Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent is the Season of Waiting

This reflection was written by current volunteer Rachel Mustain.  Rachel serves in San Francisco, California, in the Corporate Work Study Program office at Immaculate Conception Academy, a Cristo Rey high school sponsored by the Mission San Jose Dominicans.

Advent is the season of waiting. These four weeks are a season of waiting for the feast of Christmas. The waiting can be eager anticipation for Christmas day, budding excitement in the traditions of putting up lights, decorating a tree, and guessing what presents this year will bring or it can be waiting with groaning and frustration that there are still more than two weeks before we have a break from school. Either way, we wait.
When I was growing up, Advent was not the beginning of Christmas; it was its own season. My elementary school did not have a Christmas concert; we had an Advent program. My family did not put up decorations until after school was out, and we did not buy a Christmas tree until the last minute.We did have an Advent wreath that we placed in the center of our dinner table and lit every night (which meant candle one had to be replaced half way through the season).
Our Advent wreath was not a typical wreath of green ferns. It was made of wood and on it were carved symbols of the Christian faith. There was an image of a lamb, a fish, an anchor, the tree of Jesse, the star of David. These images are symbols of our history, symbols for Jesus that were painted in the catacombs of early Christians, symbols with meanings that are rooted in scripture and many from our Hebrew ancestors. These ancient symbols remind me now in this Advent season of how the Israelites waited. The thousands of years from the time of Abraham to the coming of the promised Messiah makes the four weeks of Advent seem pretty short.
Still it is not just during Advent that we wait for Christ’s coming. Today’s reading in Isaiah promises, “the LORD will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. He will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces.” We are still waiting for this day, the day when there will be no more hunger, when there will be no more death from sickness or war, when there will be no more sadness but only joy. Our world is not yet like this, but we have this hope in Jesus.
Unlike the Israelites, we no longer wait for the coming of the Messiah. We celebrate on Christmas that he has come. Jesus said, "Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I say to you, many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it." We have heard Jesus’ message of redemption, and we can see his work being done in and through our lives. We still wait for the full coming of God’s kingdom, but we can build up his kingdom here on earth by the way that we wait for this second coming.
In our society, waiting is not something we like to do. We are used to instant gratification. We want to decide what we want to eat and then get it immediately at a fast food restaurant. We want to lose weight in a crash diet. We want to know all the answers as soon as we ask them by having the internet at our fingertips at all times. We get angry when there is a line at a convenience store or traffic on the interstate. We just can’t stand to wait. We even say “We can’t wait.” This instant satisfaction is contrary to God’s way. He took thousands of years to come to earth as the promised Messiah. It has been thousands of years since he came and the end of times the disciples expected in their lifetimes still has not come. God does not work instantly. He knows that we get true satisfaction when we take time. When we spend time to get fresh ingredients and cook a meal at home, when we make lasting changes to our lifestyle, we are healthier and feel better. When we research our questions, we find the true answer. When we spend more time in a line at the store we can have meaningful conversations with those around us. Good things come to those who wait.
The readings at Mass during Advent tell us how to wait. We hear the message to be watchful and ready. We must be aware to be able to see the coming of what we are waiting for. Again in our culture, we are constantly tuned in through media and internet, but are we really aware? Are we conscious of our surroundings, of the people physically present around us? We must be aware to see Jesus’ coming because he is here, now, and we will only find him if we are aware to his presence in each other. We must also be aware of ourselves. During Advent we are given the opportunity to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation. This sacrament, this sign of God’s grace, is meant to bring us to greater self awareness. Through reconciliation we take a long, loving look at ourselves and become aware of Jesus’ presence in us and then bring our weaknesses to the light to burn away the darkness that can get trapped within us.
Advent is a season of waiting, but it does not mean we do nothing. It is a time set aside for us to prepare for Christ’s coming. We become more aware of ourselves and our world and we see that the light of Christ is present here even amidst the growing darkness of these winter days. Each week as we light another candle in the wreath, Jesus’ light gets brighter. If each of us lets that light penetrate our own darkness- our fears, anxieties, worries, shortcomings- and at every opportunity shed that light on another, St. Dominic’s vision to set the world on fire for Christ will come true. A Dominican friar in the thirteenth century Meister Eckhart said , “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God fourteen hundred years ago and I do not also give birth to the Son of God in my time and in my culture?  We are all meant to be Mothers of God." For the remainder of Advent, we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus into world. Let us not wait in vain, but let us be living in a way that brings Jesus and his promises for joy and fulfillment into our own world and the world of those around us. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Blessings in Salt Lake

by Paul Wizniuk

To be a Dominican Volunteer for a year ministering as an Assistant Campus Minister at the Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Newman Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, how I have made my way through and enjoyed it!
Br. Gabriel, Fr. Peter, and Paul

My time in this capacity has consisted of two basic elements: living out a Dominican lifestyle and facilitating spiritual growth and greater community amongst the students and the parish. My days have been framed by the Liturgy of the Hours. I thank the Lord for the morning and pleasant rest, appreciate a mid-day’s moment of rest and refocus, and ask for blessings as I end my day. This prayer ritual, through the cycle I just described and the psalmist’s beautiful laments and praises has brought about conversion in my heart to deeper faith and reliance on God. Daily reception of Christ’s body and blood as part of my ministry day has been a large part of that conversion too.

Learning to live in intentional community has been quite humbling and inspiring. Among the lessons learned, obedience is surely the greatest, as well as accountability to more than just myself, but to those I live with whom I rely on and rely on me; especially for edible dinners, which I attempted to provide each Thursday. It is an interesting process of learning to live with and love individual quirks; some of mine I felt the need to qualify with a statement like, “You have to remember, I’m an artist.” (However, I’m not sure it clarify anything . . .)

My more specific ministerial duties that I stated above as “facilitating spiritual growth and greater community amongst the students and parish: have been rewarding and challenging. Trying to work to my strengths, I have focused on utilizing my people skills and sharing my passions in life. Most notably, in my opinion, are my efforts to provide tea time, building community and an open environment in the student lounge at the Center, as well as coordinating an Alternative Spring Break trip to Guatemala. I have been involved in many other projects and groups and roles in my ministry, but those two stand out for me. Although my desire to have tea time at a regular time and on a regular basis functioned more so as me serving tea throughout the day to students that came in and out (my most regular tea drinking companion being Stephanie, the Secretary), I believe the success of this venture was mostly in the power of the idea. Many people expressed to me how they thought this was a great idea and I think it opened people’s minds to the idea even if they didn’t come participate. I believe it helped people realize that is another world out there that they sometimes forget about, and in it there are some that still take a moment in the day to sit, enjoy a favorite beverage, reflect on the day and enjoy good conversation with friends.
Paul and members of the Newman Center

Coordinating the ASB trip to Guatemala was a wonderful experience for me because it offered me the opportunity to share some of my talents in areas I am really passionate about, namely serving others, specifically serving others in Latin America, speaking Spanish, and helping others experience the beauty of the people and culture of Latin America. I was able to use my passion for this kind of trip to get people excited about it and use my experiences to prepare them. Along with learning how to make this all go smoothly I had some unexpected lessons that Fr. Carl, the Pastor, described as “learning the ways of high finance,” or more specifically people reneging on their payments. Overall, the most outstanding lesson I believe was the experience of spearheading the trip and leading the groups through it; especially holding everyone together to the common vision and keeping the group united.

To be a part of the Newman Center community, which is described often (for good reason) as very special, and to participate in God's love with them was a profound experience as we worked to build the kingdom of God and make it present everywhere we are.  I am thankful to everyone there for playing the important role they did as a part of my experience, simply by being themselves and belonging to the community.  I move forward from this year of service with them enriched and more devote to Jesus Christ and for that I can't thank them enough.

Reflecting on a Year of Service

by Erica Stewart

Students of Immaculate Conception Academy
For the last few days in the month of June, I was blessed enough to spend time in Racine, Wisconsin with the sisters at their Motherhouse, the twelve other volunteers, and our wonderful program directors. This retreat provided ample time for reflection of my year of service and was the perfect ending to what has become one of the best years of my life. Have you ever made a decision—especially an important one—and just known deep inside you that it was the perfect for you? This was confirmed for me each and every day during my time with DVUSA, whether it was in my interactions with my students, coworkers, community members, or fellow volunteers. 

At our retreat, Mike gave us the opportunity to look over our applications that we had submitted more than a year before for DVUSA. This was such a wonderful experience for me to see the transformation I have undergone over the past year. For some questions, the answers have remained very much the same, like my desire to participate in service which I truly believe speaks to God’s intended path for my life: that I am called to serve forever and not until my contract ends July 13th

Erica and Kristen
Over the past year, even through long painful minutes of waiting for my students to quiet down and prepare for my lessons, tearful reflections about the integration of God in my service year, seemingly endless lists of tasks that I never thought would reach their deadline, and of course, hours of prayer, together and community, I have responded to the call to serve with a fervent “yes” that echoes the same response that Mary gave in the Annunciation.

Please do not confuse this statement with my thinking I am anything like a divine figure because Lord knows I am far from it, but she, along with the members of my religious community who pray to her daily, has become a strong role model in difficult times when I find that the answer of “yes” too often slips off my lips when I am asked to take on yet another responsibility. Though I was asked to do quite the variety of tasks, ranging from preparing lessons on Charlemagne for my Church History class to leading an Amazing Race challenge for our freshmen around the city to cleaning out our faculty room refrigerator to hunting down the students who have failed to hand in their homework to stay after school, I often found it difficult to say no when I was asked to do something, no matter how full my plate seemed to be that day because I often did see the benefit in my “yes” to complete these tasks, whether it be a smile, a thank you, or on the very lucky days, a Starbucks gift card when I finally won the Faculty Friday raffle.

Immaculate Conception Academy staff
At the end of the day, and reaching the end of my service year, I am thankful for my ability to say “yes” and hope that it will continue to move me down the path God intends me to travel upon in my life, especially as I move on to my next job working as a recruitment associate for Catholic Volunteer Network. I hope that I will inspire others called to service to respond “yes” to help those who are so often told “no” by everyone else. Thank you, my Dominican family, for inspiring me to say yes and helping to unite us all in one body of Christ!

What I Have Learned Throughout This Year of Service

by Sean Mundy

I was lucky and blessed enough to volunteer for a year at St. Pius V School in Chicago, IL, where I worked as a Resource Room teacher. 

As I sit here at the closing retreat in Racine, Wisconsin at the Siena Retreat Center (we are staying in a 15-room, Georgian revival mansion built in 1934, no big deal) run by the Dominican sisters of Racine, we are reflecting on our year of service.  These are the top 10 things I learned this year:

1.     The Four Pillars of Dominican Spirituality - I have and will continue to commit myself to living my life according to the Gospel through the four pillars: prayer, study, community, and preaching/mission/service.

2.     My Four Pillars - In an activity, we were asked to reflect on what would be the four pillars of how we live our lives.  Mine were: 
·      Acceptance and Understanding
·      Personal, Professional, and Spiritual Growth
·      Making a Difference One Person or Interaction at a Time
·      Living in a Spirit of Awe
Sean with his community at St. Martin de Porres.

  3.     Human Dignity - I have been exposed to many world issues this year.  I am learning that each of these issues all come down to human dignity or the lack thereof.  These issues include, but are not limited to immigration law, human trafficking, genocide, homelessness, poverty, the right to life, education reform, domestic violence, world peace, water (access to clean water, the bottled water industry, conservation, etc.), eco-justice, LGBT rights, prison ministry, gang violence, racism, military spending, fair trade, and so much more.

4.     Family Matters - I am thrilled to have such a positive relationship with my immediate and extended family.  Having approximately 850 miles between most of my family members and I has proven difficult.  This difficulty showed me how integral they are to my life.  Every time I came home to visit, I realized how much I need their love, guidance, and support.  Thank you!

5.     Teaching is My Passion.  The art of teaching and the profession itself is a craft that I want to perfect through continued study and professional development.  Affecting positive change in children is important to me.  I feel that I can truly change the world one child or one person at a time.  The ripple effect may go much further than I will ever know, and I’m okay with that. 

Sean in the classroom
     6.     Dominican Vowed Religious are Awe-Inspiring.  Their dedication to the Catholic faith in the Dominican spirituality is tremendous.  Their years of service in education, healthcare, social services and so much more are beyond compare.  Their fighting for social justice and human rights issues is inspirational and commendable.  Every interaction I have had with a sister (especially our weekly interactions with four Dominican Sisters of Springfield at the St. Martin de Porres Convent in South Chicago) and a friar (especially our monthly interactions with the Dominican Friars of the Central Province Priory) has been a pleasant, enriching, and beautiful experience.

7.     “No I Don’t Want to Become a Priest” - It was a lighthearted joke amongst some DVs to count the amount of times we are asked if we will become a friar or sister.  I still don’t feel called to join religious life, but I have learned throughout the past few years that when I plan, God laughs.  Life has been full of twists and turns, but it always works out in the end.  I now trust that God will lead me wisely, even if it seems difficult or scary at the time. 

8.     Labyrinths are Amazing - For those of you who may not know, Labyrinths are large mazes cut into the grass or painted on the floor that have one entrance, one path, and no dead ends.  There’s no right way to walk a Labyrinth, but often you pray or meditate before and then you leave something in the center before making your way back out.   They have brought me peace and helped me along my journey.
Sean and staff at St. Pius V School.

    9.     Relationship is at the Heart of Ministry - I have been so blessed to meet a number of people who have been so integral to my service year.  I’m going to mention a few of them here. 
·      Nancy Nasko, my principal at St. Pius V School and supervisor, is beyond supportive.  Every week she would tell me how blessed she is to have me at my ministry site.  She is so full of love for her students, faculty, and staff, but honestly, I know she has that love for everyone she encounters.  The highest honor at St. Pius is the Peacemaker award.  This spirit of peace permeates throughout the school and we rarely have behavior issues.  I think this safe, loving, and caring atmosphere it largely in part due to the leadership of Nancy.  She is a great role model for peace.
·      Br. Chris became my spiritual advisor in the winter.  I truly appreciated his insight, openness, and advisement (even if he is Franciscan – just kidding!).  He really helped me get my personal prayer life going again and truly helped me throughout my journey this year. I will be forever grateful!
·      The DVUSA staff has made my life as a service volunteer as stress-free as possible.  Michael, the director, and Erica, the assistant director, work so hard to develop the program and be in tune with the volunteers’ experiences.  It is clear that they truly care about each volunteer and really try to keep relationship at the heart of ministry.

10.  Overall, my volunteer year was a huge success.  Despite any negative experiences I have had this year, I truly love everyone with whom I have come into contact and the positive experiences have greatly outweighed the negative ones. I grew personally, spiritually, emotionally, and professionally.  I truly feel I have made a world of difference.  And hey, I actually got hired by St. Pius V School to be a 6th grade teacher for next year!  See, volunteering can lead to employment!