditate on how he is present in our lives, and to see how he has called us to live with our fellow man as we await his Second Coming. While prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are certainly emphasized during the season of Lent, they can also be integral parts to our preparation for Christmas. May we pray for Christ to be present in our lives and for us to do his will at all times; may we fast from the things that lead us away from him; and may we give alms to those who are less fortunate than us. In these ways we prepare for Christ during Advent as we await both his Nativity and his Second Coming.
Question for Reflection: What are some Advent traditions that have helped you prepare for the coming of Christ?
For more resources to help you throughout the Advent season, please click here.
“For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)
Frequently in the bible, we read that we are all members of one body, making up the church in our world. We must work as one body, sharing as one large group, the church. Although I’ve heard and read this teaching several times, for most of my life I still saw the church as a building. Sadly, this imagery left me with gaps in my understanding which impacted my spiritual life.
In Spanish, the word “compartir” means “to share.” One of the biggest impacts that mission and life in Bolivia has had on my spiritual life is the “compartir” culture. Not only do people share with their friends and the people they know well, but they share with everyone.
I am currently serving as an overseas lay missioner at the Universidad Academica Campesina-Carmen Pampa (UAC). So far in my time here in Carmen Pampa, Bolivia, I have witnessed everyday acts of sharing. People don’t always have much, but they are always happy to share what they do have. On campus, students have shared their snacks with me. A student invited me to his home to share about Bolivian culture with me. Whenever students attend events and are asked why they chose to come, the resounding answer is simple: “compartir.” Their desire is to share.
I learned a great lesson on what it means to share while on a recent trip to a local town with a group of students in Pastoral, the campus ministry group at the UAC. It was a day full of activities to get to know one another: we played games, shared in music, celebrated mass, and ate wonderful food. I had a great time and really got to know some of the students better. I was amazed by the way that everyone shared their time and energy, even when it would have been easier to let someone else take charge.
Because I was so amazed by all of the sharing, I was caught off-guard by a conversation that occurred a few days later at our Pastoral group meeting. The group leader asked each person to share a reflection about the trip.The first student to speak shared that she thought the trip had been “mas o menos”, “more or less.” I was a bit confused. As we continued around the circle, many people voiced similar thoughts. I was shocked that the trip I thought was so beautiful had left others feeling disappointed.
Then someone started to go deeper: the reason many people had felt a little discouraged was because during most of the trip, people had been in separate groups—one group working on the cooking, one group singing, one group playing soccer. We hadn’t truly been sharing as one.
I thought back to what was the most powerful part of the trip to me, and I realized that it had been in mass. The church was small and made of cement. It had plain, cracked windows, and we sat in red plastic chairs. But during mass, we had all come together as one group to share in praise to God, to share in the word of God, and to share in the Eucharist. It had been so powerful because we were all there as one.
I want you to close your eyes now and come up with an image of church. I’ll admit that every once in awhile, I’m still going to picture a building. This building may have the most pristine stained glass windows, with beautiful mahogany pews, and a perfectly polished tabernacle. But no matter how beautiful the building may be, this image still leaves gaps. Because no matter how many people are packed in that church, there are still hollow spaces when it is just a building.
Like Jesus taught us, we are the church. As the church, it is our mission to act as the body of Christ here on earth. The truth is that we aren’t truly acting as the hands and feet of Christ until we use those limbs to reach out and share. And reaching out isn’t a task we were made to do on our own. Christ’s body was made to work as one unit. When we spread the gift of sharing as one people, we begin to fill voids.
The desire of my students to share and to work together as one community and one body has been such a powerful experience. I am still learning what it means to truly “compartir” each and every day. I’m learning how to see myself as a part of a larger, complete body. In embracing this life of sharing, I have found myself more deeply appreciating my time with others, as a part of God’s church, and so becoming closer to Him and to His people.
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published through the Catholic Volunteer Network in May 2018. It has been reposted with permission.
Magdalene Van Roekel is a volunteer with Franciscan Mission Service
Dear future volunteer,
Each time I revisit the Ascension stories in the Gospels, I find numerous points that relate to mission and service. Throughout my own time on mission in Jamaica, I see similarities between these verses and my challenges and blessings in a daily life of service. I hope to offer encouragement to you, future volunteer, as you research and discern the many opportunities for service available to you.
“He rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart…” (Mark 16:14)
My strongest prompt to mission came as I reflected on a painting of St. Francis gazing at the cross and being told to rebuild the church. The question written with the painting asked, “Am I willing to do God’s will?” For many years, I have read, heard, and tried to practice in small ways, the example of Jesus doing the “will of my Father,” and loving others as God loves me. Now I felt that God had put the nudge toward mission into my heart. Two years of overseas mission service seemed like a very big step into the unknown but I had the stories of Francis and many others as examples, and I felt that if I said “Yes,” God would enable me to shed my worries and, thus, soften my heart and make more room for his Grace! Future volunteer, God will do the same for you.
Mission has taught me to expect the unexpected and to trust in God’s plan. Though I was open to other ministries, there was a pretty high expectation at my future mission site that I would be helping in schools, and that is exactly where I found myself. My first classroom was noisy, chaotic, cramped, and undersupplied, but I found that I had the most difficulty countering the common teaching approaches, which I perceived as overly physical and sometimes belligerent. During the first days and weeks, it was very easy for me to get caught up in the prevalent practice of shouting, derision, and physically putting someone into their chair or the corner. I didn’t like myself doing that. Continually, readings in the Franciscan prayer book kept telling me that Peace IS the path. One time, a student told me that he didn’t like me putting him into his seat. The next day, I got down to his eye level and apologized to him. He listened, we hugged, and I felt that I was on my way toward a better practice. Future volunteer, are you ready to be stretched and molded according to God’s will?
“The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had ordered them.” (Matthew 28:16)
I always notice the number eleven here; it is a particular mention to the fact that someone is missing. Dear future volunteer, are you worried about leaving your loved ones to do service? There are times when I am missing someone familiar from my table. It is different people at different times and my heart misses them. The last phrase—”to which Jesus had ordered them”—strikes me as being particularly relevant to mission and service. What are Jesus’ orders? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, go and make disciples of all nations. Mission is an opportunity to do just that. My heart believes that God does and will take care of me while on mission, and the Almighty and Universal God is also able to care for my loved ones even when they are on a different continent!
“He led them out to Bethany...They did him homage and then returned to Jerusalem with great joy and they were continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:50-53)
Dear future volunteer, as you discern your service, there is great help to be found in being “continually in the temple praising God.” I couldn’t have made my decision for mission without some serious prayer and reflection. The question of “Is this really God’s will?” was a focus for my Lenten prayer before I began my time of service. Contemplative silence and guidance from trusted friends helped me to find peace in the answer to that prayer. This ending of Luke’s Gospel account shows the disciples returning to the Temple, and I have reflected on how this seems to be the strength they needed before departing to their ministries that are recounted in Acts.
“Jesus came and stood in their midst and said, ‘Peace be with you.’” (John 20:19; 21:22)
Ahhh, my prayers were voiced and answered; my heart found peace, and my decision for mission was made. In John’s Gospel, Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit upon the disciples. In the next chapter, I see another of my tendencies: my desire to get a quick summation of God’s plan. Peter wants to know about the future for the Beloved disciple…(nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and he is gently reminded by Jesus, “What concern is it of yours? You follow me.”
The disciples encounter the resurrected Jesus in their everyday lives while fishing, walking, eating, and interacting with others. As my mission time unfolds, I also see Jesus in everyday life.
I see him in the faith voiced in the locals that I meet and in new forms of singing and praise. I feel discouragement at the discrepancy of incomes and lack of faith just as Jesus felt while gazing at Jerusalem. I marvel to see God’s hand in creation as I walk by household gardens or explore the hills. And, like the disciples, I see Jesus working through me, giving me a stronger dependence on prayer as I realize that I will not be able to fix systemic problems, and a stronger sense of humility as I realize that I am an outsider here, but I truly have been sent by God.
Jesus ascended and asked his disciples to go and teach all nations. Mission service makes us a viable part of that eternal and mystical plan. Jesus may have disappeared into the clouds, but we are able to make his presence real today.
I really think that He was having a good chuckle as He ascended. He knew how much mission would change us!
Dear future volunteer, are you ready to be changed?
To learn more about service opportunities through Franciscan Mission Service, please click here.
This reflection was originally published on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog and was posted with permission.
Janice Smullen is a recently returned missioner with Franciscan Mission Service. She most recently served in Kingston, Jamaica.
Editor’s Note: In the well known Franciscan Peace Prayer, each line contains an invitation to let go of a particular stumbling block in order to receive the grace offered in its absence.
For Franciscans and non-Franciscans alike, the Peace Prayer is often a source of comfort. It’s a prayer for the strength to become an “instrument of peace.” When looked at closer, the prayer is an invitation to let go. Each line presents an obstacle towards God and towards love. When we are full of doubt, it is harder to have faith. When we are weighed down by sadness, joy can seem like a distant and unattainable concept.
However, at the same time, each line immediately reveals what is possible if we let go of these same obstacles. When we let go of hatred, we can sow love. If we let go of despair, then we can find hope.
Thankfully, the prayer shows us that too. Though poetic, it is appropriate that this set of words is recognized as a prayer, not a poem. The words acknowledge the difficulty of the proposition behind them.
Let go of hatred. As we know, it’s not that easy. It’s not supposed to be. Alone, we couldn’t possibly let go of all of these things in order to find and promote peace. It’s no coincidence, then, that the very first word is “Lord.” Immediately, all the subsequent words are directed towards God.
The next stanzas provide the “how” to the “what” question. In order to let go of these stumbling blocks, we have to let go of ourselves in a sense. We have to let go of the idea that we are the center of the universe and the idea that our own needs and desires are always of paramount importance.
The second stanza is the “how.” We must recognize that there are in fact other humans in this world and they deserve as much attention and respect as we ourselves do. Therefore, we should never “so much seek to be consoled as to console.”
The final stanza, then, is the “why.” What is the purpose of all this? In short – eternal life. Ultimate peace with God. We have to re-orient our gaze towards God. When we do this, our vision isn’t narrowed or restricted. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. When we re-focus, we see the world around us and the people in it. Pursuing eternal life with God doesn’t mean ignoring that there are other people in the world, denying the world around us, and spending all day every day in prayer. The people around us are our opportunities to grow closer to God while on earth. Through these interactions, we are filled. For, “it is in giving that we receive.” When we give of ourselves to others, we become filled.
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
Reflection Question: Which line of this prayer stands out to you? Why do you think that is?
*This post was originally published on the Franciscan Mission Service blog on March 13, 2016 and has been reposted with permission.
It was the Second Vatican Council which decreed, "From the very beginning of the church men and women have set about following Christ with greater freedom and imitating him more closely through the practice of the evangelical counsels, each in their own way leading a life dedicated to God." It is on this observation that I write in commemoration of the close of the Year of Consecrated Life, which Pope Francis inaugurated on November 30, 2014 (the First Sunday of Advent) and concluded on February 2, 2016 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple). Addressing all consecrated people in an Apostolic Letter, His Holiness expressed three aims for this great year: first, “to look to the past with gratitude;” second, “to live the present with passion;” and third, “to embrace the future with hope.” Similarly, he called upon the laity, “who share with them the same ideals, spirit and mission,” and the whole Christian people to become more aware of the gift of consecrated men and women, “heirs of the great saints who have written the history of Christianity.”
Growing up, I was blessed to have been taught, mentored, and befriended by a number of consecrated religious, namely the Sisters of the Resurrection and the Lasallian Brothers. When I arrived at The Catholic University of America, however, my exposure to consecrated religious expanded to include the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), the Order of Preachers (Dominicans), the Little Sisters of the Poor, the Servant Sisters of Mary Immaculate, and the Pallottines (and their Apostolate Center!), to name a few! As I got to know each of them, I became more aware of the joy and the grace inherent of their living out their respective Order’s charisms and spirituality, be they involving education, service, contemplative prayer, or dogmatic theology. In spite of the differences between each order and the varying reasons each member had for professing, there remains one commonality: desiring to follow Christ and seeking to imitate Him more closely in a life dedicated to God. Of course, there are many ways of doing this— each religious order accomplishes this in accord with its unique spiritual character and gifts— as St. Vincent Pallotti encouraged, “Seek God and you will find God. Seek God in all things and you will find God in all things. Seek God always and you will always find God.”
How one discerns entering religious life does not mean one has to force a change in his or her lifestyle; rather, it an acceptance of who one is and surrendering that to the God so loved since Baptism, thereby consecrating him or herself “more intimately to God’s service and to the good of the Church” (CCC 931). In my own discernment, I have found great relief in this understanding— that I can give myself to God as I am in love and He will help me to focus and purify that love in my heart which is to radiate from every action of Christian living. Similarly, the famed Trappist monk Thomas Merton expressed the relationship between discernment and the discerner:
Discerning vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
As the Year of Consecrated Life concludes, let us remember that it concerns not only consecrated persons but the entire Church! Where would the Church be without the examples set by Saints Francis and Augustine, Ignatius and Dominic, or Vincent Pallotti and (soon-to-be-Saint) Mother Teresa and repeated in their respective Orders? The Church would no doubt be less effective in its charity and evangelization, as Blessed Pope Paul VI observed, “the ‘salt’ of faith would lose its savour in a world undergoing secularization.” Let us then respond to Pope Francis’s call to give thanks for the incredible work done by religious around the world and for their fidelity to their respective charisms while seeking to draw close to them in times of joy and trial and assisting them in their holy endeavors. Finally, let us continue to pray for God to send more numerous vocations among their ranks: may their discernments be a model for our own, that we may echo the words of the great Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, “At last I have found my vocation: My vocation is love.”
I believe that my two years of service had a 100% direct impact on my discernment process and decision to enter the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, more commonly known as the Salesian Sisters of St. John Bosco or just the Salesian Sisters. In fact, I would go so far as to say that God sent me to volunteer at this particular High School to reveal my vocation.
I wanted to do a year of volunteer service right out of high school, but did not have the opportunity to do so. I learned that I found great joy in serving others through my social outreach group in high school and had a strong desire to give more time, energy, and direct focus to volunteering.
Come April of my senior year in college, I found myself without a plan for the following year and the idea of doing a year of service re-entered my mind. I visited theCatholic Volunteer Network website and found the online RESPONSE directory,which helped me to narrow down my search to the type of program I was interested in with the type of support that I needed.
This is where I learned about the Cristo Rey Network of schools and truly the next chapter of my life began.
The Cristo Rey Network is a high school model that offers low income families the opportunity to send their students to Catholic college prep high schools. How is this possible when most Catholic high schools are quite expensive, you might ask. The school partners with local corporate businesses, organizations, universities, hospitals, law firms etc where the students will work five days out of the month to offset their tuition cost. (Click here to learn more and see me in my classroom at minute 4:37.)
It took a leap of faith to go to Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School (DBCR) in Washington, D.C. because I would be joining the Salesian Domestic Volunteers (now called Salesian Home Missioners) in their first year as a volunteer program and I would also be the only volunteer placed at DBCR. I was going to be a pioneer both in my volunteer program and placement in the school. DBCR was also only in its fourth year of existence and still responding to the challenges of being in the “start up” period. It would be two years of learning and growing for all of us.
During my first year of service at Don Bosco Cristo Rey High School I worked in the Youth Ministry and Faith Formation Department while also teaching two sections of junior theology. In my second year I taught a full course load, five sections, split between freshmen and junior theology as well as assisting the youth ministry team.
Within those classrooms and the small youth ministry office God called me to be a Salesian Sister. I learned a lot from working side by side with Fr. Abraham Feliciano, SDB (Salesians of Don Bosco). In him, I witnessed the everyday charism of the Salesians and joyful service to the young who are most in need. Fr. Abe loved those students with his whole heart and they knew it. They knew that they could rely on him to crack a joke and brighten their day or that they could come to him with serious problems and he would lead them to Jesus.
I learned that the heart of the Salesian charism is a daily encounter with Christ in and through our students and hopefully reciprocated as we open ourselves to be an image of Christ for them. I spent countless afternoons in that youth ministry office, surrounded by young people, laughing so hard I thought I would burst! I also learned how to be with them in and through the struggles they encountered in their daily lives. (Click here to see the class of 2014 reading excepts from MLK Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. These are some of the many students who have overcome great challenges in their live and that I had the privilege to see Christ in everyday. )
While working with these students, I lived in community with volunteers from several different programs. We were a mixed bag of Franciscans, Salesians (that’s me!), Columbans, and volunteers from the Catholic Volunteer Network. Over the course of my two years there we ranged from a community as small as four to as large as nine.
The Franciscan style of living in community is simplicity. On an economic level, we made do with all second hand furniture and shopped frugally for our needs. We usually did not buy Ziploc bags, for instance, because we could reuse Tupperware containers instead. As a part of my volunteer program, I did not have a car but I received a stipend each month for food and transportation.
On the community level, simplicity meant that we relied on each other. Sometimes that took the form of practical matters, such as grocery shopping or mopping up a flood in the basement. Other times it took a more personal form as we relied on one another for support and friendship. Now that I am living in community with the Salesian Sisters, I look back on my time in community as a formative period. In learning how to live with different people of various personalities, I learned how to recognize the gifts that all members can bring to community and I was able to learn more about myself as well.
As my two years of volunteering came to a close, I decided to stay and accepted a full time paid teaching position at DBCR. But I had an inclination, even then, that God was calling me to something more, something deeper. God had gifted me with two wonderful and difficult years at the service of a school and students truly in need. But His ultimate goal was not for me to stay at one school and with one group of students, He wanted to expand my horizons of service and the dimensions of my heart. I had the opportunity, while Fr. Abe was at DBCR, to attend daily Mass in our school chapel. This daily encounter with Christ in the Eucharist helped me to see Christ every day in the young people and opened my heart for the possibility of deeper relationship with Him.
When the Salesian Sisters came for our vocations assembly I heard God’s voice speaking directly to me saying, “This is it!” I must be honest, my first reaction was irritation. “Oh very funny God! Here I am sitting through the same vocation talk presented to all five of my Theology classes. Aren’t you supposed to be speaking to the students right now?! Leave me alone!” But because our God is good and patient, He didn’t leave me alone. After three years in Washington, D.C., He called me to move to New Jersey where the formation house of the Salesian Sisters is located.
It took some convincing on God’s part to show me that it was not just DBCR where He wanted me to serve, but anywhere the Salesians are and with all young people tho whom He might send to me. The Salesian Sisters dedicate their whole selves to God in the service of young people through education, parish catechism, youth centers, and anywhere young people may be found. St. John Bosco and St. Mary Mazzarello (our founders) shared the joy of Christ with every young person they met providing for them a home to feel welcome, a school to prepare them for life, a Church to evangelize, and a playground for them to make friends and have fun!
For me, what started as just a year of service post college opened the doors of my heart for Christ to call me to my life’s vocation. I am now half way through my first year of formation and if I had to identify one overriding emotion, it would be deep a sense of peace.
For more information on vocations, be sure to check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Vocational Discernment Resources
Kelly Schuster is a former Salesian Home Missioner and is currently an Aspirant with the Salesian Sisters
This post was originally written and posted on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog.
For more Catholic Volunteer Blog Posts please visit the CVN Blog Page.
The Catholic Apostolate Center is proud to partner with the Catholic Volunteer Network by developing faith formation resources for volunteers and alumni, assisting in its efforts to provide and advocate for faith-based volunteerism and collaborate in many additional ways.
It certainly surprised me to find out that one of Christianity's most popular saints never actually said this, nor did he write the "Make me an instrument of Your peace" prayer! While these often-used quotes are very much in the spirit of St. Francis, the sentiment was likely inspired by a line from the Franciscan Rule, in which he said, "Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds."
We all know St. Francis as the saint of simplicity, of appreciation for God's creation, and, of course, preaching to the birds. He was known in his lifetime as a man of great poverty, giving up all that he owned for the poor. In fact, as a young man, he stripped off his clothes in the middle of Assisi and renounced all worldly possessions, including his inheritance from his father. From that point on, Francis spent his life in service to the Gospel and God's people, spreading the message of Christ by the way he lived his life and interacted with others.
It comes as no surprise, then, that our current Pope, a Jesuit, made a nod to this charism of simplicity and authenticity in choosing the name of Francis. It is, I believe, a stark reminder to the Church universal of exactly what the New Evangelization is all about: encountering Christ in our everyday lives and bringing Him to the world in the simplest ways possible. There is no better delivery of the Gospel than to treat every person we meet with simple Christian charity, as though he or she were Christ Himself. We are, after all, made in His very image and likeness!
Two years ago while on pilgrimage to Rome, I had the great blessing of taking a day trip to Assisi. Many of us have heard the story of the San Damiano Cross, through which Francis heard the Lord say, "Rebuild my church, which as you see has fallen into ruin." Spending a day of prayer before that same cross, walking the hilly streets Francis traversed so many times in his life, and praying in the Porziuncola (the chapel Francis built with his own two hands), was like a step right into the life of the Saint. It inspired me in a very profound way to always remember that the goal of our faith is quite simple. If we live our lives with true authenticity to the Gospel, we rarely have need for words.
Looking, then, to the example of Pope Francis and his namesake, today's Feast reminds us to live our faith simply, to find God in the simplicity of nature, the beauty of His creation, and in the face of each person we meet. It is how Christ lived his life, and how we are called to live ours. With that reminder, may we all be the instrument of His peace that our world so desperately needs us to be.
Jay Schaefer is the Webinar Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center.
This new pope literally had me at “hello” — unimposing, humble hand wave from the balcony and all. And this humble legacy continues; Pope Francis is turning heads left and right of both the “left” and “right,” consistently shunning the traditional trappings the papacy has offered for hundreds of years. His latest press-stunner: he will not be sleeping in the papal apartments of the Apostolic Palace, but rather in the Vatican guesthouse—a less luxurious living arrangement that puts him in community with those who will be working with and for him. As a Catholic, I’m shocked and amazed. As a Franciscan (and a Capuchin to boot!) I’m humbled and inspired. “He’s out-Franciscan-ing the Franciscans!” I’ve heard people say. And I must agree. This new pope is certainly living up to his namesake—trading the regality and legality of the position and opting for, in my opinion, something a little more expected of a “servant of servants.”
Fortunately for us “fledgling Franciscans” in studies, we are being given a great example from our new leader. I’m not lying when I say that this pope has made me reflect on my own life of simplicity and ask some tough questions that I can’t necessarily provide ready answers for at the moment. This is how I know when someone is dripping with authenticity: when the example they give calls my own integrity into question. I just didn’t think it would be a Jesuit that would do it!
I have to remind myself that while this pope chose the name Francis (and is living up to the title!), his colors as a Jesuit are shining more true than ever. My experiences with Jesuits are limited, but what I have experienced has been nothing short of impressive. The Jesuits of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia heard my confessions as a bright-eyed Capuchin postulant with utter compassion and sensitivity. The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, Ohio have led myself and thousands of others on spiritual journeys through retreats and programs—sharing with the Church the wealth of Jesuit spirituality and discernment. My uncles and cousins who were educated by them in Toledo, Ohio boast of their Jesuit education with a glowing pride, as I’m sure others can attest to throughout the United States in the plethora of Jesuit institutions of learning. Their missionary zeal speaks for itself in their martyrology. It’s a life given over in love for the sake of the people. Needless to say, these men are made of the stuff of saints—and I constantly remind myself that I’m selling this guy short when I boast of his Franciscan spirit and put aside his life-long service and evangelical influence as a faithful Jesuit.
Our new pope bears the name Francis, loves the poor, lives simply and humbly, and upholds the teachings of the Church—and every one of these decisions of his grow fruitfully, no doubt, from a life given to Christ and His Church in the Jesuit tradition. This pope has, ironically, helped me realize less of what separates Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola and more of what they have in common: a burning desire to serve the poor of this world in charity and humility. Who could have figured that it would take a Jesuit to show me how to be a real Franciscan!
Brother Brian Stacy, O.F.M. Cap. is a Capuchin Franciscan from the St. Augustine Province and is currently studying at The Catholic University of America.