Seasonal Reflections

Lenten Reflections 2017

Ash Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Jl 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Lent always has a way of sneaking up on me. Of course, I know it’s coming, yet I never quite feel ready when Ash Wednesday is suddenly upon me.

What am I going to focus on for the next forty days? In what ways will I be more intentional in my life? In what ways and with whom do I allow myself to be vulnerable and accept my sinfulness?

But isn’t that what Lent is about? Preparing your heart for the Passion is a process. It is a time-period meant to give us the space in which to ready ourselves for the Resurrection. First, we must acknowledge and cleanse ourselves of our sins so that we might be able to fill ourselves with the love of the Lord.

In today’s readings, two things struck me. First, from the second reading, the Second Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians:

“In an acceptable time I heard you,
and on the day of salvation I helped you.
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”

And secondly, from Psalm 51:
R. Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.

Two themes here emerge; my own sinfulness and subsequent desire for mercy, as well as the need and willingness to see the time at hand as truly the day of salvation. So often I think I’ll tackle something tomorrow, or I’ll give something a little more time to run its course before I make a change. And while there is certainly a time for patience in one’s life, all too often I find myself waiting for the right opportunity, waiting for the stars to align just so before I take action. In all that we do, we must not be complacent; we must continue to push ourselves beyond the confines of comfort. Our relationship with God and with our brothers and sisters is no different. Making yourself vulnerable, being willing to admit sinfulness, and pushing yourself into a bit of the unknown is the only way toward real growth. As I look ahead at the forty days of Lent, I am challenging myself to push the boundaries of my faith, to push myself in my relationship with God and others to more fully realize my own sinfulness and to begin to break down the barriers that keep me from filling myself more wholly with God. And if I succeed in that, I will have less room for judgment, doubt and egocentricity in my heart and more space to truly be a disciple of Christ.

Jane O’Connor

AV 2007-2008, Lawrence

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Lk 9:22-25

“When all else fails, read the directions!” Things like new cars, appliances, and electronics function much better and may even last longer when we read a product’s directions. Over the counter and prescription medications come with instructions and warnings too. Maybe you’re one of those persons who doesn’t bother to read those instructions very carefully. You search for them only when something breaks down or you’re feeling ill and you read or reread the instructions. In many ways with the beginning of this new Lenten season we unpack the daily scripture readings and reapply them to our new life situation: perhaps the new experience of community life as an Augustinian Volunteer, or being a parent for the first time, or the challenge of a new coworker, or the diagnosis of a serious illness for yourself or a loved one.  We need to be vigilant and pay attention to God’s instructions given to us in this graced season. We have been listening to the “prescribed” Word of God for Lent for at least a few years now but maybe we need a stronger dose.  Our readings today offer us some spiritual life instructions from Moses and Jesus. We are told that to gain eternal Life means walking in God’s way, taking up our cross, and losing our life. To walk in Jesus’ footsteps and live a full and happy life means we must be faithful to Jesus’ word and put others’ needs before our own simply out of Love. You and I were created to know, love, and serve God. To do that means we must follow the directions prescribed by Moses and Jesus. May the Lord our God bless us in the land we are entering to occupy.

Fr. Frank Doyle, O.S.A.

AV Advisory Board Member

Friday, March 3, 2017

Is 58:1-9A; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 18-19; Mt 9:14-15

In today’s first reading, from Isaiah, Christ calls us to the following:

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”

As an Augustinian Volunteer in Durban, South Africa, this call felt more easily answered. More clear. Each day I woke up and served and worked humbly alongside the men and women of Inchanga and Molweni. Our job description read as such so it was easy to wake up daily and do it.

This lifetime vocation is much less simple when practically applied in our world today, especially in light of what is happening in our country. Daily, I feel my own intentions and compassion called into question. How are we enacting Jesus’ plea of us? And how widely are we defining who it applies to?

Time and time again I return to the books that I read while living in South Africa and to the lessons I learned there. The most memorable was Father Greg Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart. In his book, Fr. Greg reflects on the relationships he has formed with men and women formerly affiliated with the gangs in East Los Angeles. (Full disclosure: I recite this quote in every single essay I write, many, many blog posts, and in applications a plenty. So, apologies in advance if you’ve read it specifically from me before.)

Fr. Greg says “No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, the circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop.”

Our task, called out to us in today’s first reading, is to be builders of this “kindom”. And to not grow weary. This community that we are called to build is often easy to find within our service experience.  It is much more difficult to continue building it in the “outside world” – the world post-service. And yet we are called to do it.  During this Lenten season, I am challenging myself to daily reflect on this question:

How am I building the “kindom” of God in my community today?

Becca Little

AV 2010, South Africa

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Is 58:9B-14; Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Lk 5:27-32

Today’s readings are centered around learning how to make God our priority. As we peel back the layers of grime that have accumulated from our lives, washing away layers of sin, ignorance, laziness, or self-centeredness, we become better versions of ourselves. In this season of Lent, as we recommit ourselves to God in a special way, we can look to Jesus’ example as a beacon to guide us through our daily lives. God’s love can be drawn upon to scatter doubt or fears we may have; “then lightness shall rise for you in the darkness” (IS 58:9B). Placing our trust in the Lord to guide us where we can do the most good- whether through service, relationships, or work- we can be confident that God will hear our deepest desires and provide for all our needs.

“Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth” (PS 86). We are all on a spiritual journey. Sometimes this journey takes us to unexpected places- Ventura, Philadelphia or Peru for some- but the importance is that we never stop seeking out God in our daily lives. Sometimes we may lose sight of this, backpedaling on our journey or taking a detour every now and again. May this Lenten season bring us further along on our journey to God. May it help us charge on down the road to holiness, paying attention to God’s whispered assurance that we are on the right path.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless ‘til they rest in you.” Augustine explains it well. Keep on keeping on [the path to God].

Erica Papkee

Current AV, Ventura

First Sunday of Lent, March 5, 2017

Gn 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11

In today’s readings, we remember two stories of the devil tempting Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ. Adam and Eve, innocent and naïve, give into the serpent’s temptation, but with strength in God and himself, Jesus does not make the same mistake.

As a young Augustinian Volunteer, it might be easy to caught up with work, house responsibilities, and extracurricular activities. But always remember that faith and strength in Christ will always help you get through difficult times. I remember that during my year as an Augustinian Volunteer, things did not always go easy or smoothly the first time around. However, the more we practiced, the more we cared, and the more honest we were with each other, things improved, and we ended having an awesome year and created lifelong friendships.

Now that I have the opportunity to reflect on this reading, I remind myself of all the times where I relied on prayer and my faith. Just like Adam and Eve, at times, I’m sure I was naive and foolish but the whole time, we worked together as a community to keep each other going.

I pray that your community can continue to learn and grow from each other. One year as a volunteer can be hard, but always remember that you have a strong support system to help you get through all the work that you do. It’s already March and you’re doing great! Keep up the awesome work and always remember that someday you will look back on this year and smile, and say… “I did it.” I know I have greatly, and I think it’s made me a better and happier person.

Brian Manning

AV 2013, South Africa

Monday, March 6, 2017

Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; Mt 25:31-46

Be Holy! This is what the Lord God told Moses to tell the Children of Israel, and it is said to each one of us…Be Holy! This is not an ultimatum or a warning, but the promise and guarantee that we can be…Holy!

The call to holiness is given to each one of us. It is a call to put our faith into action. I may be tempted to say, “I can’t be holy like God is holy, so why bother even trying.” But Jesus gives us an example and way to follow…Feed the hungry, serve those in need, be welcoming and hospitable to all. In doing so, we become Holy and are Blessed by the Father! It is the criteria by which we will be judged…how did I treat others?

In our country, in our world, in our families, in our schools, in our communities, in our Church, there are many divisions and tensions. We must continue to strive to see each other as our brother or sister and strive to treat others the way we would want to be treated…with love and respect. This is easier said than done when we disagree with each other, and yet it is still our call…to be Holy!

During this Holy Season of Lent, let us attempt to put our differences aside and to put grudges and revenge asunder. In doing so, we will build up the City of God and live with a sense of Spirit and Life, growing in the Wisdom and Joy of the Lord. May we arrive at Easter being more united in Truth and Love and indeed Holier!

Very Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A.,Ph.D.
Prior Provincial of the Augustinians of Chicago, Canada, and Peru

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Is 55:10-11; Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Mt 6:7-15

“This is how you are to pray…” Today’s Gospel brings me back to those first moments praying as a very young child at Mass, excited and proud I had finally memorized the Lord’s Prayer.  It felt so good to speak coherently enough that the adult in the row in front turned to say, “well done!” The words become more meaningful with each passing life experience, something God intended for us to experience. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” reminds us to live each day with God and do God’s work.  Some days stand out much more as revealing God’s love and greatness to us, such as praying with your AV community members, sharing a meal with loved ones you have missed, or serving God’s people.  As you recall your own first moments of praying the Lord’s Prayer, remember how much God loves you. Continue to pray and evaluate how we love God and do his will.

Jeannie O’Brien

AV 2007-2008, Chicago

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jon 3:1-10; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Lk 11:29-32

Jonah is an unwilling prophet as he brings God’s message to the people of Nineveh. After trying his hardest to avoid doing what God wants, Jonah gives in and does what God wishes him to do…. be a personal messenger of the message. Jonah’s message was powerful, and he must have delivered it well, since everyone in Nineveh, even the king, changed their ways over 40 days. God’s message was well received.

I can learn from Jonah as I walk my own Lenten journey, even without the sackcloth. Working with elementary students in a Catholic school, I speak to children daily about the importance of taking Lent seriously and making Lenten promises. But as educators, we also know that our students sometimes learn more from our example than they do from our words. That has got me thinking about my own faith journey during the forty days of Lent. I may carry God’s wonderful message to the students, but am I ready to set an example and make my own Lenten promises? Am I modeling mercy, charity and forgiveness every day?

It’s important that I remember to place God at the center of my own life, making time for prayer and reflection. Lent offers me a new opportunity to renew my commitment to God, and to joyfully model it for my students.

Return to me, God invites, for I am gracious and merciful!

Pat Groff

AV Service Site Supervisor and Principal at Our Lady of the Assumption School, Ventura

Thursday, March 9, 2017

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030917.cfm

Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25; Ps 138:1-2AB, 2CDE-3, 7C-8; Mt 7:7-12

Ask & it will be given…

The theme in today’s readings is the idea of asking for help.

In the Book of Esther:  “Help me, who am alone and have no help but you.”

In our Responsorial Psalm:  “When I called, you answered me; you built up strength within me.”

In the Gospel of Matthew:  ” Jesus said to his disciples: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find.”

Thankfully, God created us a fundamentally social and interdependent beings.  We need each other.  We are reminded of this in Catholic Social teaching.  In Saint John Paul II’s On Social Concern’ (1987):

“Building a community that empowers everyone to attain their full potential through each of us respecting each other’s dignity, rights and responsibilities makes the world a better place to live.”

As Augustinian Volunteers, we have the unique opportunity to live in intentional community with one another and be supported by the greater Augustinian community.

Our readings today remind us to draw on that unique and marvelous benefit of Augustinian identity.

I just finished reading Sebatian Junger’s book Tribe which cautions that the essence of “tribe” or “community” is increasingly under threat the more individualistic, materialistic and technologically advanced our society becomes.

But Junger offers us a prescription, which echoes the hallmark of Augustinian values:

“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness.”

During this season of Lent, I hope you will humble yourselves before your community and God and ask for the help and support you need to serve the world.  And I hope that when asked, you will give it.

Lou Charest

AV 2004-2005, San Diego

Friday, March 10, 2017

Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7A, 7BC-8; Mt 5:20-26

In today’s Gospel, Jesus offers the invitation and challenge of discipleship: it is not merely our actions but the content of our heart that his way requires. As a self-proclaimed “rule follower”, this passage serves as a humbling reminder for me that all rules and laws don’t exist for themselves. They are guideposts that point us toward right relationship with other persons, the created world, and God.  In this case, the commandment prohibits the act of killing, but Jesus calls us to examine the anger which gives rise to the act. Where do I harvest rigid resentment and hostility which cause relationships to grow brittle and break? Where might I sow the rains of reconciliation and peace to bring new life into desert places?

As Jesus encourages us to be reconciled to our sisters and brothers, I am mindful that more than my individual actions and dispositions threaten life and separate me from those around me. Before offering myself to the Lord in worship, I must reconcile myself as person embedded in systems of inequality and injustice that benefit me only at the detriment of others.  Racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and other forms of systematic oppression are pervasive, doing violence to my brothers and sisters.  Jesus challenges me today to not simply reject these phenomena in word and deed, but to reach out across difference to collaborate in creating a new reality of God’s kingdom here and now.

In the moments when I am tempted to be overwhelmed, I am filled with hope as I realize that these are the moments to which we have been called. As the Psalmist writes, “My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.”

Brian McCabe

AV Advisory Board Member

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dt 26:16-19; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; Mt 5:43-48

This Lenten season I’ve been waiting for a sign. Not knowing what I was going to give up or add to my life for Lent in terms of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, I asked around.

One friend was going to go to daily Mass, another was going to visit her favorite service site weekly. The best response was from a seminarian I know who was going to try being more humble this Lent by embarrassing himself every day. These were all great ideas, but they were also unique to what each individual felt they needed in their relationship with God this Lent.

In the gospel today, Jesus said “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” I think Jesus speaks to all of us when he asks this of us. It is so easy for us to fall into a pattern of negativity because our enemies are the easiest for us to hate. Whether it be with a community member, a colleague, or someone you barely know, we all have moments where we feel hopeless in the way of understanding or getting along with someone else.

That’s the point! Our faith is not supposed to be easy, but to challenge us to be better than what we are, to bring us closer to God, and to contribute goodness to the human family. Recently, I’ve found myself concentrating on the negatives in life – on those who I would consider my “enemies” and letting it consume me.  This Lenten season, let us really dive into the challenges our faith presents and start instead by reaching out to those we have pushed away.

Amy Rowland

AV 2014-2015, Lawrence

Second Sunday of Lent, March 12, 2017

Gn 12:1-4A; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tm 1:8B-10; Mt 17:1-9

The right side of my head slams into plastic and mud as Pelado’s mototaxi crashes onto its side. Rocky, Pelado’s dog, kicks my face and shoulder as he falls on top of me. Pelado shouts something incomprehensible at me – I never seem to know Spanish in moments like this – and I scramble out of the vehicle turned de lado. Before we get the moto back on its three wheels, I have a moment to stand there in the mud and the mosquitos and the punishing equatorial sun and think, “What am I doing here?”

“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk…to a land that I will show you.”

Transfiguration, as best as I can tell, always starts with answering a call. In today’s readings, this idea is brought to bear literally, as we reach the Transfiguration of Jesus only by first reflecting on the call of Abraham. For Abraham, God’s call was rather explicit: one imagines a voice booming across the desert sands. For most of us, though, the call comes more subtly in the form of what St. Augustine would call a restless heart. I can relate. My restless heart has brought me to Peru by way of Baltimore, the site of my first year of volunteer service. I felt a need to try a simple life among community, away from my family, to see what I might find. I’ve followed that call into Baltimore courthouses and Peruvian creek beds. These experiences have and will continue to transfigure me during this year of service, as they have for so many AVs.

And for the many moments when I’m (literally or figuratively) lying in the mud, I try to remember the call of my restless heart and the transfiguration to which it leads. I try to hear God’s voice booming across northern Peru: “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

Pat McDonell

Current AV, Peru

Monday, March 13, 2017

Dn 9:4B-10; Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; Lk 6:36-38

Today’s Gospel reminds us to “stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” (Lk 6:37) In life and especially in community, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and frustrated by others. It can be the simplest of things like dishes and car schedules but it can also reach to more complex issues such as political views and personal beliefs.

It is important always, but especially in this season of Lent to take a step back and to put ourselves in the shoes of others. Remembering that we are all human, resist the urge to fall into the trap of you against me or us against them and instead let us treat others in the way that we would like to be treated. Jesus is calling us to follow in the footsteps of our heavenly Father and to love, accept and forgive others as we would want them to do to us. Let us be reminded to be open to others by reserving judgement and condemnation and to always forgive others as our loving Father forgives us.

Nicole Quirk

AV 2015-2016, San Diego

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50: 8-9, 16BC-17, 21 and 23; Mt 23:1-12

Do you know someone who would say, “I am very humble, and proud of it?” In the Gospel today Jesus speaks about such people, the scribes and Pharisees and how they are very proud of their positions. They love to laud things over others; they love to be the center of attention; when they do something they want everyone to see it. The last thing we would call them is “humble.” Jesus condemns this lack of humility. He calls us to humility.

What is the humility to which Jesus calls us? I will tell you what humility is NOT. It is not putting ourselves down or to cower in a corner. It is not saying I have no worth and everyone else is better than me. No! When Jesus calls us to be humble he tells us in this Gospel when he says, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” To be humble is not to put yourself first. It is the challenge of not always doing what I want when I want it and how I want it. To be humble means reaching out to others in their needs and not put myself first. To be humble is to be open to the needs of others and to actively try to respond to those needs, even if it means putting ourselves second.

Lent is a time of reflection. One area to look at is, how humble am I? How often do I out myself before others in a lack of humility? Or, do I hear this Gospel and the call of Christ to be humble in service to others. And then, as the Gospel says, we shall truly be exalted.

Fr. Tony Burrascano, O.S.A.

Augustinian Site Supervisor, Philadelphia

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20: 17-28

Save me, O Lord, in your kindness.
You will free me from the snare they set for me,

for you are my refuge.

Today’s passage speaks of fear. As I get older and move toward new life stages I find myself worrying more about the future.  I am anxious that life turns out the way I want it to. I want to control where my family lives, where my friends live, what my family does with their lives. Sometimes this can turn into anxiety. We all face different fears and anxieties, which is natural. So start to ask yourself these questions: What do I fear right now? Am I anxious about something? What is dominating my thoughts? What am I trying to control?

This passage speaks of God setting us free. God is the refuge that can take away the fear. Along with reflection and prayer, I also believe in practical strategies and tools that we can use.  Here are some practical ideas to let the anxiety loosen its grip:

Seek to live in the present, enjoy your life now.

Hold onto what is really important (ask yourself what matters when it comes down to your values).

If you have anxiety about one certain thing, ask yourself: Does this specific thing make a difference in the long run?

Do you have a fear? Confront this fear…. What is the best outcome? What is the worst? Can I deal with that? Do I have the support system in place to help me? Build your supports up and strengthen your friendships.

Learn to embrace the unknown and know that strength and comfort will come no matter what happens.

Explore what your foundation is that will always be part of you. Here are a few rocks to hold onto: Faith is always there. Your values and your passions are always there. Your character and who you are will sustain. Your purpose will sustain. Faith will sustain. And you can always keep working towards to kind of person you want to be despite what circumstances life brings.

Despite our fears and anxieties, there will always be constants for us to lean on and find rest in.

Caitlin Risk

AV 2011, Peru

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Lk 16:19-31

Every day voices and images assault us from our phones, computers and TVs. Voices and faces fill our ears and eyes with their overt opinions and hidden messages. We are constantly bombarded and distracted by social media.

What effect does all this have on us? We can become like the barren bush in the desert, constantly assaulted by the harsh winds and brutal glare of the sun, lacking any source of life deep within us, easily uprooted to tumble across the terrain of life.

This season of Lent presents us with the opportunity to turn down the volume, turn off the screens and “stretch our roots to reach the stream” of God’s Spirit that flows deep down and hidden in our souls.

The rich man in Jesus’ parable was outwardly successful and prosperous. But his lack of rootedness, his dry and barren life led him to a netherworld of torment and alienation.

Lazarus was not successful and prosperous by worldly standards. However, Jesus’ message is that Lazarus was rooted in the life-giving stream of the Spirit that flowed within him, deep down and hidden underneath his poverty and hunger. Lazarus’ hope and trust was in God, not in wealth and success.

During this season, let us pray that God, who alone probes our mind and tests our heart, will make us aware of the Spirit within us. Let us pray that God will teach us how to put all of our trust in the Divine Mercy and live our life accordingly. With God’s grace we can withstand the barrage of distractions around us and reach down deep within our soul to draw life from the Spirit. Take a few minutes each Lenten morning and evening to quiet all else but the Word of the Lord.

Joseph Kelley

AV Advisory Board Member

Friday, March 17, 2017

Gn 37:3-4, 12-13A, 17B-28A; Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable to the chief priests and the elders.  He uses a vineyard to talk about the kingdom of God.  God is the landowner of the vineyard in this parable.  He sends His son, Jesus, to the tenants thinking that they will respect Him.  However, they know Jesus is the heir and they kill Him.  Jesus asks the tenants in the parable, “What will the owner of the vineyard (God) do to those tenants when He (Jesus) comes?”

Let us put ourselves in this story.  God has blessed us with the call to work in the vineyard, not just be in the vineyard.  How are we fulfilling that call?  Whether you are a current Augustinian Volunteer, an alum of the program, a priest or a brother, or a friend of the Augustinians, you have been called to build up the Kingdom of God.  What are you doing on a daily or weekly basis to answer this call?  Are you producing fruit that is pleasing to God?  When He sends His people to ask you what you have produced, how will you answer them?  Jesus says in today’s Gospel that the Kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit.  Reflect on the ways you are currently living out your call and how you can do more to build the Kingdom of God in your own community.

Have a happy and blessed St. Patrick’s Day!

Marie Graney

AV 2015-2016, Ventura

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

There is nothing better to me than going to Mass and hearing the readings or gospel that directly relate to St. Augustine and the Augustinian Volunteer experience.  Today we get this opportunity through one of my favorite parables in the story of the Prodigal Son. The focus surrounds the one son who leaves with his inheritance, loses it all in a life of sin, and then returns a changed man as he realizes the mistakes he has made. Augustine lived a similar life of sin before his conversion, and we all strive to better ourselves after we fall short in our lives.

Today, I would like to turn the channel on this parable and have you look at it through a different point of view. First, focus on the positive traits of the father and his two sons. Independent. Loyal. Strong work ethic. Love.  Now, think about some of the flaws that they show. Insecurity. Selfishness. Jealousy. There are many more ways to describe them in a positive or negative ways, as it shows how they are just like us.

The Augustinian Volunteer year is very special because we are asked to be ourselves at our service sites and in community living. Each volunteer brings so many positive qualities to the environment they are in, and this shines through to the people they are serving or their community members. It is also guaranteed that everyone’s flaws will reveal themselves throughout the year. It is during these times that we show love, mercy, and compassion to each other while striving to improve. God created us in his own image and likeness, and that includes our imperfections. It is so important to enjoy life when things are going well, but the parable of the Prodigal Son tells us to learn from the challenges and mistakes we make. God will love us no matter what!

Paul Ostick

AV 2011-2012, San Diego

Third Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2017

Ex 17:3-7, Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 5:1-2, 5-8; Jn 4:5-42

In the second reading, Paul reminds us that hope does not disappoint—even if our team loses or our loved one passes.  The kind of hope that Paul talks about is a divine virtue.  It is of God and it is implanted in our soul and our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  To want is to desire, but to hope is to expect, with God’s help, that we can secure it.

Every day we “hope.”  We “hope” that that we will have a snow day to extend our weekend and delay our project deadline.  We “hope” with fervent loyalty that our team will win the next big game.  We “hope” that our world will find peace and that humanity will be kind.  We even “hope” that that our loved one will pull through a last-chance surgery.  Let us be reminded of the kind of hope that our faith calls us to.

What things do we hope for that are not of God?  When do we feel foolish in hope and how do we get past it?  When are we tempted to stop hoping?

Lori Tedjeske

AV Advisory Board Member

Monday, March 20, 2017

2 Sm 7:4-5A, 12-14A, 16; Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29; Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22; Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24A

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

This venerable adage reminds us that, by and large, we learn from the example of those around us, particularly our parents, the first in whom we confide, the first to confide in us.

Children watch TV and pick up words, mannerisms and actions they emulate quite naturally. People who are revered and admired by their parents tend to influence the values and characteristics that children will respect and strive to acquire.

In our contemporary society, we needn’t go too far to discover figures, in politics as well as in the world of entertainment and sports, who at best can be categorized as brash, arrogant, filled with themselves, narcissistic, glorifying machismo and bravado—not exactly the qualities identified by Christ as characteristic of the Reign of God.

In the face of that, we followers of Christ today have reason to emulate and revere Joseph, husband of Mary, whom the Church celebrates this day and under whose patronage we all reside as members of the Church. A word which embodies the person of Joseph, from whom not a single word is registered in Scripture but whose actions speak far louder than many of the harsh and self-aggrandizing words we hear each day, and that one word is HUMILITY.

Joseph was a humble man. There was not an ounce of false bravado or “machismo” in this servant of God, who loved God above himself, as well as Mary, choosing the COMMON GOOD over his own personal gain.  From the moment he said yes to the angel, he lived that “yes” for the Lord. How challenging an example he is in an age of narcissism and inordinate self-love.

The mission of Jesus continues today through his Body on earth, his Church. He has entrusted the work of that mission to all those who, like Joseph, accept the invitation to empty themselves – of themselves – in order to be filled with the very life and love of God and work to make this world a better place for everyone.

Fr. Art Purcaro, O.S.A.

Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Peru

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dn 3:25, 34-43; Ps 25:4-5AB, 6 and 7BC, 8-9; Mt 18:21-35

We, as Christians, recognize that we aren’t perfect, but just because our sins are forgiven, doesn’t mean we have a free pass to lie to a friend or cheat on a test. We still need to actively pursue a more Christ-like life. Psalm 25:5 says “teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” It’s almost as if we want to put on a cape and be “Super Christian” to show God that we took notes and have learned from Him. But when we are confronted with that moment, to put to practice all we learned, it’s not always that easy. Forgiveness is one of those lessons that is easy to buy into, but hard to put into practice. The gospel today is evidence of that.

It is the story of a King and a few servants trying to learn and act on the Golden rule. Just as the servant is shown forgiveness by the King, he should show forgiveness to his peer. Here it is-the servant’s time to play out the golden rule, to be a “Super Christian” and forgive his peer. But he just can’t. His “humanness” comes out and he gets angry and ends up in a worse situation.

Lent is a time for us to show our gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice, but we can’t forget to always take notes. God wants us to be super, but reminds us that we are human. We will never be able to replicate all that He has done for us, or live a life without sin as Jesus did. But as long as we take notes and actively try to live a life dedicated to serving Him and His creation, God will give us a passing grade.

Abby MacDonald

AV 2014-2015, Philadelphia

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dt 4:1, 5-9; Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Mt 5:17-19

In today’s reading, Moses speaks to the people about the need to follow the statutes and decrees that the Lord has commanded. He is prepping them to learn about the Ten Commandments, and he tells them that they will be demonstrating their wisdom and intelligence by following the statutes and decrees. In other words, a preparation pep talk!

Part of what has made my experience as a Peru Augustinian Volunteer so great has been the preparation pep talks that have been given to me by the AV staff, family, advisors, and friends. In particular, the AV staff gave each of us a set of “Blueprints” that would help us succeed through the year. I still refer to mine! During Lent I often have to give myself a pep talk to resist temptation and not (fill in the blank: eat that slice of pizza, order that chocolate milkshake, etc.). Today’s reading is that reminder!!

As we continue in this third week of Lent, I will continue to have a great appreciation for the preparatory pep talks given to me in person, through email, and in the Bible.

Erica Peters

Current AV, Peru

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jer 7:23-28; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 11:14-23

Every Augustinian Volunteer knows that when you live in community, you share weird things with each other. Since we are all part of this community, I’ll share something weird with you right now – I love a certain song by John Mayer.

That’s right, my polo-wearing pals. The song is called “Say,” and it is perhaps best known as the theme song to the movie “The Bucket List.” If you’re like me, you had this song “starred” on your iPod Nano for all of 2008.  (No?)

Some might label this song “basic” today, but I still love it because 1) It is undeniably catchy; and 2) While I never took John seriously, these ending lyrics always rang true for me – “You’d better know that in the end / It’s better to say too much / Than never to say what you need to say again.”

Luke’s Gospel opened today with Jesus driving out “a demon that was mute.” The man speaks again. The crowd is amazed. Because the man can express himself, his humanity is restored. Like Jesus’ other miracles, this one involves both a healing and a return to community.

I may never know muteness in this man’s sense, but I do know that what I hold in my heart causes silence later, especially the failures that I try to hide! Ego rises, and I stop speaking, expressing, and seeking connection. I am shut-up by pride. In this sense, am I not muted?

Like the mute man, we are invited to healing and atonement within community. We are commanded to gather so that we might not be scattered, which is the source of our Augustinian fellowship. My AV community was a great gift to me – they always invited me to bring my hidden heart to light, even at the risk of “saying too much.”

Mike McCormick

AV 2014-2015, Ventura

Friday, March 24, 2017

Hos 14:2-10; Ps 81:6C-8A, 8BC-9, 10-11AB, 14 and 17; Mk 12:28-34

“Among the gods there is none like you, O Lord, . . . You alone are God”

-Entrance Antiphon for Friday of the Third Friday of Lent

It is often confusing for us to understand the ‘religious sense’ of the people of Israel at the time of Jesus. They had many geographical ‘neighbors’ who surround their homeland known as Israel, neighbors who most often worshipped many gods.  The land of the Jewish people was occupied and governed by representatives of the Roman Empire, people who worshipped multiple gods.  Even in their own religious community, there were many divisions among the Jewish people: Sadducees, Pharisees, scribes, to mention some major ones. Some Jewish people revered the Law as the most important place where one could experience the Presence of God; others were devoted to the Temple in Jerusalem as the ultimate place where God dwelled. Their prophets were constantly calling the Jewish people to ‘come back’ to the One God. It was also to these many groups to whom Jesus preached his fundamental message concerning loving and worshipping the One God.

As we continue our Lenten journey this year, a major question that each one of us must consider is to look into our hearts to examine whether or not we have fashioned other gods for our lives: power, money, pleasure, success, . . .any one or thing to whom we give our undivided attention as we live our daily lives. And in doing so, forget who God really is!

In 1984, I had the opportunity to visit the well-known Cistercian Abbey in Gethsemane, Kentucky, the large Benedictine abbey of men who are commonly known as Trappists. I remember many aspects of that experience but one of them comes to mind often and did so again today as I read the entrance antiphon for daily Mass and even more so as I reflected upon  the Scriptural passages from Hosea and Mark’s gospel. At the Abbey, there is a simple but very large sign near the guest house. It reads, very significantly, GOD ALONE. In its silence, the sign shouts out why so many men have come to call this place home and its message suggests why countless men and women have and continue to spend time there for a retreat experience, searching for God.

Repeatedly in The Confessions, in his Sermons and other writings, St. Augustine urges us to return to our hearts where God dwells. Lent can be an apt moment when we rediscover GOD ALONE as the love or our lives as we prepare to renew our Baptismal vow on Holy Saturday evening or Easter Sunday.

Fr. Jim Wenzel, O.S.A.

Former AV Advisory Board Member; Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Lawrence

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Is 7:10-14, 8:10; Ps 40:7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 11; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:126-38

Today’s Gospel reading is about the announcement of the incarnation by the angel Gabriel to Mary.  This is a story I have heard many times, and the significance of it was lost on me until I reread it for this reflection.  I now imagine Mary in this moment as young, confused and probably naïve woman, who faced a life changing choice when the angel Gabriel asked her to accept her calling to bring Jesus into the world.

As a volunteer in Peru, I was young, a bit confused and most certainly naïve when I started my year of service.  I wasn’t quite sure how I had ended up in South America, but I knew for certain that I was meant to be there.  Over the year, I learned so much about the culture, language, and people of this foreign country, but the most invaluable lesson I learned was to say “yes”.  Every time I said yes, even though I was scared, I was opening myself up to incredible experiences that have shaped the person I am today.

I believe that God sends us signs in the form of people, opportunities, sadness and joy.  When God said to Mary “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you”, she was troubled and scared, but she said “yes” and her life course changed forever.  In accepting the signs we are sent, we grow closer to God, and continue down our authentic path of life.

Maura Powell

AV 2007, Peru

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 26, 2017

1 Sm 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A; Ps 23: 1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Life is lived through our five senses. When I think about my AV year in the Bronx, or my first day in a developing country in Nicaragua, or working at the AIDS hospice as an AV in South Africa, I reflect on the sense-filled breadth of those lived experiences.

Anyone can watch videos on poverty or see photos of developing countries, but sounds and images don’t suffice. There is something more to actually being somewhere. The honking horns and fire truck sirens in the Bronx, the sticky humidity after rain in Waslala, the taste of Gogo’s tomato soup.

Today’s readings harken to our senses. Jesus heals the blind man, not by mere command, but by spitting on the ground, scooping up the dirt and saliva, rubbing it into clay and smearing it on the man’s eyes. Place yourself in that story for a moment: imagine Jesus coating your eyes with a messy mixture of spittle and earth. “Go and wash.”

In the first reading, Samuel is on a search for the next King of Israel. Jesse presents his seven eldest sons, but the Lord had not chosen any of those. Instead, it was the youngest, David, who was out tending the sheep. This was a dirty job and involved days spent outside in close proximity to the animals. It’s for good reason that Pope Francis calls on ministers of the church to “smell like the sheep”: any good shepherd would acquire this pungent smell. Place yourself in David’s shoes for a moment: imagine yourself after a dirty, sweaty day caring for a herd of animals. “Anoint him- this is the one.”

God enters our lived experiences. God encounters us and speaks to us through all five senses.

How is your AV experience mediated through your senses? What are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings that have marked your year? Where has God entered into that?

Brian Strassburger, S.J.

AV 2006-2007, Bronx; 2008, South Africa

Monday, March 27, 2017

Is 65:17-21; Ps 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12A and 13B; Jn 4:43-54

“Your son will live.”  The man believed what Jesus said and left.

“I am about to create a new heavens and a new earth.”  Do we believe and let it happen?  Or are we too skeptical and jaded and disillusioned so many centuries after that promise to take it seriously at all.  When?  Where are these new heavens and new earth?  Surely not in Jerusalem or its environs these days and not in what too many of us Americans believe to be the new Promised Land.

The hope that Isaiah the Prophet proclaims to us is beyond what we can ever possibly imagine and maybe that makes us willing to settle for so much less.  Perhaps it is our willingness to settle for a sign here and a gesture there that captures our lack of faith.  Perhaps it is with that small faith and meager hope that we trudge forth each day to service to those in need and in community with those who are crazy enough to have just a little bit of hope and faith.

But what would it cost us to take God at his word as the Royal Official took Jesus at his word?  Surely, we will seem foolish and delusional when it doesn’t happen today or tomorrow or the next day, but really, what if we went forth every day sure that today we will see the beginnings of a new heavens and a new earth where Jerusalem or Lawrence or Tijuana or Camden are a joy and their people a delight!  Worth a try, at least, eh?

Fr. Ray Dlugos, O.S.A.

AV Service Site Supervisor at Merrimack College

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ez 47:1-9, 12; Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; Jn 5:1-16

Today’s readings are full of imagery of moving waters. In the first reading, the river starts off ankle deep, knee deep, waist deep, and then finally rises over Ezekiel’s head.  In the gospel, the pool with its five porticoes fills with those seeking healing. Both scenes refer to the movement of the water—flowing in the first and stirred up in the second. Practically, water is a sign of life, a giver of life, a determinant of the existence of life in every community across the Earth.  Symbolically, it makes sense that the readings would use water as a metaphor for Jesus’s saving grace and life-giving presence. What comes to my mind in this moment, however, when I think about water and its power in the lives of humans is the recent flooding in the town of Chulucanas, Peru, where I volunteered in 2011. The destructive power of water, whether it be hurricane, tsunami, hail storm, flood, or other tremendous act of nature, does not share that symbolic, peaceful imagery with Christ as does a flowing river with abundant fruit trees or a calm, healing pool at the gate of a city. The people in Chulucanas would not have been seeing Christ in those deep, dark, murky waters that took lives away, ruined roads, and destroyed the fruits of their labors. I wonder, though, if they should. If those destructive downfalls and the calm rains speak to Christ’s vast, mysterious powers. Not to say His works should be feared, but rather give a tremendous amount of awe to us, His people. The power of giving sight to the blind is just as incredible as a tsunami of epic height surging up over the land. The results are obviously heartbreaking for one and joyous for the other, but the magnitude of what water can do is not lost in either case.

Antonette Lalia

AV 2011, Peru

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Is 49:8-15; Ps 145:8-9, 13CD-14, 17-18; Jn 5:17-30

“What am I going to do next in my life? Am I on the right path? Am I currently in the right career? Should I be doing something else with my life? “ – These thoughts engulf my mind on daily basis. I leave little to chance, spend way too much time planning and not enough time trusting that God is working through me and does have a plan for me.  After my year of being an AV, I find it even more difficult to trust that God knows what He is doing with my life.

Today’s gospel reading shows us how Jesus put trust in His Father and was obedient towards His will. Jesus demonstrates what it looks like when we surrender ourselves fully to God and let Him work through us. He says,  “I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”

Like, Jesus, we too must stop planning and let God take the wheel in our own lives. We must live with an open heart in order to let God in and help us find a purpose for our lives.  Once we do that, we will be able to stop the cycle of anxiety and worrying about the next phase of our lives and just be.

Clare Spence

AV 2015-2016, Lawrence

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Ex 32:7-14; Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; Jn 5:31-47

When Lent began we probably had great ideas on how to implement the fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Are we as enthusiastic now or does the first reading today have something to say to us?  The Israelites were overjoyed when freed from oppression in Egypt.  They saw that God protected them from the army of Egypt.  They were fed in the desert daily by the Lord.  But as time went on and days became ordinary they began to forget the generosity and power of their God. They made their own God (a golden calf) and risked losing the true God of Israel. It was through the prayers of Moses that the people were saved from destruction for their idolatry. As Lent progressed and daily activities become more usual are we losing our resolve to live a better Lent.  Practicing prayer, fasting and giving alms is a way for us to gain better control of our own actions.  The world in which we live tries to teach a very different set of values than does Jesus.  As we look around at the world in which we live the need for self-control and generosity is obvious.  As we approach Holy Week and the Triduum, let us reflect on what it is that we celebrate.  The Death and Resurrection of Jesus has freed us from sin and promises resurrection for us.  The Eucharist given to us by Jesus at the Last Supper can become the daily bread that feeds us giving us the grace and courage to live the Gospel.  Let the ordinary events of our life bring us closer to one another and God and let’s not imitate the ancient Israelites who fashioned their own false God who cannot save.  Be stouthearted and trust in the Lord. Let us imitate Moses in our Lenten prayer and practice so that we remain with our God and one another.

Fr. Art Johnson, O.S.A.

Augustinian Site Supervisor, Lawrence

Friday, March 31, 2017

Wis 2:1A, 12-22; Ps 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

One line that really sticks out to me from this reading is the verse before the gospel, stating “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God”. I really like this line because it shows how important the word of God is and how the word can speak to us, relating to things going on in our everyday lives.

One of the themes in the first reading is how the people want to put Jesus to the test and they want proof that Jesus is truly the Son of God. The people feel that Jesus judges them. Do you ever feel that Jesus judges your actions? Sometimes I am ashamed of the actions I commit, but we have to remember that Jesus does not judge, but is all forgiving. One thing we talked about as a Ventura community was going to Reconciliation during Lent. This sounds like a great idea and I challenge you to do the same during this Lenten time.

I also loved the responsorial psalm, stating “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” This reminded me of a passage towards the end of the book “Just Mercy”. “Thomas Merton said: we are bodies of broken bones. I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human…our shared vulnerability and imperfections nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion”. I love this quote and I think it is so relevant to community life. One of the beauties of growing closer to your community is being vulnerable and sharing the things going on in your life. This is a great reminder of how we all share in our brokenness.

Bernie Jordan

Current AV, Ventura

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Jer 11:18-20; Ps 7:2-3, 9BC-10, 11-12; Jn 7:40-53

“I’m spiritual, but not religious.” We all hear this statement from time to time and perhaps increasingly so in our day. When more and more people self-report as no longer identifying with the Church, but claim allegiance, nevertheless, to the person of Jesus, the great challenge and opportunity for “active Catholics” is to bear witness to the relationship between personal faith and community relationship.

The people in today’s Gospel give voice to varied opinions about the identity and origins of Jesus. “Who is he, and where does he come from?” are the legitimate questions which arise naturally from the personal observation they proclaim, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

We do well to examine the context of our own beliefs. Where does our faith come from, our connection to the person of Jesus, our respect for his teaching and our admiration for his compassion and generosity revealed over and over again in the Gospels? Few of us may have been exposed to the person and thinking of Jesus through personal initiative, research or accident. Most of us, however, are introduced to him through the communities to which we belong: family, neighborhood, church, etc. “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” Saint Paul legitimately asks!

The community of faith is not incidental; a nice “extra” for those who think belief is also a social opportunity. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,” Jesus instructed his apostles, “… that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”   

If faith comes through hearing, it is nourished, supported and sustained in just such a way as well.

Very Rev. Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A.

Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 2, 2017

Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

The season of Lent can be a wonderful time to focus on your personal faith and reconnect or strengthen your relationship with God. Like any relationship, one with God takes hard work sometimes. It requires constant communication, trust and commitment in order to grow. As we near the end of Lent it is important to reflect on how this season has helped to foster that relationship and what areas need work as we head into the Easter season.

This Sunday’s Gospel is a more memorable one that tells the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead. Lazarus was Jesus’ friend and the brother of Mary and Martha. When Jesus learned of his illness he wanted to return to save his friend despite the danger he faced from the Jews in Bethany. Unfortunately, by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days and Mary and Martha were disappointed at Jesus’ late arrival. They believed that Jesus could have saved Lazarus if he had been there before he died. Mary and Martha were followers of Jesus Christ and had the opportunity to witness his miracles yet even they did not understand the power of faith in God. Jesus reminded them and he reminds us today when he asked, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?’ Jesus’ miracles are still at work today, we might just have to look a little closer to see them.  Anything is possible through faith and much of that can be seen daily at your work sites and within your communities. These miracles may not seem as glorious as raising Lazarus from the dead, but they are! Faith can be difficult but if we focus on communicating with God and finding the miracles in everyday life it will only get easier. Life is so much lighter and more beautiful when we put our trust in the glory of God.

Brittany Patten

AV 2014-2015, Lawrence

Monday, April 3, 2017

Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Ps 23:1-3A, 3B-4, 5, 6; Jn 8:1-11

The dangerous temptation in service is self-righteousness. If I get involved in many activities because it makes me feel important, so I can then say I have done more than someone else, I have made it all about me. I have forgotten the very ground of my ability to move out toward others. I have taken a shovel, torn out the roots, and declared myself a self-made man. I can do it all! Eventually, though, I wither and die.

The first reading does not say, “Daniel is better than everyone else.”

It says, “God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel.”

God stirs within each one of us the desire to move out and help other people. There is no need to compete in hours put in. There is no need to condemn others for lack of participation. God stirs within us at different times and through different actions.

Don’t forget about community! God stirs there as well. Honor the people around you. Celebrate the way God is working in the life of your community members.

Br. Dan Madden O.S.A

AV 2011-2012, Chicago

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Nm 21:4-9; Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8:21-30

Every Lent when we come around to today’s first reading, I remember a homily that I heard from Fr. Merk, OSA (Midwestern Province) that has stuck with me since high school. In the reading, the children of Israel are being bitten by serpents sent as punishment for their constant complaining. Many were dying, but they could be saved if they looked up at a bronze serpent that Moses had mounted on a pole. Fr. Merk noted that in order to be saved, the Israelites had to look upon the very thing that was killing them. All they had to do was stop complaining, raise their eyes, and face it. But maybe that was easier said than done. So this year, I began to reflect on what might have been obstacles for them.

Maybe they didn’t believe that looking up at the bronze serpent could cure them. Maybe they kept themselves too far away from the bronze serpent to see it. Maybe their eyes were shut in pain. Maybe they were bent over tending to their wounds, trying to cure themselves without any help. Maybe while they were tending to each other’s wounds, they blocked each other’s view of the bronze serpent. Or maybe they got so busy helping someone else, that they forgot to turn around and look up themselves. What are the obstacles in our own lives, in our own communities, that we are allowing to keep us from raising our eyes to those things that are wounding our spirits?

Let us not forget that when we raise our eyes to the things that are wounding us, we raise our eyes to God who “belongs to what is above.” Christ is there, he hears our prayers, and HE IS. May we come to believe in Him.

Emily Persicketti

Current AV, San Diego

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Jn 8:31-42

This whole Gospel passage I find to be kind of awesome and hilarious. Jesus is speaking to the Jews who straight up lie about their own history to Jesus.

“We… have never been enslaved to anyone.”

“We were not born of fornication.”

It took me a couple of times to read this and all I could think was, “Wow nice use of #alternativefacts!” How could they possibly have said that with a straight face?!

The Jews had been enslaved in Egypt, and they definitely were born due to fornication. And saying that they weren’t would have undercut their message immediately. They are totally trolling Jesus, who doesn’t even address the obvious lies that are being told to him.  Instead the entire passage is about the truth that Jesus’ provides.

A history of enslavement, and being given life as a result of sex, is a bit humiliating, and admitting to those truths while seemingly ridiculous is solidifying Jesus’ message to the Jews is to not get wrapped up in their own self-interested stories, but to live with humility, with respect to our relationship to God.

For me, this challenges me to see a value of obedience from time to time, since there are so many times where I encounter a piece of the Gospel, and I can ignore it because it just doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t seem reasonable and I tell myself in one way or another “I have never been enslaved, I was not born of fornication.” Today’s Gospel reminds me to adjust my own position, and to put myself in right relationship with God. To find a place for humility and allow my faith push to places that I usually am resistant towards.

Griffin Knipp

AV 2010-2011, Chicago

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Gn 17:3-9; Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Jn 8:51-59

In today’s Gospel, Jesus finds Himself in conversation with the Jews, who are incredulous at what He is preaching. It’s easy to see why the Jews must think that Jesus is crazy; Jesus opens the conversation by stating that anyone who follows him will never die. Certainly, this statement seems preposterous; how could someone avoid death? Is death not the natural end of life? The Jews press Jesus. “Who do you make yourself out to be?” They say to Him. “Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?” Jesus simply responds that “before Abraham came to be, I AM.” This is a tough pill to swallow for the Jews; how could Jesus say that he existed before Abraham? Naturally this does not seem logical to the Jews. Jesus has taken their reality, more specifically, their understanding of their faith, and turned it on its’ head.

This passage provides inspiration for our Lenten practices. Perhaps it may inspire us to search our hearts to determine if we really know Jesus. While we may attend Mass, read the Scriptures, and pray, it’s easy to sometimes understand Jesus’s message only in the ways where it is most convenient for our lives. The truth of the matter, as evidenced by this passage, is that Jesus was radical. His message was countercultural; He asked people to think about life, God, and each other in a way that was a seismic shift from previous thought. One of the many beautiful aspects of Jesus’s message, is that its radical nature is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. As Christians in our world, we don’t simply just have an opportunity but instead we have an obligation to live His teachings, to love our neighbor, to stand with those on the margins, and to speak out against the injustices faced by the least among us. It may not be easy and it may not be convenient, but it is our baptismal call. This Lent, may our words, actions, and prayers bring us even closer to Jesus’s message.

Joanna Bowen

Director of Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2007-2008 San Diego

Friday, April 7, 2017

Jer 20:10-13; Ps 18:2-3A, 3BC-4, 5-6, 7; Jn 10:31-42

Growing up, the Lenten season was always seen as a competition of sorts. It started on Ash Wednesday with who had the best ashes, and continued with who had the best Lenten promise, who was doing the best at sticking to what they had given up, and of course… who were the best actors and got to play Jesus and Mary in the school’s production of the Living Stations each Friday afternoon. But as children, we did not realize just how easy it was for us to stumble, to fail, and to forget the real meaning behind Lent.

Eventually, I got over the fact that I never got to be in the Living Stations, and I learned that Lent is not a competition, rather it is a time to see God, to sing His praises, and to recognize all He has done to rescue us. This is something I have come to understand during my volunteer year.

Serving in the Lawrence community has been nothing short of eye opening. In the past few months I have seen in others what it means to be hungry, what it means to be poor, and what it means to be needy. But I have also seen God’s love. I have seen His love in the faces of the students at my service site, in the laughter of children on the school playground, in the kindness of those serving at a soup kitchen, in the strength of a builder on a build site, and in the prayers of the people God is rescuing. I have been taught, day after day, what it means to love God, to praise him, and to commit my cause to Him. 

The Lenten season is not a competition with the person next to you rather it is a time to love the person next to you. It is a time to take the lessons you have learned, to see God in your everyday life, and to praise Him. It is not about who wins or who loses, it’s about love.

Maggie Qualter

Current AV, Lawrence

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Ez 37:21-28; Jer 31:10, 11-12ABCD, 13; Jn 11:45-56

The Lenten season has taken on countless different meanings throughout the years. When I was young, I saw it simply as the season of “no”. No wiping off your forehead on Ash Wednesday. No meat on Fridays. Give up what you like most for forty days. I dreaded the Lenten season in my youth because of all that was associated with it.

It was not until my college years and more importantly my volunteer year that I understood what the true meaning of the Lenten season was. Today’s reading helps to reinforce that meaning. God made a covenant of peace with his people. We too made a covenant with God through the sacraments to love Him and others. Just like with the Israelites in the Old Testament, our covenants are everlasting. No matter how hard we mess up (and believe me, it happens), God’s love will never waver. There is no fine print.

This reading also brought me back to another slightly smaller scale covenant with the AVs during my volunteer year. My year of service was in a sense a year of promises. We as volunteers formally promised the office that we would abide by the Blueprints. We as a community promised to strive to live in a community of love. I, as a person, promised myself that I would try to see God in every single person I met during my year of service.

I will not say I did not occasionally struggle on any of these covenants. However, I personally believe that it is when we falter that we most remember our promises. On my most difficult days, I always made sure to take a peek at my commitment statement to remember that particular covenant. Just like God’s promise, there was no fine print on mine.

Derik Velasco

AV 2015-2016, Lawrence

Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017

Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; March 26:14-27: 66

Palm Sunday can be a reminder of the fragility of life both in a literal and non-literal sense. Literally, Jesus starts his week on Palm Sunday alive and well only to be killed several days later. Non-literally, when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey being praised by the people, he can be experiencing life’s enjoyment at its finest, while, again, only several days later being betrayed, bullied and killed by these same people. Perhaps we find ourselves experiencing these extremes in our own lives today. One day we feel life is alive and well, and only days later we feel our world is crumbling around us. At least I feel this way often—sometimes within the same day! Palm Sunday and Holy Week almost always force me to confront one of the greatest challenges in my faith—why is there suffering in the world and who is Jesus? Like many others, I question the need for suffering in this life. People have tried to explain it as a necessity of free-will amidst other explanations, but if I’m honest, none of those still make sense to be when I think of who God is as I understand him. That leads me to my second question, who is God or who is Jesus? I often feel I should know better by now at 27-years-old and having grown up in a faith environment my entire life. But maybe at its simplest form that is what our faith often boils down to—do we believe these beings are who they say they are? Most of us might answer without thinking, as we might during the Nicene Creed at mass each Sunday with a simple yes or recitation of words, but perhaps a better way to find our answer is to look at our life, how we live—our actions and that will tell us what we really believe and who God and Jesus really are to us.

Taylor Gostomski

Assistant Director of the Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2014, Peru

Monday, April 10

Is 42:1-7; Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14; Jn 12:1-11

I have heard this reading from Isaiah and all of the Servant Songs described as poems. I am not a poetry expert, but the verses sure do conjure a beautiful image of a servant of God, an image affirmed and fulfilled in the New Testament by the life of Jesus. This servant of God enters the world quietly, “not crying out, not shouting,” and non-violently and in this way brings about justice on the earth. What is striking about the words from Isaiah are not just their lyrical beauty, but also their relevance. How amazing, how humbling and how incredibly difficult it is to confront the fact that this image of the servant of God is as shocking, as counter cultural and as subversive in the world today as it was in the days of its writing. Indeed Jesus’ life, message and call to justice are as counter cultural today as they were 2000 years ago. It causes me to wonder—would we crucify Jesus today? Do we crucify Jesus today?

It is easy to forget as we go about our day-to-day lives as Christians that Jesus was and is radical. As we begin to dive deep into Holy Week, we prepare once again to confront that reality as we encounter our Lord on the cross. The readings invite us to remember what was revolutionary about Jesus—not simply what He did, but the way He did it, specifically the way He loved. Jesus’ love is big and inclusive, powerful, but not attention seeking, given freely and extravagantly, especially to those on the margins. This way of living, this way of being, this way of working for justice is still counter cultural, even for (or maybe particularly for) those of us who are Christian. Jesus’ love was so threatening to the status quo and the power structures of the day that he was crucified. As we seek to better emulate Christ this Lent and as we meditate on the cross at the end of this week, perhaps we are being asked to consider our own resistances. What aspects of Jesus’ radical love challenge me? In what ways does Jesus’ life and example threaten the status quo in my life? Can we invite Jesus to again come quietly into our hearts and shine a light in our darkness?

Hannah Kunberger

Associate Director of Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2008-2009, Lawrence

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Is 49:1-6; Ps 71:1-2, 3-4A, 5AB-6AB, 15 and 17; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38

On this Tuesday of Holy Week we are reminded of our own humbleness. How often have we had the same thoughts as the disciples while they are hearing about the inevitable betrayal of Jesus? We are always quick to search out who is at fault while silently hoping it is not us and passing judgement to patch up our own insecurities. We swipe through social media and present our best self through it. Yet, when we are called to be the one to stand up for another, are we able to remain formidable? We all try to be the one who would take the fall for Jesus and just like Peter, we sometimes fail when the time comes.

We should not feel hopeless when we read this gospel and think about our own shortcomings or unfulfilled promises. Jesus knew that he would be betrayed by his disciples and yet showed them love and forgiveness, standing up for them. As we conclude this Lenten season, let us not dwell on our own weakness, but look toward the glorified one for hope and love.

Patrick O’Brien

AV 2007-2008, Chicago

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Is 50:4-9A; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34; Mt 26:14-25

In the first reading from Isaiah, I was especially moved by this part of it: “Morning after morning he opens my ears that I may hear.” What a profound and humbling statement. Our ability to hear God and to hear others in our lives is something to which we must strive each day, something to which we must constantly say “yes.” The ability to listen well, to get outside of our own thoughts, feelings, and busyness to hear others around us, is not an easy task. How often do we listen first to God, to our community or family members, to our friends, to co-workers, to those we encounter randomly during our days with a true openness of heart, setting aside our own agendas and the thoughts and worries that may be racing through our minds?

As Augustinian Volunteers, you may have begun this year with certain ideas about community, your work placement, or the issues facing those served in your work places or living in your neighborhoods. Have you been truly open to listening and learning first, setting aside preconceived notions and biases? How have you grown as a listener throughout this year? What has surprised or challenged you about your experiences as an AV so far? The Lenten season provides us each with an even greater opportunity to reflect on how God is calling us to open our ears with genuine humility, day after day. May we each carry this call to listen, learn, and love abundantly into the Easter season and beyond.

Cheryl Mrazik

AV 2006-2007, San Diego

Holy Thursday, April 13, 2017

Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15

What do you think of when you think of the word habit? Often habit has a bad connotation. We think that when something is done out of habit, we are stuck “in the motions” rather than intentionally committing an act. Six-months into my year of service things have become habitual. I wake up, go to work, teach classes, and then come home to cook or wait for my community to arrive from work. I often think to myself, am I not being intentional at my service site or with my community? Tonight’s readings offer us an insight into why habit is necessary. All three readings refer to a particular event which was meant to be repeated and remembered. The reading from Exodus tells us that we are to remember Passover for generations to come. In the second reading, Peter refers to Jesus’s words about drinking wine and eating bread in remembrance of Him. The Gospel explicitly tells us that we must wash each other’s feet as followers of Christ. We remember, and in some cases, reenact these three events every time we go to mass. It is right that these events recur throughout our liturgical life because they answer the essential “why?” question. Why do we repeat or remember these moments? The answer is because they summon us to remember Christ’s path and His sacrifice. Why is habit sometimes right in our life? The answer is different for all of us. Yet, habit allows us to orient ourselves towards a particular way of life. Thus, Christ asked us to allow habit to flow into our lives as a way to orient ourselves towards Him and His model for life. Habit, then, is not meant to be mindless; rather, it calls us to answer the “why” behind our actions.

Rodrigo Rivera

Current AV, San Diego

Good Friday, April 14, 2017

Is 52:13-53:12; Ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25; Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Jn 18:1-19:42

At this point in Lent, I think it is easy to have our eyes fixed on the fast approaching Resurrection Day. With Easter in two days, there are family parties to plan, Easter baskets to prepare, and spring sunshine to enjoy. After weeks of fasting, prayer, and giving, it is only natural to look forward to the joy that is to come.

But on this day, we find ourselves with Jesus in His greatest suffering, in which He took upon violence, humiliation, betrayal, and the death on a cross for the sake of our souls – mine, yours, and those of our whole world. So that we may live in light and with love, He endured in these moments all that is dark and hateful. And in the midst of it all, he brought forward only one humble request for himself, something to satisfy a very simple, human need. Jesus said, “I thirst.”

For what do you thirst? In order to challenge us to accompany Jesus in his loneliness and pain today, let us ponder the experiences of darkness and hatred in our world that call us to be an advocate, work for peace and justice, love our neighbors. Do you thirst for greater community in your hometown, in which all are welcome at the table? Do you thirst for affordable housing across our nation, upholding the human dignity of each person? Do you thirst for just immigration reform, recognizing we are one human family? Do you thirst to know God?

Whatever injustice in our world moves you, I invite you to bring it to Jesus on the cross today. In a spirit of prayer, be present with Him in His hurt, for His heart is breaking for the very thing yours is right now, too. Just as such issues have moved us around the country and globe as Augustinian Volunteers, to be in solidarity with those who are often ignored, simply be with Jesus today as His brother or sister, accompanying Him in the same thirst for love He shares with you.

Kristin Van Spankeren

AV 2015, Peru

Advent Reflections 2016

Advent Week 1: Dirty Dishes

Every year around the beginning of the school year, I start to prepare. Whether it was for high school with cramming in my summer reading or college with packing up my room in preparation to return, or finally to the present day when I put last minute touches on the work I’ve done over the summer before students arrive, we are either ready, or we make ourselves ready, for the arrival of the new school year.

Personally, I am more of the “make myself ready” type. I never prepare far enough ahead of time, which means I’m usually scrambling when the actual moment comes. This notion doesn’t apply exclusively to the school year; it is now, writing a reflection about the first week of Advent, that I am finding the time to prepare.

Advent, however, is a whole season of preparation – luckily, for people like me. The readings this week are all about preparing ourselves. Awake from your sleep, return to the Gospel. Stay awake, for you do not know when He will come! Prepare your hearts and minds, ask forgiveness for your sins, for He is coming – the Son of Man is coming.

I like to think of Advent as a pile of dirty dishes. We are given a sponge and soap and head to the sink to work. We might be staring at a mountain of dishes, with leftover food crusted on them and the kitchen a mess. Others might have a small pile of neatly stacked dishes, waiting to readily and easily be cleaned. We might have pushed off doing these dishes for a little too long, letting them pile up as we ignored them. The important thing is that God’s love does not depend on these dirty dishes, because we all have them. Whether you scramble to get to the pile the night before or you clean as you go, He loves each and every one of us more than we can fathom.

By the time Christmas comes, our piles may not be diminished. We might still be soaking a few really tough spots or ignoring that one dish that we really just hate to clean. Perfection isn’t important – it’s the effort we put in. So, wake up! We have a lot of work to do this Advent season.

Amy Rowland
AV Alum, Lawrence 2014-2015
Questions for reflection:

1. What is holding you back from getting to your pile of dirty dishes?

2. How can we better awaken our hearts and minds for Jesus’ coming at the end of the Advent season?

Advent Week 2: Welcoming the Stranger

As we enter into the second week of Advent, and continue to prepare our minds and hearts for Jesus’ coming, this Sunday’s readings speak to us of harmony, welcome and preparation.  Isaiah paints a beautiful picture of a world where justice and faithfulness abound, where great kinship exists among the creatures of the land.  This is a challenging reminder and invitation for all of us to continue to push ourselves beyond our comfort zones and look to form connections with those we may not otherwise. The second reading taken from Romans, challenges us to “think in harmony with one another” so that with “one voice we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It can be easy to remain in the same place, interacting with like-minded people, and remain comfortable, but the readings this week are asking more of us.  They are encouraging us to be welcoming, to “welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you, for the glory of God.”  The Gospel passage from Matthew takes this a step further to encourage us to stay active and “prepare the way of the Lord.”  This preparation calls us to step out of our place of comfort, our routines of life we’ve grown accustom to and instead, to go out and be that welcoming presence to those we meet.  It’s an invitation to form connections with all living things, to breakdown the walls of separation and begin to construct a world of harmony, peace, and justice for all. During this season of Advent, a period of expectant waiting and preparation for our Lord’s coming into the world, we can prepare to welcome Christ by first being a welcoming presence to those we encounter each day, whether through a smile, listening compassionately, or opening a door for another.

Lisa Mehalick
AV Alum, Chicago 2009-2010
Questions for reflection:

1.  As an AV, how were you welcomed into your new community and work site this year?

2.  How can you be a welcoming presence to those you encounter each day?

Advent Week 3

Today’s readings speak about the healing that comes with the arrival of Christ in our world. Healing is a theme that has become most pressing this past year with war and violence around the world, the divisive nature of the presidential election, and the numerous killings of young, Black men in our nation. I believe that, as in the time of Jesus, if ever there were a time for healing, it would be now.

Both the first reading and Gospel speak of God healing the blind, lame, leper and deaf. I know for me it is so easy to distance myself from those that are healed in the Scriptures. I often say, “I am not the blind or the deaf or the lame one.” I often am unable to see those areas in my life that need God’s mercy and grace. But, the Church invites us to reflect on these readings and recognize when we have been blind to injustice, deaf to cries of suffering, lame or apathetic to the plight of others. And it is by reflecting that we are able to be transformed by the grace that Jesus offers at Advent.

I often think back to my volunteer year in Lawrence, MA and the struggles of my students who I taught at Notre Dame High School. My encounters with them opened my eyes and ears to the reality of their lives: the realities of hunger, domestic abuse, and poverty. It was through my relationship with them that I gained insight and was challenged to embrace the Gospel message and live it out on a daily basis. By doing so, I was transformed and “healed” of my complacency and ignorance. I look back on that year and am thankful for the growth it provided, which continues to be a source of inspiration for my work.

As we continue to journey through Advent, may Christ’s healing power overcome our world. May it transform us to live the Gospel in our daily lives and inspire us to act against racism, misogyny, and all other forms of hate.

Andrew McMillin

AV Alum, Lawrence 2007-2008

Questions for further reflection:

1. Where have I been deaf, blind, or lame to injustice?

2. How can Jesus’ healing transform your life?

Advent Week 4

During my volunteer year in Ventura, I often listened to the stories of my students, and tried my best to offer them advice on things with which I was not familiar. Today we read about the Christmas story which we all know so well through the perspective of Joseph. I can very much empathize with Joseph in this story; he was trying to do the right thing concerning the woman he loved and honored and his faith. Very often as young volunteers who worked with older students or adults, we have to negotiate how to best listen to the stories of those we are serving and then pray about how to honor both our own stories and the stories of our faith. I know now, looking back from the perspective of a Campus Minister who found her calling through helping and advising these students in Ventura that it was part of God’s great plan for me to hear those stories and to listen through prayer about how to advise them.

The first and second readings today also highlight the fulfillment of God’s great plan. We hear that there should be a child born called “Emmanuel” by a virgin in Isaiah and Paul declares himself a servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ, a descendant of the flesh of the great lineage of David. Just as Ahaz, Paul, and Joseph at various times in their lives needed signs from God to quell their fears or their inquietude, we often require the same when we feel challenged. Sometimes God may come to us in a dream, or in the story of a student, or in a moment of quiet prayer, or during Christmas Eve mass, however it is up to us to remain open to them movement of God in our lives in order for those signs to be made present to us.

Sara Hoegen Latcham

AV Alum, Ventura 2012-2013

Questions for reflection:

1) How do I feel the movement of God in my life?

2) How do I remain open to the movement of God in my life?