Friday, August 31, 2018

Living in Relationship and Interconnectedness

August 8, 2018
Feast of St. Dominic
Allison Beyer
DVUSA Orientation Commissioning Mass
Mariandale Retreat Center

DVUSA Codirector Allison Beyer

In today’s Gospel (MT 15: 21-28) we meet a woman who has a name but her name was not recorded. Her name, like millions of women before and after her, is lost to us. Her actions and impact are not. It is precisely because of her audacity and persistence that she is remembered and recorded in our Holy book.

[Let’s recap; in 1-2 minutes in your own words tell the person next to you what you just heard in the Gospel. Take turns. The first person to listen will then add anything that the first person might have forgotten or left out.]

When I realized this was the Gospel for today I thought “Oh no! This is my least favorite Gospel!!” That’s why I thought we could start by looking at it together-- to practice bringing things that are difficult to our community, to practice our Dominican value of study and contemplation in community.

I’ll share with you how I hear this Gospel. First, everytime I hear or read this passage, I feel heavy in my heart, anxious in my stomach. It is an uncomfortable scene and one that is difficult for me to return to.

The woman, who has a name but we do not know it, goes to Jesus on behalf of her daughter who is being tormented by a demon.

Sometimes, some days, some years--we are this woman. We are desperate for healing, for answers, for action. Our desperation and love for another or our own very lives makes us bold. We do not shrink before a crowd of critics. We would walk any mile, go any distance, speak out and advocate until we make the need heard and known.
Call to mind a time when you were desperate on behalf of another or yourself. Remember how this desperation feels in your body. Your head. Your chest. Your gut. Your hands.

Sometimes, some days, some years--we are the daughter. We are utterly vulnerable. We are dependent on the ability, privilege, voice, decision, power of someone else. We are dominated by brokenness. Physical challenges, depression, anxiety, rage, grief, illness, exhaustion, poverty, marginalization. Perhaps we are even unable to seek the help we so desperately need to be well, to be integrated. We rely on the assistance of of another to get by. It is difficult to imagine in the thick of our brokenness that we won’t always be tormented day after day. Joy--the joy that we hear of in the first reading (JER 31:1-7), praising God with tambourine and dance, is unfathomable, out of reach. If we had experienced it before, it is now nothing but a memory.
Call to mind a time when you were tormented by your brokenness. Remember how this feels in your body. Your head. Your chest. Your gut. Your hands.

The woman goes to Jesus on behalf of her daughter. She is ignored.
He doesn’t even respond.

The disciples are annoyed. The woman won’t stop talking, trying to get to Jesus, making a scene. She is not even Jewish. Who does this woman think she is?

Sometimes, some days, some years--we are the disciples. We find ourselves in a position of power, of security. We belong to the majority group, our identity is valued and protected. We are able to determine who is allowed “in” or “out” of our group. We cling to this identity because it is comfortable, because it is familiar, because it is safe. If we insulate ourselves, we can maintain some semblance of peace, order and stability.
Call to mind a time in your life when you were comfortable in you your security and opted to tune out or avoid others different from yourself. Remember how living in a defensive state of fear and protection feels in your body. Your head. Your chest. Your gut. Your hands.

The disciples decide to get rid of the problem--the woman is the problem. Disrupting their peace and mission. The woman persists.

Jesus, the Good Teacher, finally responds.
“I’ve got other things to do.” “I’m too busy.” “Your daughter is not my concern, not my problem.”

Sometimes, some days, some years--we are Jesus here. We are focused, determined, heaven-bent on fulfilling a challenging plan that demands all of our attention and energy so as to not become disheartened or back out. We have carefully, and maybe even painfully, discerned our path and we will be undeterred until we reach our goal. Our resolve is strong and our vision myopic. It is nearly impossible to take in new information, so set are our eyes on the end goal. We see things and people outside the scope of our vision as distractions and setbacks.
Call to mind a time in your life when you were determined and unmoving. Remember how this feels in your body. Your head. Your chest. Your gut. Your hands.

The woman, who has a name but we do not know it, persists. Jesus compares her to a dog. The woman notes that, actually, she is being treated as even less than a dog--so stingy are the disciples, and most devastatingly, Jesus, in responding to her need.

And Jesus perhaps is shocked by her words, her character, her audacity to tell the truth and shatter the blinders he was using to dismiss her. This is a conversion moment for Jesus, one of the most intensely human portraits of Jesus. In this moment, Jesus sees the woman. He hears her. Her interruption allows Jesus to wake up and to respond with compassion, to widen his circle, to broaden his mission, to adjust his understanding of his own calling.
Sometimes, some days, and, if we are so very blessed, some years--we are Jesus in this moment, after seeing and hearing and taking seriously a woman whose name we do not know. We are Jesus, breaking out of ourselves. We are able to see the truth of love as expansive; we recognize that when we recognize the dignity of one, it does not subtract or negate the dignity of another. We are arrested in our tracks, convicted by the truth of our own indifference, willing ignorance, complicit bias, and we are compelled to cross and dismantle previously established borders. We wake up and see with startling clarity the actual person who is front of us, who has been asking for our attention, our companionship, our gifts, our belief. We wake up and we move. The best apology is changed behavior. Jesus owns his freedom to change, to choose a new response, to upend old patterns, to begin a new relationship. He pays attention. He is humbled.
Call to mind a time in your life when you felt convicted, converted, called to action. Remember what it feels like to accept a new truth, to take on a new reality, to respond with your life. Remember what it feels like to grow, to expand, to give, to love. In your head. Your chest, Your gut. Your hands.

Dominican Volunteers will spend this next year dedicated to the four pillars of Prayer, Community, Ministry and Study. Our hope is that in relationship this year you will remember the times that you yourself have been the daughter, the woman with a name no one remembered, the disciples. And that when you encounter the daughter, the woman, or the disciples in someone else, you remember the example of Jesus, of Dominic. We pray that you allow yourself to hear the stories of the students, the parents, the survivors, the abusers, the children, the hungry, enter into your own story, disrupt the path you “thought” you were on. Allow their story to enter yours so much that it changes yours as you live it. We pray that you are transformed by these relationships and the ever-continued awakening to the truth of our interconnectedness and the ever-present opportunity for change.

‘The Heart of Ministry is Relationship.' Jesus knew this. The woman and her daughter reminded him. Dominic knew this. That is why St. Dominic traveled by foot--to stay physically and literally grounded by putting himself in a position that would allow him to encounter others on his way. His life invited this kind of relational interruption. He knew that the destination was never more pressing than the person in front of him in any given moment, and so he chose to live in a way that would increase opportunities for connection and an expansion of shared wisdom, shared truth.

We give thanks today in this Eucharist for the encounter with one another made possible by our retreat here at Mariandale. We give thanks to the Dominican sisters who inspire and make possible DVUSA, and especially for the sisters that open their homes to the volunteers. We give thanks with hearts full of hope and eager anticipation for the 5 newest Dominican Volunteers and their commitment to respond to the Gospel with their lives.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Relationship is the Heart of Ministry

DV Sean Puzzo

Our first blog post from our 2018-19 Dominican Volunteers comes from second year volunteer Sean Puzzo. Sean serves at the St. Francis Center, a center for low-income families in Redwood City California. 

Thank you for your service Sean!

"At the Dominican Volunteers Opening Retreat we reflected on the phrase “relationship is at the heart of ministry.” It’s a phrase that I had heard before and certainly understood the concept, but have never seen it so clearly as I have in the past few weeks at Holy Family School and the Siena Youth Center, programs of the St. Francis Center.

I write this blog post as I have just finished my lesson planning for my second full week of school! Ahhhh!

For those who may not no, the St. Francis Center is non-profit organization focused on helping low-income families especially in the North Fair Oaks neighborhood of Redwood City, CA.

This is my second year as a Dominican Volunteer - last year I served with the Dominican Youth Movement USA. DYMUSA is a support organization which offers resources and programs to schools and institutions sponsored by Dominican Sisters and Friars. Its goal is to introduce youth and young adults to the ways in which they too can be preachers of the Good News through their God-given gifts and talents - a goal I hope to continue to share with the students this year.

This year at Holy Family School I work with the Fifth Grade cohort teaching Religion and Gym. I am so excited for this opportunity. The Fifth Grade textbook has a theme of “Come, Follow Me” (Matthew 4:19). I am so looking forward to walking with my students on their faith journeys. I am think I am most looking forward them teaching me more about my faith.

A highlight of my week is working with the mothers of the second and fifth grade cohorts furthering their education. Whether it is tutoring ESL, helping with homework, or simply having a conversation about our lives. It has been an honor to begin to hear their stories and learn as much from them as they from me.

Finally, I assist with the afterschool program at the Siena Youth Center which is an education and recreation center for middle school ages students in the area which aims to produce “whole, happy, and healthy” students. This year I will be able to teach classes on art and self-expression. I look forward to sharing what I learned in college with students who may not get the chance otherwise.

So why I am talking about all of this? Relationship - the relationships that I have been able to create in the past few weeks and will create over the year bring be such joy and excitement. Relationship is truly at the heart of ministry!"
Sean, fellow DV Elizabeth Broussard, and the Redwood City community

Monday, August 6, 2018

"That's what volunteers do"

Our latest blog post comes from Dominican Sister and Dominican Volunteers USA Board Member, Sister Mary Kremer.
Sister Mary Kremer OP

Sister Mary shares a conversation with the 2017-18 Chicago volunteers that exemplified St. Dominic’s mission.

Thank you for your service and Dominican example Sister Mary.

"Several months ago, I invited myself for supper to the House of Connections in Chicago because I wanted volunteers to join me in making an appeal for financial support for the Program at St. Vincent Ferrer Parish in River Forest IL. At the supper table, I described the project and asked if any one of the four volunteers might be interested in talking more about it.

Zach Moeller, sitting next to me, responded in a clear voice: “We’ll all help you.”

I was startled and looked right at Zach: “Are you saying ‘yes’”?

Without hesitation he replied, “Yes, of course. That’s what volunteers do.”

The other three looked right at me, saying nothing. Their broad grins said everything: “We too are ready.”

The annals of early Dominican life do not record St. Dominic speaking these same generous words, but I suspect that this great preacher and teacher spent his life generously giving to others whatever he had.

I have a short movie in my mind of four generous DVs, son and daughters of Dominic, Zach Moeller Elizabeth Drake, Madeleine Paulsen, and Sarah Pereira, that will carry me until I meet next year’s DVs.”
Zach, Elizabeth, Madeleine and Sarah