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?



First Sunday of Advent 2013

by Alumni / 26. November 2013 06:54

Brothers and sisters:

You know the time;

it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep.

For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;

the night is advanced, the day is at hand.

Let us throw off the works of darkness

and put on the armor of light.


I'm a fan of new beginnings. I like to shake off the old from time to time, reflecting on it and yet striving to make the new better. The reading from Romans 13 on this First Sunday of Advent calls us to do just that. The beginning of Advent is an awakening, a time to prepare for the coming of the Christ child. It is a time to take notice of our lives, especially in a spiritual sense, as we ready our hearts for Christmas. And yet, how do we do this? I recently read in Sr. Melanie Svoboda's book Traits of a Healthy Spirituality about one of God's first interactions with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He calls to them, "Where are you?" I had never given much thought to this beckoning of His, but as Sr. Melanie explains, God didn't mean to inquire about Adam and Eve's location; He's God. He already knows such details. He asked them, "Where are you?" so that they might reflect on that question themselves in a deeper way. They knew what they had done; their shame in realizing their nakedness already proved that. Where were they in their relationship with God and with each other? Where were they in their view of themselves? So at this time of awakening, I ask you...where are you? The first Sunday of Advent is the perfect time to ask ourselves that question in relationship to ourselves, to those around us, and in our prayer life, and ultimately, with God. Are we ready to shake off the works of darkness, as the readings from Romans says, break out of our staleness, and put on the "armor of light"? As you light the first candle in your Advent wreath, let it be an outward symbol of that armor of light, and may it guide you into the understanding of not only where you are, but where you strive to be.

Jess Smith

AV Alum

San Diego 2000-2001


Questions for further reflection:

What are the new beginnings in your life?

How do you plan to ready your heart for Christmas?

Today, right now, in this moment, where are you?



Advent Week Four

by Alumni / 23. December 2012 09:03

It is hard to believe that Christmas is only 2 days away.  How many of us are in full Christmas mode at this point?  By which I mean doing last minute shopping, making gifts, helping our families prepare for the holiday, and celebrating.  I know I am caught up in the craziness that the season can bring.  I was out shopping earlier this morning and started to feel overwhelmed, to say the least.

Getting caught up in the busyness and materialism of Christmas is easy.  Listening to all the Christmas songs on the radio and singing along.  Going to parties and enjoying the holiday spirit(s).   All of these things are part of what make this time of year unique and fun.  However, they can also easily distract even the most faithful among us from what this season is all about...bringing Christ into the world.

In today’s gospel Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."  Truly how blessed Mary was because she believed and trusted, because she had faith.  And in turn, how blessed our entire world has been ever since Mary said, “Yes.”

There is a line from the song Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)* that goes, “Holy Father you have come, and chosen me now to carry your Son.”  This song and this line in particular reminds me that each of us has been called by God to carry God’s Son.  The Advent and Christmas season is a reminder of that call.  A reminder of what the holiday is all about…

Wherever you happen to be when you read this post, whatever you happen to be doing, whatever day it happens to be, I ask you this, take a minute and pause.  Take a deep breath.  Slow your mind down enough to open your heart to God and ask God, “how have you chosen me to carry your Son, today?”  

Perhaps it is by showing extra compassion to the stressed out cashier.  Perhaps it is by helping your mom with the dishes.  Perhaps it is by holding open a door for someone who needs help.  There are so many big and small ways that we can be called by God to bring Christ into the world.

Let us always remain open to whatever it is that God is calling us to every moment of this season and our entire lives.  Let us never forget to pause and invite God into whatever space we are dwelling in any given moment.  And let us always find ways to carry God’s Son into our lives and the world around us.

(If you want to hear a beautiful song, listen to Amy Grant’s version of Breath of Heaven -


April Gagne
AV Alum, San Diego 2000-01, Camden 2001-02



Advent: Week 3, Gaudete Sunday

by Alumni / 15. December 2012 19:05

“Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”

‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel’ is one of my favorite songs of Advent. It expresses the beautiful hope of both Christians and Jews who long for the coming of the Savior of the world. It is a hope that the Messiah will restore Israel and fulfill the covenant from so many years ago. It is also a hope we see expressed in the readings for this third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday. Despite the incredible hardships faced by the Israelites, the first and second readings attempt to quell any resulting fears and anxieties. Rather than wait in impatience and uneasiness, this is a time for rejoicing! There is no need to have “further misfortune to fear” seeing as “The Lord, your God, is in your midst.” As Christians, we believe that the Savior who will renew the world has already dwelled with us here on earth and that he will come again. The infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke’s Gospels tell the story of Mary, a virgin mother who bore a son who was both a child and a king. Just as Mary brought Christ into the world practically two thousand years ago, we are called to be a witness to Christ in the world today.

In the third reading, John the Baptist expresses this idea when he paves the way for the coming of Christ. When the crowds ask John what they should do, he responds by telling them to give of themselves. Give away what is unnecessary to those who need it. If you have excess of something, share it with the poor. Most importantly, walk in the ways of justice. Although John talks about material goods such as clothing, food, and money, we are called to share more than that. Essentially, this is what we do both during our year as Augustinian Volunteers and in our lives beyond that brief but blessed time. In small ways, we calm the anxieties of those to whom we minister. We help bring joy into their lives, and we are touched by their presence in our own. We rejoice in the gift God has given us. We shed light on that beautiful hope that is sometimes hidden by grief and anger in our world.

So this Advent season, as we continue to await the coming of our Savior, Rejoice! Find it within yourself to bring Christ into the lives of those you meet, just as Mary was called to do.

Meg Costantini

AV Alum: Lawrence, MA 2011-2012



2nd Sunday In Advent (12/9)

by Alumni / 7. December 2012 12:42

The 2nd Sunday in Advent (12/9)
"Prepare Ye the way of The Lord" add background music from Godspell and this verse will be firmly implanted in your head all week long, which isn’t a bad thing! 

Personally, I struggle preparing the way for the Lord.  I strongly believe in my faith, say Grace with my family before meals, but struggle getting to mass on a weekly basis.  Technically, I would not be a “practicing Catholic” if I am not consistently practicing my faith (I know that’s  a controversial statement)  If you are like me, you have convincing, convenient excuses to justiry why you don’t make it to mass.  Still haven’t found the right church, lots to do, or for me, it’s a little hard with a 13 month old and another on the way, but none of those are really the reason.   

"Thank you God for the many blessings you have given to me and my family”, is so easy to say and sincerely believe because we are blessed.  I truly want to thank God for what he has done for me and the blessing of my family.  So why don’t I make it a point to attend Mass weekly?  I don’t know, but I do know, I am not alone in this struggle. 

Anyone, who hasn't been cryogenically frozen for the past 15 years, knows this isn't a one sided issue.  The Catholic Church has done much to scare away its flock.  There have been horrific actions from people in places of honor and questionable statements from people in power.  However, I always equate this to politics.  There is the Catholic Government or people and then there is the Catholic faith or our beliefs.  If you are a strong Democrat, you probably didn't like George W. Bush, if you are a Republican, you probably don't like Obama, regardless of your affiliation, I hope you are appalled at the current ineffectiveness of our Congress.  Regardless, I bet at no time did any of you stop calling yourselves an American nor stop honoring our flag at the appropriate times.  At no point did you allow the actions of humans to affect your loyalty to your country.  Then why do we allow the actions of humans to massively affect our loyalty to our faith?  We are imperfect, some “holy” people seem to be plain evil, but it doesn’t mean the Catholic Faith is evil.  I am a proud American and I am a proud Catholic.

Unfortunately, there are other common arguments on why not to attend Mass.  Catholic services are boring and not fulfilling.  Making a child sit through one is the equivalent of an extended "time-out."  However, I lived through 16 years of Catholic school and always went to Mass on Sundays, with few exceptions, and am actually proud of who I am today.  The church was one of the most significant mentors in my development.  How do I expect my children, to have my values, if I keep them from one of my greatest teachers?

My theological friends will have much to say about this post because I am not addressing the quintessential reason you go to Mass each week, the Eucharist, the consecration of the bread and wine.  However, I think for many people struggling like myself, there are steps to recovery.  For me, step one is to simply go back to church.  I encourage each of you, challenge yourself, go back to Church, make the time, make a commitment.  And if you are single and looking for someone special, in the memorable words of Eddie Murphy in Coming to America - "If you want to find a good girl, you gotta go to Church!"  Merry Christmas my friends!

Kevin Martin, 2002 - 2003, Chulucanas & The Bronx




Advent: Week 1

by Alumni / 3. December 2012 03:01

Waiting for the Lord

Advent has begun.  You hurry to church through a blustery chill, and as you hear the bells ring out a call from the steeple, the hustle and noise of Market Street falls away.  The cold outside gives way to the quiet of the narthex, and then you step into the dim light of the nave.  And your heart remembers the wait.


For centuries, Christians have been waiting.  The funny thing is, despite all the practice, we're not always very good at it.  The 1st Sunday's Gospel reading makes it very clear what we're waiting for.  This is not the story of a precious child or a warm stable bed, but rather an imploring warning to be ready for Christ the God and King, who is to come.  Once upon a time, Revelatory tropes and Second Coming images were the bread and butter of Christians - just look at the decorations and ornamentation in any Gothic or Romanesque church.  

The roiling seas, gleeful demons, the rent skies and scales weighing souls were once omnipresent reminders to believers: it's coming.  He's coming.  Are you going to be ready?

Today, we tend to sidetrack the drama and gusto of Apocalypse ideas.  "Is any of that even real?" we ask.  "Well, that's just silly."  But this Gospel is a clear cry, straight from the lips of a Savior: "You cannot even conceive of what is coming.  It's bigger than you can imagine.  So look to your heart and make sure you're ready."


The wait.  It has a purpose; it's a time of preparation.  Get your affairs in order, set your heart on the path to God, lift your soul to the Lord, and watch.  


Maybe the stories of the Second Coming no longer fill us with terror and foreboding.  We're awfully grown-up now, aren't we?  We don't believe in pitchforks.  Dante's inferno was an allegory, after all.  So if the frightfulness doesn't motivate you to hold council with your heart, perhaps a gentler image will.  It's an image of humility and grace, of quiet and stillness.  Of warmth.  Of Love.  It's an image of a newborn lying in straw, while a young mother smiles with joy and a confused but willing man pledges his heart to protect them.  It's an image of excited men and creatures hurrying toward a stable lit from heaven, hurrying away from the hustle and noise of life, which gives way to the quiet of standing in the presence of New Life.  Kings and shepherds, lambs and donkeys, the wind and the stars, all in awe of a child, a king, a priest, our God.  


The Son of Man is coming.  And whether you see Him in a manger stall, or coming in a cloud with power and great glory, use this wait to your advantage.  Prepare your heart to welcome Him.


Chesley Turner

AV Alum, Lawrence, MA 2010-2011



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



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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