Advent: Week 4

by Admin / 20. December 2011 03:47

Recently, my wife and I were walking around a Costco in San Diego, and to our amazement the store was bombarded with everything Christmas. It seems like every year Christmas décor and bargain sales start earlier than the previous year, and because of that Advent becomes one of the most underrated seasons in the life of the Church. That’s a pity because the importance of Advent calls us to focus our intentions and actions in order to prepare for and celebrate His coming at Christmas and beyond.

The season of Advent marks a key moment in the life of the Church. Advent begins the Church’s year and marks the period when we begin to look forward to the coming of Christ once more in our lives. This impending visit by Jesus invites us to take seriously the call by Isaiah to “prepare the way” by reflecting on the past, praying in the present, and hoping for the future. Life as an Augustinian Volunteer calls all of us to participate in that preparation in real ways. And so, I would like to take some time and reflect on the ways in which we have prepared ourselves for what we have already experienced, as well as what is to come in the remaining months of the volunteer year.

Prepare your mind. Even before arriving to AV orientation, you have been preparing for this volunteer year. Whether that is at a logistical, emotional, mental, or spiritual level, preparation was vital for your arrival. You left your family, friends, and comfort zone to embark on an adventure open to mystery. Your life has led you to this point. The choices you have made, the prayers you have prayed, and your trust in God has called each and every one of you to where you are. This preparation is crucial to the life of the Augustinian Volunteer because through it, each volunteer commits himself/herself to the mission of the program fully. But your preparation doesn’t stop there.

Prepare your heart. Besides the logistical and psychological preparation, there is also a need for a preparation of your heart. Jesus meets us where we are and that is most commonly in the people we interact with on a daily basis. Thus, by living as an Augustinian Volunteer you are embodying the preparation needed for Christmas.  Jesus is in your community members, He is in your co-workers, He is in the friars, He is in your neighbor. And because of that, the heart needs time to prepare for all that will be experienced. You have already had great experiences of joy as well as challenges, and these will continue throughout the year. What is important is how we receive these experiences. Is your heart open to where God is leading you? Advent calls us to embark on this road of preparation in order that we may see Christ in others and welcome them into our heart. And yet, there is still more preparation needed.

Prepare your spirit. By preparing your mind and heart, you have allowed yourself to take seriously the call as an Augustinian Volunteer to live faith-filled lives in community and for others. But all of this aims at something more: growing intimately closer to God and bringing others with you. If all we did was show up and serve, that would be great, but being an Augustinian Volunteer calls us to take that experience and use it to grow closer in our faith, hope, and love. In preparing our spirit for Christmas, we acknowledge that in order to give to others what we have, we also need to refresh ourselves with the presence of God. It is our constant prayer for our community that roots us in the hope that Christ’s coming will transform the world in a real way.

And so, this season of Advent I invite you to live the season out in its entirety. Allow this time to continue to form and prepare you for Jesus’ coming. Christmas will come soon enough, but Advent grants us the grace and time to become receptive to all that God has to offer us: faith, hope, and love.

 

Andrew McMillin

AV Alum, Lawrence 07-08

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Alumni

Advent: Week 3

by Admin / 12. December 2011 03:53

Rejoice.  Rejoice in poverty for it is all around.  Rejoice in homelessness for many are without shelter.  Rejoice in death for some are left orphaned.  Rejoice in AIDS for it causes great suffering.  The 2nd reading tells us  “Rejoice always.”

When some people see poverty they see laziness; when they see a homeless man they see a drunk; when they see AIDS they see irresponsibility.  As an AV, past or present, our eyes have been opened.  God has given us the gift to see beyond the stereotypes and unveil the mask of poverty, homelessness, death, AIDS; and sitting behind the injustice and sorrow is a man, a woman, a child, a human being.  That God has chosen you, just as he chose John to baptize, is something to rejoice in.  He has handpicked you to be an instrument of His love.  Do not take despair in what is not present (food, shelter, health), but rather rejoice in what is present: You, and your student, client, co-worker, patient, or friend.  Rejoice in the relationships and bonds that have formed; rejoice that you are willing and capable of sharing stories, laughter, tears, hugs, hands, of sharing your love with another.

Sure, it’s a daunting task to feel all happy and glad when constantly faced with situations we can’t understand, but we must look a little deeper and open our eyes a little wider.  

And so “Rejoice always:” in the opportunity to help a hungry child read or have a conversation with a struggling mother of three; in sharing a meal with a lonely stranger; in a life lived and a soul that becomes an angel; in unwavering faith and hope despite desperate situations.  And do not stop rejoicing; and do not keep the soul-filled moments of rejoicing to yourself.  For your eyes have been opened, but many are still blind.  What a blessing it is to have the responsibility granted by God to reach out, take the hand of someone who does not see behind the mask of injustice and show them what it means to rejoice in the goodness of humanity of all God’s precious people.  This Advent and always, Rejoice.

 

Mary Dillon

AV Alum, Lawrence 04-05, South Africa 05-07

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Alumni

Advent: Week 2

by Admin / 5. December 2011 04:32

Living in community provides a rich opportunity to put Christ at the center of your life.  I remember conversations and prayers with my community members causing me to see certain situations in a new light.  Sometimes there were stressful moments at work when I would take a deep breath and re-frame my thinking in a more spiritual way.  Other times, I would come home upset and one of my community members would offer a new way of looking at things and offer a suggestion for the next day.  That shared reflection was a crucial part of my experience, allowing me to grow spiritually and recognize God’s presence in new ways.

The first reading today calls us to give comfort to God’s people and prepare the way for the Lord. I must admit, my first glance left me feeling uneasy.  This advent marks two years since my return from Peru, and regrettably I seem to have lost my sense of urgency.  I wonder how many AV alumni have returned from full time service and faced a similar experience.  The second reading is of some reassurance, reminding us that God is patient and wishes the best for us.  But the fact remains that the clock is ticking.  

In light of this reminder, I propose the following:  

Current AV’s: Take advantage of all you have been given. Trust your community members and challenge one another in specific ways to live in a more purposeful, Christian way.  Re-evaluate what simple living means or discuss how your ideas of solidarity have progressed or changed throughout the year. Set personal goals for prayer and how you interact with others. Your time as AV’s will move quickly, so I encourage you to take advantage of one of your greatest resources- each other.

AV Alumni: Don’t forget to reflect upon how your AV experiences have changed and shaped your perspective. Identify which forces in your life are motivating you to live as the Gospel demands, prioritize those influences, and seek out new ways to challenge and motivate yourself.  Reach out to a community member to share your thoughts and perhaps challenge each other to set new spiritual goals.

Regardless of your situation, I invite each  of you to consider the following passage as a challenge:

A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill shall be made low;
the rugged land shall be made a plain,
the rough country, a broad valley.
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

God can be found and glorified in any situation. Is there an area of your life where you might reach out to another in need? Have you tried to rely only on yourself in difficult situations?  Take a moment to envision the whole world preparing for the coming of the Lord. What is your role going to be?

Volunteers, especially those living in community, are blessed with constant reminders of the need for prayer, compassion, and acts of service. It takes patience and persistence to respond to those needs, but support systems make it possible. Advent is a special time of preparation to reflect on the fundamentals of our faith.  It is through our care and concern for others that we may begin to prepare ourselves.  May we all experience a blessed Advent and hold onto or recapture a faithful sense of urgency for Christ.

 

Liz Farrey-Jette

AV Alum, Peru 2009

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Alumni

Advent: Week 1

by Admin / 27. November 2011 13:22

Isaiah 63 speaks of the act of us wandering from the Lord’s intentions. Caught up in the busyness of everyday life, we often do not acknowledge our own imperfections unless we take the time to reflect upon them. Just as the people beckon for God to return to them for guidance and support, we are called home during the holiday season to be present to our families and communities.

If we allow it, Advent can become an opportunity for reflection, self-improvement and spiritual closeness with God. As Isaiah states, “we are the clay and you the potter; we are all the work of your hands,” and we have the power to utilize our unique gifts and talents to serve the Lord. As volunteers, you are realizing the power of your God-given talents to serve those in need. You have been called to be Augustinian Volunteers so that you can be the work of God’s hands. 

Our second reading from 1 Corinthians speaks of thankfulness, a word that is repeated most often during the time of Thanksgiving. As we approach Christmas, let us give thanks for the many blessings in our lives that we often take for granted. Reflect upon God’s grace, for which we are asked to give thanks. As Corinthians states, it is God’s influence that has enriched our lives, and as volunteers, the impact of your work is so clear. It can be seen every day in the faces of those you serve: the children in the schools, the hungry to which you serve meals at the soup kitchen, the homeless to which you bring hope through your work. 

As we enter the Advent season, let us recall our motivation to be Catholics in service. We are the work of God’s hands, so act in accordance to God’s will. While our vision can sometimes become clouded by distractions of material worth as Christmas approaches, let us remember our reason for gathering in celebration, and use this to do good work with God’s hands.

 

Alex Gallucci

AV Alum, Lawrence, MA 2009-2010

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Alumni

Love One Another for Love is of God

by Admin / 18. October 2011 16:38

“Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day, be at my side, to light and guard, to rule and guide. Amen.”

It’s a simple prayer we say at the end of each day, but it’s a constant reminder that God is present in my life. I am serving as an assistant Pre-K teacher at Lawrence Catholic Academy, the only Catholic grade school left in Lawrence. Pre-K has been an absolute joy. Our class of 20 is great because the students are unique, fun, and always ready to participate. In class, we spend our days singing, dancing, making creative arts and crafts, and having as much fun as possible.  

So where do I see God? I see him in each and every one of the students; they are full of life, curiosity, and pure happiness. I especially see God through my co-teacher Colette. She is a woman who is committed to her faith regardless of the challenges she has faced. I admire Colette, for she exudes the love she has for others just as Jesus has shown us. I can see that God has a special way of placing people in our lives, helping us to learn and grow throughout our journey.  

I feel God’s presence more than ever by simply being here and I know that he is and will always be with me. I look forward to what this year will bring as I continue to serve, but I know one thing for sure is God’s presence in Pre-K 2’s class; helping each and everyone one of us love one another as God loves us!

 

Jimmy Kane

Lawrence, MA 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

The Beauty of the Perfect Storm

by Admin / 5. October 2011 04:20

Footballs. Basketballs. Volleyballs. Kickballs. Dodgeballs. Rubber chickens. Waters bombs. These are just some of the things that fill up the physical education shed at Holy Family. Each day I gather what I need for class and make my trek across my classroom, about fifty by forty yards of hot blacktop. I try not to drop anything as I make my way into the corner. It is very quiet at this point in the morning, as everyone has made their way into the classrooms. The silence is deafening. There are very few moments like this during the day because when the kids come out for class, recess, or lunch, it is chaos.

When I found out that I was being placed at Holy Family months ago I was excited and nervous at the same time. Having a loud personality, I assumed the kids would like me. But, you never know. What would the teachers be like? How would the Holy Family community treat me? Well, so far it has been unbelievable. It was an easy transition because the kids liked me before I even showed up, just because I am the P.E teacher. They get the opportunity to go outside and play. The best part of my job is every morning when I walk into school all the kids start yelling, “Hey, Coach Paul,” or “Good morning, Mr. Paul,” and “Are we having P.E today?” It has just been so much fun.

Holy Family is a special place. The community is extremely diverse, encompassing Hispanic, Filipino, Vietnamese, and other ethnicities. This past weekend was our fall festival. I had the chance to try new foods and see the kids perform cultural dances in the talent show, which was fantastic. One of the women who is in charge of the festival told me that last year we raised enough money to offset tuition. This is important because it allows for the school to keep tuition low so the families can send their children to Catholic school.

The job has its challenges too. It is a difficult pill to swallow learning about some of the kids’ personal situations. Whether a child’s parents are split up or another child’s mom or dad is about to be deployed overseas. I try to do anything I can to help take their minds off of what is bothering them. Another challenge is having full control of the classroom for the entire forty-five minutes. I started the year by being very stern and making our number one rule, respect. The kids sound like a broken record as I make them repeat “our word,” over and over. But, it is very important. The toughest class I have is the first grade. It is fifteen boys and just three girls and when they make their way onto the blacktop it is like the perfect storm hitting. I cannot go two minutes without saying, “no hitting, no kicking, no biting, no pushing, or no inappropriate language.” I love the challenge though as each class I have tried to be more creative with them and have made more strides each time. 

As the year continues I want to get better at my craft so that I can make P.E better for my students, because that is what my service is calling me to do. My job is to be there for them and be selfless in any way I can. And for those moments of silence? I truly love when they end.

 

Paul Ostick

San Diego, CA 2011-2012

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Domestics 2011-2012

Teaching in the Trenches

by Admin / 30. September 2011 03:35

Each morning as I drive down to St. Leo’s Primary School, I listen to calming music and mentally prepare myself for the inevitable chaos that will greet me upon my arrival. When I arrive, I am ready for battle. Armed with pencils, paper, books, and most importantly – patience, I weave my way through a sea of kids and make my way to the classroom. When my first class begins, the students are overflowing with energy and enthusiasm. I try to harness this energy and use it to help them learn something. The students are constantly trying to push my buttons while I try to push them to learn English. 

From the beginning, volunteering as an oral English teacher at St. Leo’s has been a struggle for me. Coming into the year, I had little teaching experience and didn’t know what to expect from a school in rural South Africa. However, I have come to realize that my battle to maintain order in the classroom is insignificant in comparison to the struggles that my students have been fighting against all their lives. My students struggle to get enough food to nourish their bodies; they fight against racism and discrimination which are still ever-present in aspects of South African society, and they battle to survive the onslaught of AIDS as it continues to destroy their communities. 

Unfortunately, it seems that we are constantly fighting an uphill battle. At St. Leo’s the students are crammed into overcrowded classrooms and the work ethic of the teachers is appalling. Generally, the students are way behind where they should be and they score extremely low on national standardized tests. As a whole, the South African educational system is failing them. 

The situation is dire, but my students are extraordinary. They are forced to overcome so many obstacles in their lives, constantly facing trails and tribulations that no one should have to bear. And yet, each day they come to class excited to learn and hopeful for a better future. 

For a long time, I have been pessimistic about St. Leo’s state of disarray and find myself losing hope. However, I have come to appreciate the victories in my classroom. I am optimistic these small steps forward will gain momentum and eventually they will receive the quality education that these kids so very much deserve. In the meantime, the students and I will fight together for their brighter future.

 

Tyler Craven

Durban, South Africa 2011

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Internationals 2011

"We are married, and divorce is not an option."

by Admin / 21. September 2011 12:07

 

That is what my community member, Caitlin, said at the beginning of our year, and while it is funny and silly, it is also kind of true. Living in community is completely different from any other living arrangement I have encountered; like a combination of everything almost. 

It is like living with a roommate in that you have obligations to one another to keep the house clean, establish rules about visitors, and other courtesies of the like. It is like living with friends in that you depend on each other for emotional support, you make plans together, and generally look out for each other. It is like living with your family in that you tell each other where you are going and when you expect to back, you share meals together, and (eventually) when you get mad at each other, you can fight like nobody’s business knowing at the end of the day everything will be okay again.  

Living in a community is like all of those things with a pinch more responsibility, courtesy, compassion, understanding, and patience. Those can be hard feelings to muster up at times, especially since many of us (or I, at least) have just exited the most selfish time of our lives: the college years. College is all about you. All about where you want to go and when you want to go there. Of course your friends or your significant other play a role in your decisions, but you are living for you, essentially. I learned quickly that in a committed community, you are very much living for every other person in your community as well as yourself. And in a lot of ways, you have to live more for them than for yourself at times. As we learned in orientation, it is very much a transition from a “me” mentality to a “we” mentality.

And oh boy is it hard sometimes. But also so completely worth it.

When my community and I committed ourselves to each other we opened a door from which flowed an unending stream of trust, strength, and wisdom. When you know the person sitting across from you truly has your best interests at heart, you are free to be you and to share yourself in a way that at least I had never experienced before. I have felt so free to share my every doubt, about myself, my abilities, my faith life, and my experience here and from that I have experienced tremendous growth.

There are the small things, like remembering to pick up peanuts for Antonette, broccoli for Tara, and yogurt for Caitlin even when they don’t ask me to when I am going to the market. Then there are the bigger things, like when I wanted my mom and my boyfriend to come visit. Although they didn’t come right out and say it, I know they both weren’t sure how feasible coming to Peru would be. I talked with my community and God a lot, and what I realized was that I was asking a lot; too much. Coming to Peru is a whole day of traveling with layovers and everything, its expensive, and they have other things going on in their lives that I couldn’t ask them to drop on a dime. Instead of thinking about my wants, I focused instead on what they needed. Through the example of my community I was able to see that when it comes to the people you love, you sometimes have to do what is in their best interest, not yours. I know a year ago I never would have had that realization. 

I have learned so much about myself this year both through structured and casual conversations with my community members. They have completely opened my eyes by giving me new ways to look at the world, its problems and my place amidst all of it. They share in my joy and in my sadness; they pick me up when I fall down; they sooth me when I am angry; they whisper words of encouragement when I feel hopeless; they show me how rewarding living for someone else in addition to myself can be and for that I am so incredibly grateful. 

 

Dani Vaziri

Chulucanas, Peru 2011

 

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Internationals 2011

Pure happiness

by Admin / 14. September 2011 05:43

I graduated college a little over a year ago now.  During that graduation season it seemed that there was celebration after celebration, some of them fun, some of them long and drawn out.  There were services to acknowledge students, professors that had done some kind of random research or project in their field of study, most of which I really did not have much interest in.  Then there was the long actual day of graduation where you can’t help but think that the ceremony is way too long and there are way too many names to read.  I did not understand why we had to acknowledge every single little thing that some random person did, or some award that they received.  Not in a necessarily negative way but neutral and indifferent.   

But ever since being in Chulucanas, Peru working at the Ceo Betania, a women’s community center, one of my greatest joys has been learning to appreciate people and acknowledging the small things with celebration.  Almost every single week at the Ceo Betania we have some kind of celebration (usually called a “compartir” meaning a “sharing”).  Anywhere from Mother’s Day to Father’s Day to Teacher’s day to birthdays to foreign visitors that come to baby showers to national holidays to anniversaries… everything and everybody is celebrated.                                               

Ariana, my favorite Peruvian, works at the Ceo Betania and makes sure that everyone feels appreciated.  She makes people know that you are worth the time, that people are thankful for you, that your life is valuable, and that everyone is happy you have entered their lives.  She helps celebrate people for who they are by not only putting on a Mother’s Day celebration talent show, but also making sure that every single mother at the Ceo Betania has a group of students giving her a present and making a speech and then there is a reading about how wonderful mothers are, and there is poetry and singing and there is a blessing and then the next morning there is a smaller breakfast in honor of all the mothers.  She helps to make people feel special, appreciated, and honored.  And it is just a wonderful thing to witness how people rejoice in the smallest and simplest of things.  It would be unheard of for a birthday to slide by without celebrating it on a grand scale   

Hormacinda is another woman who works at the Ceo Betania.  Every morning when I walk into work I stop by the sewing room to say hi to her and chat for a minute.  I ask her how her weekend was or she’ll joke with me about some weird dance a girl did or we’ll talk about what she’s working on or I’ll make fun of my students.  And then after a couple minutes I’ll head up to my classroom and almost every time I leave Hormacinda says, “Gracias por la visita”, which means “thanks for the visit”.  She is thankful for the little chats we have.  She sees the value in the small minutes.  

It is appreciation for the small things and even just listening where joy is created.  Celebration is so much more important than I had ever thought before.  I have learned so much about how it really is worth the time and effort to make someone feel special and to recognize people for what they have done.  It is something that should never be skipped or brushed over.  It is celebrating what is good in life that brings joy and there should always be time and more space for joy.  Just recognition of that which is good can make life full of simple and pure happiness.      

Caitlin Risk

Chulucanas, Peru 2011    

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Internationals 2011

Wishing for a better tomorrow

by Admin / 7. September 2011 10:02

 

Living in South Africa, and working where I work, has undoubtedly affected my perspective on things.  My imaginings of working at an AIDS hospice prior to my arrival, and then actually doing it were two very different experiences; the ability to put real faces to a disease that is so rampant and losing many of the friends that I have made throughout the year has been a real emotional struggle.  Internally, it is difficult to cope with the inevitable feeling of hopelessness that comes with working in a hospice environment.  Sitting next to people of all ages (particularly, my age or younger) as they pass away, unable to do anything to assist them is something that has forever changed my sense of human beings possessing control in life.

 

Personally, I struggle through the questioning of my capabilities, particularly when asked to sit next to patients as they pass.  Having doubts when it comes to faith life has always been something that I struggle with, and I can’t help but wonder whether my being there is a helpful thing.  Shouldn’t their family, friends, or people who knew them prior to their decline be the ones supporting them in their final moments?  Shouldn’t they be the ones holding their hands?  This has occurred on more than a few occasions.  Stigma that surrounds this disease prevents people from reaching out when they are in their final moments, and hinders those who really should be there from stepping up and being present to them.  Individuals fear what they cannot understand, and HIV/AIDS is an invader that strikes war within the bodies of those it infects.  Unfortunately, many are left to fight alone; intolerance and lack of understanding makes stigma that much stronger, and the battle becomes one not only for personal health, but societal belonging.

 

That being said, I have experienced great moments of hope as well. This past week I was able to teach two young boys who are currently patients.  I sat on one's bed while reading to him, and as the other (who doesn't speak a word of English) saw what I was doing, he climbed up next to me and mimicked reading along with us.  After creating math assignments, they both told me that they would try as hard as they could to get everything correct.  The older of the two translated for the smaller boy, who had expressed his fear of the work possibly being too difficult. Encouraging one another, they set to the task at hand. They were more motivated than I could have anticipated, and it gave me hope that they would have successful futures regardless of their current ailments.

 

Despite all of the questionings and realizations, this hope that I have for the future is continual.  It may take time, but I imagine a world where even if the infection rate stays the same, the stigma and intolerance of others can be the first step in major change.  A disease does not define who a person is or what they are capable of, and there should never be a time when someone is abandoned by their family due to fear of the unknown.   Until that day, however, I will continue to hold their hands and wish for a better tomorrow.

 

Erika Esposito

Durban, South Africa 2011

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Internationals 2011

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