Advent Week 4: Accepting Peace, Answering "Yes"

by Alumni / 17. December 2015 16:46

Christ’s birth changed the world, and 2000 years later, this event continues to transform our lives. As we celebrate this fourth week of Advent, there is still time to reflect and prepare for how we will be transformed by Christ’s birth this Christmas.

Our readings this week remind us of God’s promise to us in sending Christ; “for now his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; he shall be peace.” The worries and concerns we experience in today’s world are surely different than those present in the world before the birth of Christ; nonetheless, the first reading reminds us that there was a need for peace. God recognized this need, and sent his son to be that peace. So often, we are searching for peace, in our world, in our communities, in others, in ourselves, when in fact we are offered peace every moment of every day through our faith. We must actively choose to receive the peace Christ continually offers us by saying “yes” to God.

Mary stands as the perfect example of someone who said “yes” to God. In the Gospel, we hear of Mary early in her pregnancy visiting Elizabeth. When the infant in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leaps, Elizabeth exclaims, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” God asks different things from each of us each day, in our service sites, in our communities, in our families, in our relationships. It is up to us to recognize these opportunities when God is calling us, and choose to respond to him. When we respond to God, we will feel his presence and experience Christ’s peace in unexpected ways, which may transform our lives, as Mary’s was transformed.  

In the days before Christmas, let us pray that we have open hearts to accept Christ, and that we may allow ourselves to be transformed by the miracle of his birth through the coming year.

Claire Mulhern
AV Alum, Chicago ’11-‘12

Questions for further reflection:
1.When do you feel most aware of God’s peace? How can you make that more pervasive in your life?
2. When have you felt yourself responding “yes” to God at your service site? In your community?



Advent Week 3: Trusting in the Lord

by Alumni / 10. December 2015 22:29

“Teacher, what should we do?” Luke’s gospel for this week tells us of the crowds visiting John the Baptist, looking to him for guidance. Like us, these people were expecting the coming of Christ and they were eager to be prepared for Him. I find their questions to John the Baptist interesting though. They were not asking what they should do but instead asked how should they live? As a volunteer, I found myself asking this question often. While at my service site, I saw young students in heartbreaking situations and I grappled with how I could be of any meaningful use in their lives. In community, I wondered how to make our short time together matter and in my spiritual life, I questioned how I could strengthen my relationship with God. As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, what should we do? 

John the Baptist told the crowds to be generous and honest people, concerned about those around them. But even more than his words in the Gospel, I find the first and second readings to be insightful preparation for the Christmas season. The first reading calls us to, “rejoice for the Lord is in your midst.” While the words seem obvious, it can be harder to trust that God is always with us. We can often let fear permeate our thoughts and dictate our actions. Having complete trust in God can be challenging for some. But as the second reading says, “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” God knows what is in our hearts and if we trust in him, he will not let us fall. 

So what should we do? In preparation we must heed the words of John the Baptist and focus on changing our outlook. Rejoice, be thankful, and be patient. Rejoice that Jesus is coming and God is always with you, never failing to love you. Be thankful for your relationships at work, within community, and with God, for each is a gift that will continue to grow throughout this year. Be patient with yourself and with God. Serving and living with others can be challenging, but remember that God’s plan is not always the same as yours. It takes patience and trust that He will fulfill your desires in a way you cannot imagine. 

Brittany Patten
AV Alum, Lawrence 2014

1. In what area of your life do you find it most difficult to trust in God?
2. In preparation for Jesus’ birth, how will you change your outlook to live more intentionally at your service site or within community?



Advent Week 2: Preparing Your Path

by Alumni / 4. December 2015 13:26

During a time in our lives where much seems uncertain — a time in which fear can hold strong in our minds, particularly with the recent tragedies of our world and threats of future violence — it can be difficult to center oneself and remember that we are held in the arms of our Lord. This week in Advent, we are called to know that we are remembered by God and, in turn, we must remember Him.

As we prepare for Jesus’ birth, Luke calls us to not only repent for our sins, but to lead our lives in a new direction through his quotation of the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah, John the Baptist is calling people to prepare for the Lord’s coming. John the Baptist says that we must “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” This is in reference to the customs that were adhered to when a king was planning to travel — work crews would be dispatched to clear the roads for the king to ensure a smooth and easy journey. In this same vein, we must clear obstacles out of our life that might hinder ourselves from focusing on God’s salvation. He is reminding us that Jesus is coming soon! We must make an effort to repent our sins for us to receive Him into our lives, as sin is the very obstacle that prevents us from seeing “the salvation of God”. While we are called to repent, we also need to remember that God cares more about our effort than a perfectly smooth road. The true goal is for us to prepare our hearts to receive the Lord.

In the beginning of the Gospel, Luke references many rulers and kings of the region. This list of rulers are examples of those who were unable to unite their people. The Gospel ends with the one ruler who is able to bring universal peace: “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”. This is a strong reminder for us today: Jesus unites all of humanity, but He needs our assistance. We do not live in a perfect or peaceful world, but if we look to Jesus in the everyday — if we can see Jesus in ourselves and in one another, and if we can treat others in the way Jesus would — we will see God’s salvation, and God’s salvation will spread to all of humanity. This is our challenge in preparing for the Lord: we must ready ourselves through repentance and we must forgive and embrace others in order to truly prepare for Jesus’ birth.

Kat O’Neill
AV Alum, Chicago ’09-’10

Questions For Further Reflection:
1. How will you prepare your personal path for Jesus’ arrival?
2. How will you forgive?



Advent Week 1: Waiting... Waiting... Waiting...

by Alumni / 1. December 2015 22:35

We hear a lot about God in the readings for the first Sunday of Advent: in the first reading God is a dispenser of justice, in the second God catalyzes love of each other, and the Gospel admonishes the reader not to fear the apparent end of order but to embrace redemption. Trying to parse out a cohesive message challenged me at first, but then two lines from the Gospel jumped out: "The anxieties of daily life," and "Pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent." I feel that any reading of these texts that neglects these phrases misses the connection to Advent. 

We hear consistently how Advent is a time for waiting, anticipation, advent is from Latin, etc. etc. Waiting for Jesus to be a baby: check, no problem, got it, done. But what is waiting? Or, better yet, what is our condition while we wait? Are we continuously embracing God's love and turning that outwards like the second reading urges? Or are we letting the anxieties of daily life preoccupy our minds and our hearts. Anticipating the mood changes of a fickle boss or site supervisor, working hard without recognition of effort or passion, or trying to maintain friendships across different time zones or just different schedules… Perhaps these micro-anxieties don't relate to our larger plans and seldom do they seem relevant in hindsight. But that does not diminish our emotional investment in ourselves, nor should it. Life happens, and that can be distracting. But if we should not fear the apprent apocalypse - even if people are literally dying of fright - then why should we dread challenges that we can overcome? Or, if we can't overcome, we can at the very least endure.

"Pray that you have the strength to overcome the tribulations that are imminent." Doesn't necessarily invoke the same excitement over the familiar baby in a manger surrounded by sheep, does it? No, the picture of waiting that we receive from the readings is not a calm, passive waiting, but a frenzied, active waiting. Waiting by taking the love of God we have and turning it outwards. Waiting by growing stronger in character and substance, pruning excesses from our habits and attitudes that would block the door we should leave open for Christ. Waiting by challenging our notion of waiting itself, embracing the inevitability of adversity and the joy overcoming. 

Lent isn't the only arduous time for Christians, nor is it the only time for spiritually challenging ourselves. So I wish you a long and difficult Advent, full of… you guessed it: waiting. But what will your waiting look like?

Mike Bucaria
AV Alum, Ventura 2014-15

Questions for further reflection:

1. Choose a song, poem, quote, or visual that encapsulates what you feel the attitude of waiting should be this Advent. Share it.
2. Choose another word besides "waiting" that you feel is important to keep in mind for Advent. What nuance does this add to your concept of Advent?  



Advent Week 4: Anything is possible with God

by Alumni / 17. December 2014 22:26

“For nothing will be impossible for God”. This is a powerful quote from the Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent. As the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will become pregnant with Jesus she is reminded that though this may seem beyond the realm of possibility, God can make anything a reality, even a virgin birth. Mary accepts this guidance from Gabriel and opens her heart up to God’s will and His plan for her. 


Mary's trust in this Gospel is so beautiful to me because it is unconditional. She doesn't demand to have everything spelled out for her. She is strong and faithful enough to accept God's plan with what is given to her. This struck a very personal chord with me because I often find it so difficult to do this. Instead of letting God work through me and reveal Himself to me in His time, I choose instead to stress and work myself up trying to find my perfect plan. In the end this rarely leaves me more enlightened, just more frantic and less satisfied.


This Advent season offers us all the opportunity to take a step back and let God unfold what He has in mind for us. Like Mary we are called to listen and accept, even though we may not have all the answers, even though His plan may be unlike anything we had ever envisioned for ourselves before. We are reminded through the gift of His son this season that He will always be there for us, looking out for His children and guiding us toward what is right for us. We can be free to relax and trust in Him, knowing that this trust makes anything possible. 


Diana Giunta

AV Alum, Chicago 2012-2013


Questions for further reflection:


What are some areas of your life where you are struggling to trust God?


What are some ways that God has revealed God's plan to you?



Advent Week 2: Prepare the Way of the Lord

by Alumni / 5. December 2014 12:31

I don’t think you could hear the message of today’s readings any clearer if it was shouted through a megaphone two feet away. Prepare the way of the Lord. Well, that doesn’t seem too hard since preparation and planning come second nature to me. After all, I prepare for each day. Physically I get out of bed each morning, prepare my outfit for work, prepare my coffee and lunch, prepare for meetings at work and, ultimately, I prepare for bed. Mental preparations are just as necessary to be successful each day. While I’m lying in bed each morning I tell myself I can’t set another alarm, it’s time to do this thing. I tell my mind to be patient as it prepares to find the train is delayed again. I have to prepare to feel completely unprepared at work for when I encounter someone whose name I don’t remember, or when I completely forgot everything I learned the day before. Sometimes we prepare so much that we forget to experience what it is we are preparing for and why. We lose sight of the bigger picture.

The readings today are asking for us to prepare something much more difficult than our minds and our bodies. We are called to prepare our hearts this Advent season and because that’s not something we do too often, it requires a level of diligence and intentionality. It’s like showing up to a party, dressed to the nines with a can’t-stop-me-now attitude, but forgetting the gift—or maybe even forgetting what/who the party is for! So still we are pondering, how can we prepare the way?

The second reading says, “what sort of persons ought you to be.” We know the answer, but the answers to the people we should be versus the people we are are often very different. This morning I was sitting in the train station passing time before walking over to work. In front of my bench I noticed a police officer talking to a woman. I didn’t think anything of it at first, assuming it was business as usual. From the little I overheard in the first few minutes I realized that this woman was mentally and financially unstable. As many people know, that’s not very uncommon in the city of Philadelphia so I continued to listen, but expected the officer to leave once she brought her bags inside. But he stayed. And stayed. And stayed. I left 30 minutes later and he was still there. He made a few phone calls to have her picked up and he waited with her. He talked to her—not as if she was homeless or mentally ill, but as a person. More importantly, he listened. In the busyness of our daily lives, I rarely see people choose a compassionate route over a convenient one.

This man’s actions emulate the themes of justice and kindness present in today’s readings. Small acts of mindfulness, presence and patience can help create a more just world—the way God intended it to be. I think preparing the way of the Lord begins with opening our eyes to God’s presence around us each and every day. When we feel that grace, we are able to open our hearts, preparing them for the beauty that awaits.

Shannon Keough

AV Alum, Lawrence 2010-2011


Questions for further reflection:

How will you prepare your heart this Advent?

Where have you witnessed great or small acts of kindness?



Advent: Week 1: On Waiting in Hope and On Finding God in the Present

by Alumni / 29. November 2014 18:18

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up. - Anne Lamott

These past few weeks, I have been reflecting a great deal on what it means to wait in hope.  As Catholics entering into the Advent season, we begin by reflecting upon the hopeful waiting for the arrival of our Lord.

Sometimes, it feels as though hope is impossible to spot in the darkness, but as Anne Lamott so wisely shares, often hope begins in darkness.  There were many times during my year in South Africa as an Augustinian Volunteer, where I experienced a feeling of hopelessness.  Often I felt that the problems I witnessed were so incredibly vast that I could not possibly make a change, a difference, a dent.  However, as I was reading through my South African blog in preparation for this reflection, I realized that my blog entries were full of hopefulness and beauty and laughter. And these words were the result of showing up, they were the result of getting out of bed each day and loving the world and loving each other and loving God.  And, while waiting in hope for a more peaceful and joy filled world, what a gift it is to be able to find God currently in our midst.

The most hopeful moments of my life have often come from moments in my life that seemed the most challenging.  These moments often came in the midst of waiting for God to show up.  But as we prepare our heart and homes for the coming of Christ, let us not forget to be aware of the God already present in our lives. 

Fr. Jim Martin, SJ reflected this week about joyful waiting by saying “Find God today—but wait in hope for a beautiful future.” During this Advent season, I pray that we each might wait in joyful hope for a more beautiful world while also recognizing the beautiful presence of God in our midst right now.


Becca Little
AV Alum, 
South Africa 2010 


Questions for further reflection:

In what ways have you "found God today"?

In what ways are you being called to "wait in hope" this advent season?


Alumni | Internationals 2010

Advent: Week 4

by Alumni / 21. December 2013 22:20

(Readings here)

I spend more time than your average person in fast food restaurants and coffee shops. Not to disparage any of you who enjoy some McDonald’s fries or a Starbucks cappucino, but I don’t eat there. I spend most of my time there taking notes.

You see, for my job, usually once or twice a week, I go to meet a respondent from the research study that I work on. Our respondents have recently been released from state prison. When we ask them for a good place to meet, the location is usually a coffee shop or a golden arches – some place where the manager won’t be upset at us monopolizing a table for an hour.

In the hour of our meeting, I ask our respondents all sorts of very personal questions – who they were with for every waking hour of the past week, how much money they made last month, what they spent it on, who they confide in, whether they experienced abuse or witnessed violence growing up. Their responses are audio recorded, and myself and another interviewer take copious notes. I am often amazed by how open our respondents are willing to be (though not all of them are). It is a real privilege to have their trust, and to hear their stories.

The stories these men and women share are deeply human – stories of loving parents, and of absent ones; stories of accomplishment, and of failure; stories of support, and of abuse; stories of opportunity, and of prejudice; stories of violence, and of healing. Many look as though they could be students at my school – fashionable, self-possessed, confident. Others fit a more stereotypical image of ex-prisoners. All have experienced far more than our questionnaire can elicit.

At the end of every interview, we always ask the same question: “Could you tell us why you decided to continue to participate in the study?”

The answer, often, is some variation of the following:

“It’s nice that you guys are willing to listen. I hope it helps somebody.”


In this week’s Gospel reading, Joseph was presented with a situation: a pregnant fiancée, a potential scandal. He didn’t want to cause her shame, but assumed she’d been unfaithful, so he planned to divorce her quietly. He was being charitable. But he hadn’t listened, or maybe he hadn’t asked. It took an angel for him to hear the other side of the story - Mary’s story. And it is compelling and glorious that he did listen, eventually.  

Taking the time to listen, with the men and women in the study, is just my job. I try to do it with compassion; to understand, without judgment. I don’t, often, take this same care with others in my life. I don’t think I’m alone in that. But listening to someone’s story, asking rather than assuming, is one of the most dignifying things I think we can do for another person. It is deeply humbling. During my time with the AVs, my housemates helped me to cultivate the patience to listen, to soak in the stories of the people we were fortunate enough to meet in the Bronx. They, and our neighbors, helped me re-imagine what the Bronx was, what that community was. The men and women in the study have helped me re-imagine “ex-cons”. I hope we all can try to listen better, and to see more opportunities to listen, to re-imagine the communities we live in, and those you will return to.


Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, and a joyous New Year.


Kendra Bradner

AV Alum, Bronx, NY 2008-2009


Questions for further reflection:

How much time do you take to listen to other's stories? How often do you share your own story?

Have there been times when you judged someone based on their past?

How can we become more compassionate and understanding this Advent?



Advent: Week 3

by Alumni / 13. December 2013 10:03

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”  –Phil 4:4-5


(Mass readings here)


This week the Church celebrates the third Sunday in Advent, which we call Gaudete Sunday from the Latin word for “rejoice.”  The entrance antiphon from Philippians invites us to join together as we rejoice in anticipation for the coming of Christ.


It seems like a peculiar time to rejoice: Christmas has not yet come.  Isn’t it a little early to be rejoicing?  December 25th is more than ten days away!  The rejoicing feels premature, like a child delighting over an un-opened Christmas present under the tree.  Usually the rejoicing comes on Christmas morning, when the wrapping gets torn off and the gifts are opened.


The second reading from the Letter of St. James offers us words of encouragement in this time of anticipation: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord…Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand.”  The reading further speaks about the patience of a farmer, who waits for the fruit of the earth to ripen.  This patient waiting is rooted in hope, and Advent is a season of hope.  The un-ripened fruit, like an un-opened Christmas present, carries the hope of a future fulfillment.  Richard Rohr, O.F.M., wrote about this: “The theological virtue of hope is the patient and trustful willingness to live without closure, without resolution, and still be content and even happy.”  This is the hope we are called to rejoice in this Sunday.


During our AV year, our ministry is often marked by a lack of closure and resolution.  A student participates well in class one day but then acts out the next.  A client gets a housing assignment and job interview but ends up back on the street within a month.  A patient responds well to medication but later regresses unexpectedly.  Our restless hearts grapple with these struggles in our daily life of ministry.  We look to our community for support, and we turn to God in prayer.


Our gracious God offers us the hope that allows us to find joy.  The Incarnation, celebrated at Christmas, is the fulfillment of God’s promise.  We rejoice for we have nothing to fear, even amid all the uncertainty and distress.  Throughout the Gospels, messengers of God and Jesus himself repeat the words, “Do not be afraid.”  We need to hear those words in this time of patient anticipation and find in them a cause to rejoice.


Last year, I was reading a book on spirituality that talked about finding God in all things.  The book quoted a philosopher named John MacMurray who wrote that the maxim of false religion tells us: “Fear not; trust in God and He will see that none of those things you fear will happen to you.”  Don’t we fall into this expectation all the time?  When we are faithful and pray, we expect God to prevent anything bad from happening to us.  MacMurray reminds us that the maxim of real religion tells us: “Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”  In our lives, we will face challenges, struggles, and despair, but God assures us that there is nothing to fear.  Jesus has come into the world to save us and bring us into life more abundant.


We have nothing to fear as we wait in patient hope for the coming of Christmas.  And so let us rejoice in the Lord.  Again I say, rejoice!


Brian Strassburger, S.J.

AV: Bronx 2006-07, South Africa 2008



Questions for further reflection:


How can you find a way to rejoice in the midst of the Advent season?  What do you feel like rejoicing in this Advent season?


When do you struggle most with patience?  Do you struggle with the tension of anticipation?  What does “hope” mean to you?


What lack of closure and resolution to you live with?  What elements of your ministry feel unresolved and stressful?  How do you find contentment or happiness in the midst of it?


Are the words “Be not afraid” difficult to hear and accept?  Do you have experiences of struggles in which friends / family / God’s love helped you through something you were afraid to endure?



Advent: Week 2

by Alumni / 7. December 2013 11:02

Christmas season has hit full swing as we arrive at the second Sunday of Advent. Thanksgiving ended as Black Friday shoppers came out in full force. Christmas music can be heard on radio stations as people begin to fill out wish lists and bake seasonal cookies. As great as things may look on the surface during this time, it can still be very stressful. There are so many things that we are called to do, and there are so many ways that we can feel stretched thin. This can vary from how much time we get to see family and friends, to financial or health burdens that our loved ones may be going through. One of my community members from my AV year, Patrick Welde, would continually remind me to, “control the controllables.” This means that we cannot waste our time worrying about things that we cannot control, but rather to put those things in God’s hands. This is something that has played a major role in my life, and fits perfectly with what we are called to do during Advent. Advent is a time where need are called to prepare the way of the Lord. In Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist says,

                                                           “Prepare the way of the Lord,

                                                              make straight his paths.”

I believe that this relates to what we are reminded to do during Advent. We must put aside all of the stress and distractions and remember that, “he is the reason for the season.” Putting a focus on the birth of Christ and how we need to treat each other will bring us closer to the Lord. For current Augustinian Volunteers, this is a wonderful opportunity during this time of the year. This is the perfect chance to give an extra effort in reaching out to someone at your worksite. It is a great opportunity to sit down with your community members and continue to build and strengthen your relationships. This Advent season, we are all called to see Christ in others and prepare the way of the Lord. Remember to focus only on what you can control, and leave the rest in God’s hands.

Paul Ostick

AV Alum San Diego, CA 2011-2012


Questions for further reflection:

What are the controllables in your own life? 

What are the distractions and stresses you need to offer up to God?

Which relationships in your life need strengthening?



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