Advent Reflections 2018
Advent Week 1
The image of new life sprouting from the dry earth evokes many feelings: perhaps excitement, trepidation, or even hope. In the first Sunday reading we hear God say “I will raise up for David a just shoot” which can be understood as “a new branch will sprout from the earth.” In the Gospel we hear that “people will die in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” In this season of Advent, how do we look forward to the unknown with hope instead of fear?
Much of my time as an AV was spent trying to prepare for what was ultimately unknown. An assumption that my day would consist of the usual 7AM morning care at St. Patrick’s School followed by a morning break almost always led to certainty that I would be called in to substitute teach for a class. This uncertainty each morning would often cause discomfort and anxiety. Instead of viewing this as an opportunity, I viewed it as out of my control and therefore, stressful. It wasn’t until I re-evaluated this stress in my life halfway through my volunteer year that I began to look forward to the unknown as an opportunity as opposed to a threat. With this simple shift in attitude, accepting that things were simply out of my control, everything surrounding my AV experience became a bit more exciting, a bit more hopeful.
As we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus, Advent is also a time for anticipation and preparation. We may look at our own longing for forgiveness and for a new beginning. At the end of this calendar year, and halfway through this volunteer year, we are offered a chance to reflect on what was and look forward to what will be. “A new branch will sprout from the Earth.” Change can be scary—but is ultimately an opportunity to grow and accept new truths into your life. Think of this as a time to re-center yourself and assess how you can best serve your site, your community, and your God. God promised a new life that was unknown, and the disciples had to trust and believe that something better was coming even though they could not see it. In the season of Advent, light is about to break through. We believe that the branch will sprout. Leaning into that belief, that feeling, is our faith. And throughout this year, and throughout our lives, we will be called to find that feeling as we approach the unknown again and again.
Questions for reflection
1. What feelings do the unknown evoke for you? Do you often feel change is an opportunity of a threat?
2. In this season of Advent, how can you re-center yourself and assess how you are best serving your site, your community, and your God? In what ways could accepting the unknown bring something positive to your AV experience?
Advent Week 2
Imagine for a moment you’re on Amazon’s website. As you look through various gifts for the holiday season, hoping to find that kitchen appliance that your parents honestly probably already have, you notice that there are no material items in stock. Instead, you find on the front page all of your life experiences and people you have met along the way. “Recommended for You” is everything and everyone who has somehow shaped you into the person you are today.
This passage from the Second Reading is a prime example of what the Advent season is about. This idea of discerning what is of value to us in life is something we can all relate to. During my AV year, I was constantly in awe of the students I worked with on a daily basis. Many of them would come out and say that they did not have much at home, things we often take for granted on a daily basis. Yet, these students never failed to have a smile on their face. I often thought about what I valued most and what brought a smile to my face. Looking back at my service year, I do not associate it with any material items (although our homemade Gilmore Girls game of Clue was pretty fantastic). What I valued most was the time spent with my two community members and the students I saw every day.
This Advent season, let us think about who and what mean the most in life. It is easy to get caught up in the material bustle of the holidays. Thanksgiving turns to Christmas in the blink of an eye. Let us not lose sight of those we love most or take for granted all who have helped you get to where you are today. May our love only increase ever more for our community members, family, and friends, and may we remember to take time to express this love during this season.
Questions for reflection:
1. What can you do this Advent season to show appreciation to those you value most?
2. In community or in your everyday life, what are some things you take for granted? How can you be intentional this Advent to help those who may be lacking these things?
Advent Week 3
At this time last year, I was experiencing my first week back in the United States and I was not feeling joyful. I was cold, I was missing my community of AV volunteers, and I was missing my Chulucanas coworkers, friends, and family. The Christmas decorations, commercials, family visits, etc. were overwhelming, and my family was kind enough to try to help reduce any excess stimulation. Aside from feeling overwhelmed, I was happy that I arrived back safely and that my family was there to support and welcome me. When I read today’s readings, which speak to us of the necessity to rejoice, I immediately noticed how many times they mention joy/rejoice (10 times) and the presence of lots of exclamation marks. Sometimes, it feels as if this holiday season is a season of exclamation marks: It’s so cold! There is so much to do! Christmas is almost here! It is all very overwhelming.
This week’s Second Reading and Gospel are great reminders that when we are feeling overwhelmed, we should take a minute to think about what this season is really about—sharing our gifts, helping others as best as we can, and being content. In the second reading, we are encouraged to “have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” If we do this, “then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” and I think everyone would enjoy a peaceful Advent, and prayer is so important in this season to help bring peace. The Gospel also reminds us of the importance of humility. One of my community members loved the part of mass when we say that we are unworthy of the Lord to enter under our roof. John the Baptist also displays this humility when he says in the Gospel that he is not worthy of “loosening the thongs of his sandals,” referring to Jesus who would come after him. At my service site, I often felt humbled by my patients, and I often rejoiced. I hope that this Advent season is filled with joy and peace for you!
Questions for reflection:
1. When have you felt truly humbled this year (at work, at your service site)?
2. How do you rejoice? Reflect on some moments that maybe unexpectedly brought you joy, and celebrate them!
Advent Week 4
This year, Advent lasts just twenty-two days. The only way it could run shorter would be if today, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, were also Christmas Eve. This blink of time seems too brief to prepare myself for Christ’s incarnation. Fortunately, today’s readings offer peace, wisdom, and encouragement for all those seeking renewal.
Micah prophesies that “small” Bethlehem will bring forth “one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times… he shall be peace.” This last image contains the whole of the Advent promise, and the entire passage can be read as an outward-inward progression. God will come from low and away, from places overlooked by the eyes of men.
Next, Paul distinguishes between two things that Christ said when he came to the world—briefly, “Sacrifices and offerings… you neither desired nor delighted in,” followed by “Behold, I come to do your will.” Paul says this movement from ritual sacrifice to inner sacrifice is what consecrates Christians. Again, this is an outward-inward progression.
Lastly we read of Elizabeth’s glad meeting with Mary, who bears Jesus. Elizabeth’s own infant, John, leaps for joy in her womb. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth speaks to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” This third outward-inward progression is doubled in its significance. It is also the moment at which the inner things obtain definite form, and begin to radiate outwards.
In this moment so near to Christmas, I reflect and give thanks that God is still moving inward from unexpected places, still offering each of us forgiveness, mercy, and peace. If we will only allow God to enter into our inner spaces (which we want so desperately to remain private), there He will help transform our raw material and move us outwards again towards life-giving dynamics of community, kinship and service.
Questions for reflection:
1. In what ways has God moved inwards in your life? What kinds of messengers have you encountered during this Advent season? What inspiration have you found in Scripture, correspondence, or lituerature?
2. In what ways will you move outward throughout the Christmas season and beyond? What gifts will you share with people you meet?
Lenten Reflections 2018
Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018
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
“Return to me with all your heart.” These words in the first reading today stick out to me. I’m not sure if you have had the experience of not feeling close to God, but I can tell you that I have. I am in one of those periods right now where having any relationship with God seems difficult. Even the simplest things like praying or going to Mass feel as though they have lost their meaning. My heart feels very far from God.
In a reflection on Ash Wednesday, Nadia Bolz-Weber (an evangelical Lutheran pastor who is a true spiritual inspiration) writes, “…I began to wonder why God says to return to God with all of our heart rather than return to God when we get our crap together. I mean in Lent we tend to really focus on our behavior, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if God says return to me with all your heart, I think that maybe the implication is that we give our hearts to a whole lot of things that are not God.”
As I reflect on Bolz-Weber’s words, I think about all the things that I give my heart to every day that are not God. For me, some of those are very interconnected with my relationship with God, such as giving my heart to my relationships with others. However, some of those have nothing to do with God, they have to do with my own ideas of success, happiness and comfort. They have everything to do with me.
This Lenten season I challenge myself and each of you to reflect upon what holds us back from returning to God with all of our heart in this moment. What holds us back from acknowledging our brokenness and turning to God to help make us whole again, instead of turning to those things that continue to keep us distant and separated from God and others? May we all find ways to return to God with all our heart over the next 40 days.
To read more of Nadia’s sermon click here.
AV 2000-2001 San Diego; 2001-002, Camden; Former Director of Augustinian Volunteers
Thursday, February 15, 2018
Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; MT 4:17; Lk 9:22-25
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” This reminds us to become more like Jesus and to follow in His footsteps and selflessness; saying no to things we want and don’t need and giving back to those who need our help most. It is easy to get caught up in our wants and desires because in the moment, that is what makes us feel best. As Augustinian Volunteers, we are called to live simply so that others can simply live. Living in community challenges us to stand by our commitments to God and to one another, to hold each other accountable for our actions, and to learn from one another ways in which to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Through offerings of love, mercy, and compassion, we will find our best selves. Jesus will always be by our side to walk with us, console us, and strengthen us. As the Lenten Season begins, we have the opportunity to reflect on our lives thus far and ask ourselves how we are followers of Jesus. Take some time today to reflect on the sacrifices you have made and discern what sacrifices you will make during this season of Lent.
Current AV, San Diego
Friday, February 16, 2018
Is 58:1-9a; Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19; Mt 9:14-15
Today is the first Friday of Lent which means the first Friday of no meat and fasting. But the good news which we learn from today’s Gospel is that God is going to be more than forgiving if you accidentally packed a turkey sandwich for lunch today. Or if you’ve already mess up with whatever you set out to do (or not do) this Lenten season. It’s ok! Jesus’s response to the Pharisees who question why His disciples are not fasting shows that He is not a stickler about fasting. On the contrary, He actually defends His disciples. The practice of abstaining from something you usually take part in requires self-control, mindfulness and sacrifice, all of which remind us of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Fasting isn’t for God. It’s for us! It sensitizes us not only to Jesus’s suffering on the cross but also to the suffering of the poor in our modern-day world. Fasting should be seen more as an opportunity than an obligation. It is an opportunity for us to humble our hearts and be mindful of ourselves and those around us. Let’s ask ourselves, “What is it that I am hoping to learn or improve on this Lent? How can my sacrifice help me be more conscious of others in need? How can my choice to abstain from something I enjoy make my heart contrite and humbled before God?”
AV 2016, Peru
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Is 58:9b-14; Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Lk 5:27-32
One of my favorite paintings by the Italian artist Caravaggio is entitled: THE CALL OF MATTHEW. It depicts the scene in today’s Gospel. In this painting Jesus is seen extending a pointed finger at a group of men seated at a table, and one of those men has an incredulous look on his face as if to say, “Who? Me?” That man was Matthew. Matthew was considered a public sinner as a collector of Roman taxes. Jesus continually extended a welcome to the physically and morally sick. Such behavior was contrary to the Messiah that most people anticipated, one who would bring judgment and condemnation to sinners. When Jesus finally did arrive he encouraged people to turn away from sin but assured them that he had come to bring healing to a broken humanity. He said: “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.” One of the ways that Jesus extended his spirit of welcome to the sick and sinner was to invite them freely to dine with him. Some would choose not to come to the table. But others did and Matthew was one of them as we see today. Can you hear that invitation from Jesus? “Who Me?” Yes, you! Why would you call me, of all people, to follow you? Can I be quiet enough this Lenten season to hear Jesus extend an invitation to me to join him at the table, the table of His word of forgiveness and compassion and the table of the Eucharist that calls me to be a minister of welcome and forgiveness? Can you see that finger pointed at you?
Fr. Frank Doyle, OSA
AV Advisory Board Member; Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, South Africa
First Sunday of Lent, February 18, 2018
Gn 9:8-15; Ps 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; 1 Pt 3:18-22; Mk 1:12-15
Towards the end our year as AVs, a volunteer friend of mine lent me “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” by Jim Martin, SJ. Now, I know the patron of our program is St. Augustine, not Ignatius of Loyola, but nonetheless I found myself tearing through pages about Ignatian spirituality. Looking back, the mission to live with “one mind and heart intent upon God” in our AV community that year was a humble beginning in my journey to put into practice a desire for intentional shared life, a desire to seek the common good. Our experience in community allowed God to plant the seed of my deep desire.
Through the year, I watched the seed grow slowly into something more fascinating and beautiful than imagined, that which prepared me for what I was to learn from the Jesuits: not only does community ask us to be together in mind and heart, but it also asks us to be “men and women with and for others” in solidarity and action, according to Pedro Arrupe, SJ. In today’s readings, God’s choice to be with Noah and his descendants and all living creatures; Jesus’ solidarity with us as He took on human flesh, death, and pain; and the Spirit and angels’ presence with Jesus in the desert remind me of the chance to make daily decisions of prayer, sacrifice, and action that allow us to be with and for the good of others. Be it the most marginalized in society, those suffering from unjust systems, or the ones closest to you in your home, how can you choose to move from “me” to “we” as a person “with and for others” today?
Kristin Van Spankeren
AV 2015, Peru
Monday, February 19, 2018
Lv 19:1-2, 11-18; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15; 2 Cor 6:2b; Mt 25:31-46
Today’s readings start with a fearful God from the Old Testament demanding to be Holy. Personally, that sense of God does not resonate very well with me. It kind of comes off as my parents yelling at me, mixed with Gandalf saying, “You shall not pass!” I relate more to a God that is strong but shows a lot of love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding. So to help me write this reflection I read what Fr. Bernie Scianna, O.S.A. had to say on the same reading last year. He said, “This is not an ultimatum or a warning, but the promise and guarantee that we can be…Holy!” So I gave it all another read and realized he is right. This is that loving, compassionate, forgiving, and understanding God that resonates with me. God deeply cares. So God cries out to get our attention and let us know that we too can be Holy and choose to do good. I’m usually not 100% sure what to believe, but I do believe that there is a little bit of good in absolutely everyone. Love, compassion, forgiveness, understanding–it exists in us all, and I think that is what God is trying to get across in these readings. So this Lent, let us take a second look; remember the love, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding that we have within us; and that the stranger who might be “hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned,” has inside them. Use that moment of remembering; decide to treat others how you would want to be treated; and showcase God’s spirit and life that exists in us all.
AV 2015-2016, San Diego
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Is 55:10-11; Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19; Mt 6:7-15
Today’s Gospel instructs us how to pray, and most times I’ve encountered this lesson, that has been my focus. During this reading of the same passage, I’m coming away with a totally different impression. Considering this in tandem with the first reading, from Isaiah, where God likens the persistence of His word to water’s life-giving part of the water cycle, I think about God’s intention behind His word. That His word does not return until His will is done shows not only God’s love for us, in the thoroughness with which He reaches out to us, but also shows the presence of an intentionality that we can learn from. Instead of Isaiah’s reading saying that God’s word returns once some good is accomplished, it tells us that God’s word fulfills whatever He wills. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us not to babble like the pagans when we pray, but to be direct and honest. To know the motivation behind a prayer requires knowing a great deal about how, when, and why we pray. Replacing needless verbosity with an informed intentionality imitates the divine, but it also requires us to truly know ourselves and our thoughts.
We shouldn’t babble like pagans, but instead should be succinct and direct, taking advantage of God’s open-door policy. Even though God knows what we need, we still need to express it because how else will we know what we need? We can’t see grace if we don’t know where to look, and I’m walking away from today’s reading with an eye for better articulating my thoughts so that I can better see the truth behind them. I’ll better know myself and be able to treat myself and others well if I recognize my anxieties, identify what motivates me, and see who and what matter above all else. This intentionality, the same intentionality that AVs learn about and practice during their year, can give us an insight into ourselves that percolates outward to others from our thoughts through our actions and our words.
AV 2014-2015, Ventura
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Jon 3:1-10; PS 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19; Lk 11:29-32
While on tour with the United States Infantry, a dear friend had a passing, yet momentous conversation with a Scottish gentleman. This gentleman surprised him mid-thought when he posed the following riddle, “Do you know why we have two ears and one mouth?” Uncertain of the answer, my friend asked why this was so. The Scot’s response was as such: “because you should listen twice as often as you speak.” The significance of today’s reading about Jonah’s evangelization of the Ninevites necessitates further context from the book’s first two chapters. The Lord was required to call upon Jonah twice before winning his obedience, as our reluctant prophet did all that he could to evade God’s intentions for him. As the story goes, Jonah spent three days in the belly of a great fish before emerging, awake and receptive to God’s instructions. We are similarly called to be vessels of the Most High, but often lose our way when we become inattentive to the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit. Our lives are laced with God’s whispers and guidance for us, but they can carry beyond earshot if we are not accessible. I pray that this Lent you and I cultivate our abilities to be still and listen intentionally for our Savior’s call. “Whoever has ears ought to hear what the spirit says…to the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God.” (Rev 2:7)
Current AV, Philadelphia
Thursday, February 22, 2018
1 Pt 5:1-4; Ps 23:1-3a, 4, 5, 6; Mt 16:18; Mt 16:13-19
In this age of smartphones and GPS being just a click away, how is it that we so often feel lost? Now, admittedly, I do not mean lost in the literal sense (although if you drive with me, you will occasionally find me arguing with my GPS). This feeling of not knowing where to go next in life is something we all experience at one point in time. Unfortunately, there is no navigation system that can instantly show you the right path in your career, your social life, or even your spiritual life. During my volunteer year, I sometimes doubted even the smallest things. Was I doing this community prayer right? Am I making the impact at the service site that they expect me to? It was almost as if there were mental forks in the road, and I just assumed my internal GPS led me down the wrong one and never rerouted. Today’s reading and responsorial psalm centers around the idea of Jesus being our shepherd. For me, this is especially comforting, because it shows that we are on the right path no matter our uncertainties. If we happen to stray, the Lord is there to bring us back on the path. In community, you learn to rely on those within your flock: people in your service site, friends, and most importantly your community members. Jesus wants to be our shepherd; it is up to us to let Him guide us.
AV 2015-2016, Lawrence
Friday, February 23, 2018
Ez 18:21-28; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8; Ez 18:31; Mt 5:20-26
Right and just versus what is wrong and our iniquities. Lately, I’ve been patiently trying to teach my three-year-old son the difference between doing something the right way versus what I believe to be the wrong way. When I catch him doing something wrong I ask him about it and the answer always seems to be “No.” Then there’s the follow up, “Are you lying to me?” which he knows is his last chance to tell me the truth but he always tells me the truth even if he knows it might upset me. He will always tell me the truth and I have to remind myself not to get upset and reprimand him. When I’m not pulling my hair out and I stop to reflect on these teaching moments with my son, there’s a lot of beauty in his responses and in watching his thought process before he answers me. Virtue, sin, iniquities, judgment, and redemption are words from today’s passages. How often do we stray from doing what is right and just, turning a blind eye to Jesus’s teachings? Praying for God’s help when you need it most but not during the times when your everyday life seems to be going ok. My answer to forget God’s presence in my life during the okay times is not only lazy and selfish but I know it feels wrong. The readings from today remind me that God is always there to give me a knowing glance of what is right, but more importantly He is there to embrace and love me during the moments when I’m wrong. Find beauty in these moments and have faith that the Lord will always be there to love you.
AV 2005-2006, Peru
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Dt 26:16-19; Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8; Mt 5:43-48
“Love your enemies”. Upon first glance, that is quite the request and something I admittedly struggle with on a daily basis. Jesus is asking a lot of us here. He is asking us to do something He knows we will fall short of because He knows we aren’t perfect. That doesn’t stop Him from asking, though. Normally when someone asks me to do the impossible I begin to feel like they are setting me up for failure. As a social worker, I often feel like I’m asked to do the impossible. As a volunteer, I DEFINITELY felt like I was asked to do the impossible—like having to buy groceries for the four of us without going over the weekly budget. But when I sit back and reflect on my experience with the AVs, I don’t remember failure. Sure, there was a week or two where we ate a lot of pasta and red sauce, but I don’t think I failed. The more times I read this verse, the more I fall in love with it. Jesus isn’t asking us for perfection in the sense of the unattainable. He is asking us not to give up on ourselves or the people around us. He led by example and wants us to do the same. Despite what anyone is doing around us, as Christians we are asked to forgive and love. Which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t a large request.
AV 2014-2015, Philadelphia
Second Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2018
Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10
Annually, the second Sunday of Lent offers us the opportunity to read and listen to the story of the Transfiguration. A year out of my volunteer experience, I often ponder what I miss most about my ten months spent in San Diego. I have come to realize that I miss the small moments of transformation that become ever more evident while living in an intentional community. An intentional community offers the opportunity for open, honest, and genuine reflection about the small things in life. Opportunities for conversation about our spiritual journey or simply the day at work are more present in such a setting. The hustle and bustle of the “real world” often limits our ability to reflect on the things that allow us to rise from our crosses daily. Intentional community forces us to reflect on the small victories and moments of growth that occur on a regular basis.
The Transfiguration was no small moment and it shows us that true change is possible. The Transfiguration did not answer all questions, but Peter, James, and John were left with a clearer picture of hope. Our Augustinian spirituality encourages us to make the turn inward in search of God. Lent offers us a perfect opportunity to turn within. This time before Easter allows us to reflect on the crosses we carry on a daily basis. Each of us has crosses from which we want to rise and transfigure. Counterintuitively, community offers us the perfect means through which to turn inwards, as our community members are often motivators and challenge us to grow and reflect. As we continue on our Lenten journey, let us think of what we want to transfigure in our lives and let’s rejoice in our own “mountain top” moments which often go unnoticed.
AV 2016-2017, San Diego
Monday, February 26, 2018
Dn 9:4b-10; Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13; Lk 6:36-38
Be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. Give. Jesus’ instructions are clear and concise in our Gospel today. After the repetitive ramblings of Daniel about himself and his community of self-described wicked, evil, rebellious, disobedient, treacherous, shamefaced sinners, Jesus’ simple sentences are (literally) a breath of fresh air. Seriously, take a moment to read out loud the First Reading and the Gospel back-to-back. What differences do you hear between the two? To me, it sounds like the difference between what we often give ourselves when we sin and what God wants to give us instead. We exhaust ourselves with guilt and shame, while God offers us pardon, freedom, and peace. There are two sentences in our First Reading highlighted with exclamation points. Take a minute to find them. Even in his chaos, Daniel remembers that our God is One of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness much greater than any wrong that we could do. But how can we encounter such a “great and awesome God” when we haven’t done our best? Like the Psalmist, we simply need to say “Help us, O God.” Indeed, God has given us an extraordinary help in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Growing together as a community during Lent was an incredibly fruitful experience of my AV year. May we have the courage and humility to partake in God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness during this Lenten season so that we in turn may go back out to be merciful. Stop judging. Stop condemning. Forgive. And give.
AV 2016-2017, San Diego
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Is 1:10, 16-20; Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23; Mt 23:1-12
Today’s readings challenge us to be humble and to obey. During my time in Peru, I met a sister of the Hermanas Pequeñas Apostoles de la Redención (an order founded primarily to care for orphans). At the time she was working at the retirement home in Chulucanas, but longed to work in an orphanage, as she had planned to when she joined the sisters. She was unhappy and deeply missed her native Columbia, but as a sister, that choice wasn’t hers. So she continued to serve the needs of the elderly and waited for a reply from the Superior of the Order to see whether she would stay or be transferred to an orphanage. While she desperately wanted to go, she had taken a vow of obedience and remained faithful to that vow. Her example of humble obedience continues to impact and inspire me. We are all called by Christ to a life of obedience. In the Gospel, Christ tells us not to be called “Master,” because he is our one master. The world reveres personal “freedom” and independence, and obedience is seen as a weakness—but as Christians, we are told, “If you are willing and obey, you shall eat the good things of this land.” (IS 1:19).
AV 2015, Peru
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Jer 18:18-20; Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16; Mt 20:17-28
Faith allows us to believe in what we cannot see, to release our anxiety, trusting that we will have what we need when the time is right. The times when we feel the most anxious about the future are often the most difficult times to have faith in what feels impossible to fathom. This is when we most need to trust that God will guide us in His wisdom, as will the people who we encounter on our journey. In today’s readings, Jeremiah and Jesus both understand that they will have to experience trials, pain, and even death. We are shown a model of faith to emulate as they give themselves over to God. In the Gospel reading, Jesus puts his faith not only in his Father but in his friends, who he trusts to carry on his work even after his death. As human beings, we all go through painful, deeply uncertain times in life. As a volunteer, it can be difficult to recognize the difference our work is making or what our greater purpose is. These readings, and this Lenten season offer an inspiring reminder that by opening ourselves to faith, especially when it is hardest to do so, we allow ourselves to be cared for and loved by God and the people we walk alongside in our lives. We can’t do or know everything on our own. We have the opportunity during Lent and always to find peace outside ourselves through faith.
AV 2012-2013, Chicago
Thursday, March 1, 2018
Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6; Lk 16:19-31
I have become somewhat of a news junkie the last couple of years. I get upset or frustrated about different events of the day, then I spend time with my community analyzing and asking questions about what is going on in the world, and what things I can do things to make it better. It is distracting and isolating at times to feel like there are those in positions of power who do not see the work that is necessary to be done in caring for those Christ missions us to care for. But I find my time spent huffing and puffing complaining about other people not doing their share.
For me, constant connection with the news has been unhelpful at best, and anxiety provoking at worst. It is looking that this unhealthy consumption that I realize has been my own version of putting trust and hope in institutions and people that are not God.
The first reading today calls out that tendency in us to hope in things that are bigger than ourselves but not God. The landscapes that are spoken of in the first reading and the Psalm provide a sense of peace and freedom to those that place their trust in the Lord. Those who place their trust elsewhere, then are in a barren place without the substance they need to survive long.
Dorothy Day once said, “I can endure anything between two Eucharists.” And it is humbling and wise to remember that whatever burdens we have at work, or in our communities, we don’t have to come up with a solution to them alone. We are called to be protected in the shade and safety of God. The mission was given to us to do the work, till the ground, plant the seeds, and be stewards is still a piece of it, but we are to place our trust and hopes in God in the moments when we want to blame others because they lack being God.
AV 2010-2011, Chicago
Friday, March 2, 2018
Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a; Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21; Mt 21:33-43, 45-46
As I read through today’s Gospel, what struck me most was the very last thing Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” God’s infinite love and forgiveness tells me that the Kingdom of God will always be ready and waiting for me, but am I doing enough to produce its fruit? Is this not the ultimate task assigned to us by God? Producing His fruit is our shared calling. No matter your vocation, it is rooted in expanding the breadth and depth of His kingdom. Of course, there are many kinds of fruit, just as there are many different vocations. Somedays I find producing His fruit almost easy, it comes freely and giving of myself is natural, in exchanges with my friends, my family, my colleagues and fellow Philadelphians. But sometimes, sharing from my poverty is a challenge. People and personalities and circumstances make it feel nearly impossible to produce His fruit. I find myself short on patience and failing to keep the day and the situation in perspective. Perhaps this Lent we should pay more attention to the fruit we produce. How and where and what kind of fruit do you produce? What are the barriers that prevent you from producing His fruit? Where and in whom do you see His fruit most readily? How do you produce His fruit in your interactions with the strangers and friends alike in your cities?
AV 2007-2008, Lawrence; Former Staff Member of Augustinian Volunteers
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Mi 7:14-15, 18-20; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32
Today’s Gospel contains the famed parable of the Prodigal son: wasting all of his inheritance, doing bad things, realizing his wrongdoing and wanting penitence from his father…a perfect example of “better late than never.” At least, that is how the father responds: he welcomes his son with open arms and celebrates his return and his positive life change. “Better late than never” is one of my favorite catchphrases in our culture. We always tend to want to do things right away, the right way, and we feel badly if we don’t. I choose to believe that it’s better to do the right thing or a nice thing later than never at all. If I wish someone happy birthday belatedly, I think that it’s “better late than never.” If I miss mass on Sunday and I go during the week, I think that it’s “better late than never.” When I decided to be a volunteer in Peru, but I waited until I had some work experience first, I thought that it was “better late than never.” And it was true, and it can be true for a lot of things, such as compliments, apologies, and prayers. This Gospel can pertain to all areas of our life: professional, personal, spiritual, etc. It is better to do the right thing or make the positive change late than never at all.
AV 2017, Peru
Third Sunday of Lent, March 4, 2018
Ex 20:1-17; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25
I like stuff; I do. I wasn’t a Boy Scout long, but the whole “Be Prepared” thing stuck with me. There are lots of things that make me feel more prepared. I have my emergency radio and first aid kit in the car, a pocket umbrella for the (very) occasional Southern California rain, and other such emergency items. Having stuff is often how the desire to be prepared gets directed, at least for me. The things we’ve gathered give us some real security, but just how much? In December, wildfires devastated southern California, particularly Ventura County, where the Ventura AV Community is and where I live, about 40 minutes from their house. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in the area. Thankfully, our city never burned, but we were on watch. It was odd packing valuables to go in the car, just in case, and asking myself, “What could I be okay with having destroyed?” Suddenly, the things that made us secure were themselves in danger. I’ve been reflecting on this since, particularly as I prepared for Lent to start and considered what to “do” for Lent this year. This experience is motivating my fasting and abstinence this year. This Sunday’s readings challenge us with the Commandment, first of all, to place our trust and our hope in God alone. While the things I have are “good,” in many ways, even these can be temptations, like St. Augustine experienced, to be so caught up in the beauty of things, or to seek security in them, that they distract me instead and become a “stumbling block.”
AV 2002-2003, Lawrence
Monday, March 5, 2018
2 Kgs 5:1-15ab; PS 42:2, 3; 43:3, 4; Lk 4:24-30
In the Old Testament reading today we catch a glimpse of how the Israelites were shown God’s power of healing. If you recall, Naaman first approached his King, who allowed him to go to the King of Israel, who sent him to Elisha, who went him to the Jordan River, where he was cleansed. N o wonder he was frustrated towards the end! Rather than being sent to the Jordan River, Naaman expected to be healed right there and then. Namaan in all his anger wanted it to be on his terms. It wasn’t until his servants convinced him to follow the words of Elisha that he was healed in the Jordan River. In the reading God clearly told Naaman to go to the Jordan River to be healed, but he refused. All too often we are like Naaman, we want God to heal us on our own terms in our own comfortable way. We want the quick and easy healing, not the long arduous journey. Sometimes God is calling us to heal in a different way. He heals us in ways that do not make sense to us at first. Sometimes we need our community to remind us the different ways of God’s healing. We need our community to push us to trust God in the difficult path of healing. I pray this Lenten season we examine where we need healing in our lives and be open to God’s path of healing. What part of your life needs healing? Is God clearly telling you how to start the healing? What is your response to that call? How can your community help you heal?
AV 2013-2014, San Diego
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Dn 3:25, 34-43; PS 25:4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9; Mt 18:21-35
Azariah and his companions live in forced exile, far from their home in the Promised Land. But Azariah trusts that God remembers his favors to his people. He knows God will save them and show them the way to live rightly, if they listen. The psalmist, like Azariah, understands that God has a history of being faithful and kind to the Israelites. Their understanding gives them the courage and faith to ask God to help them once again. They also know it takes humility to hear God, for God to be able to reach and instruct the human heart. Sinners are welcomed with mercy when they come with a humble heart. Exile is a common image for our Lenten journey. Our penitential prayers and sacrifices remind us that we too often live far away from our spiritual home with God, and we need to get back. Sometimes our exile is our own doing—when we choose our own path instead of trusting in God’s. Sometimes it begins with circumstances beyond our control—an illness, a community argument, trouble at our service site—and it feels like we are an ocean away from God and how we are supposed to serve him. God, however, is never far from us. God forms us while we are in exile—we learn and grow and get ready to receive God. It’s not a time of fruitless wandering and waiting, just like Lent isn’t simply a countdown to Easter. Lent is a time of great mercies and grace, a time to recognize the ways we, and the people around us, are in exile. Let us ask God to show us the way out—the way to God.
AV 2011-2012, Bronx
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
Dt 4:1, 5-9; PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; Mt 5:17-19
“So you decided to take a year off?” It was a common response I got during senior year of college when I told people I would be joining the AVs after graduating. Sound familiar? “No,” I would respond, “It’s gonna be a year that’s very much ‘on’!” As we know and experience, the AV year includes all the commitments of the work site, which meet or even exceed the demands of a typical job. Plus, there are all the community commitments and program requirements. But beyond all that, there is the added factor of the emotional and spiritual challenges that come with confronting poverty, disease, and systemic injustice on a daily basis. Your AV year is most likely your first year after college, but that’s not to say that your learning has stopped. Most of our education comes outside classrooms and textbooks anyway. It comes from lived experiences, and our greatest teachers are those around us. We do well to heed the words from today’s first reading: “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” Dt. 4:9 The moments and memories of your AV experience will last far longer than your one-year commitment. From your work sites to your community life to the real-world education, this is very much a year “on.” What have you learned? Who are your greatest teachers? What memories will you guard forever?
Brian Strassburger, S.J.
AV 2006-2007, Bronx; 2008, South Africa
Thursday, March 8, 2018
Jer 7:23-28; PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Lk 11:14-23
As we approach the midpoint of Lent, it seems appropriate that we be reminded that God is slow to anger, rich in kindness, loving and forgiving. The prophet Joel ignited our Lenten Season on Ash Wednesday, and now he once again calls to us in the verse before the Gospel. “Return to me with your whole heart,” God implores. Even now, God is calling us back to Himself and to fall more deeply in love with Him and His Creation. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God’s voice agitates the strings of our hearts and urgently calls us to right relationship with one another. In today’s readings, this connection between the voice of God and our vocation to love is unmistakable. “Listen to my voice,” God says, “then I will be your God and you will be my people.” This intimacy with Love is a most compelling and empowering gift that we receive day after day from our saving Lord. Responding with justice and mercy, then, is a tangible sign of God’s faithful covenant with humanity, and Christ’s dying on the Cross is the perfect realization of that mercy in our world. It doesn’t matter what we have or have not done these past few weeks of Lent. Today is the day to not harden our hearts. Now is the time to pray, to fast and give alms, and to listen. It is never too late to repent and believe the Good News.
AV 2011-2012, Lawrence
Friday, March 9, 2018
Hos 14:2-10; PS 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17; Mk 12:28-34
Living in community is hard work. If I took away anything from my year living and working in Ventura, it was growth in my understanding of humility. Previously, I held a very elementary view of humility; I thought it simply meant denying or even simply not acknowledging the good work that I had done, but throughout the year I realized that the kind of humility required to live in community required a total conversion. Humility, I learned though the words of Saint Augustine’s Rule, meant that we must “…live together in oneness of mind and heart, mutually honoring in [ourselves] the God whose temples [we] have become.” In other words, by acknowledging my own humanity and my neighbor’s humanity I was getting closer to living out God’s desire for me: To listen both to the word of God in scripture, but also the living word of God as it breathed through my community. Today’s readings call us to be reminded of that humility we knew and grew into as volunteers, or as members of the greater Augustinian community: We know that we cannot take the world’s sorrows and troubles on our shoulders alone. We must acknowledge our own humanity together with our neighbor’s humanity. God created us to be spiritual beings who look to Him for guidance, but sometimes we need to listen to our communities for His voice just as much as we need to read His gospels. Today, I am reminded to seek God in all my interactions with my community and to acknowledge our mutual humility.
Sara Hoegen Latcham
AV 2012-2013, Ventura
Saturday, March 10, 2018
Hos 6:1-6; PS 51:3-4, 18-19, 20-21ab; Lk 18:9-14
The Pharisees were respected, educated, pious, faithful and holy – at least in their own eyes. They always did what they thought to be right, not only following the law but exceeding its requirements. Except they placed their trust, not in God’s love and mercy, but rather in their own righteousness. Look what I am doing for you, God! The wrong way to approach God is by proclaiming how good you are, how much you have done for God, rather than by recognizing how good God is, and how much God has blessed you with, graciously and without merit or cost. People who try to draw closer to God by proclaiming their own good works are demonstrating in whom they place their trust: in THEMSELVES, not in God! They compare themselves to others, keeping score, rather than striving to transparently reflect who God is for others. People who try to draw closer to God by their own good works end up comparing themselves to others, instead of recognizing themselves – as well as all others – as created in the image of God, called to reveal God’s love and mercy without limits and without conditions, just as God does. They don’t really know God. Pharisees and people who look down on others think less of those who have not achieved their purported level of holiness. As though we could “achieve” any level of holiness solely through our own efforts rather than by God’s initiative, grace and mercy! What do you think Jesus’ parable today says about the right (and wrong) way to approach God?
Fr. Art Purcaro, O.S.A.
Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Peru
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2018
2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Eph 2:4-10; jn 3:14-21
Lately there have been several negative or dark moments in my life and in the world. It is easy to be engulfed by the darkness. Tragedies both natural and human made flood the news waves. Messages seeming to divide rather than unify. How do you find hope and joy in these moments? I’ve found myself asking where is God? From the readings we see how even when everything seems destroyed there is still the church within us. Jesus lived through darkness in order that we may have eternal life. Jesus gave himself up to God because he believed. Even though Jesus was in the darkness there was light within him supporting him on his journey. Part of my journey through the darkness is practicing gratitude and joy. I invite you to join me in taking a moment each day to thank God for the opportunity to be alive and reflect on something you’re grateful for and something you enjoyed about the day. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. How will you be the light and spread the love?
AV 2014-2015, Philadelphia
Monday, March 12, 2018
Is 65:17-21; PS 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b; Jn 4:43-54
The road to healing is often long for those who experienced trauma. The possibility of ever rejoicing and delighting in life is too remote to even taste. And for some, because no one, for years, has told them they have any worth, and, because the things of the past weigh so heavily and are remembered so painfully, they think that the only people that matter is anyone other than themselves. God says, I created you. You are my delight. What would it be like if each person woke up, say, in San Diego or Lawrence or Peru, put one’s feet on the ground as the sun rose through the window, and felt, stunningly, God loves me?
Daniel Madden, O.S.A.
AV 2011-2012, Chicago
Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Ez 47:1-9, 12; Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9; Jn 5:1-16
Most of us have hoped for a miracle before, or waited for the perfect opportunity or solution to drop into our laps. While there are times we may get that miracle or perfect answer, often we have to put some hard work into determining our next step. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus encounters a man who has been ill for a very long time. Jesus first asks him if he wants to be well, and then tells him to rise, take up his mat, and walk, after which the man is healed. This story is a beautiful example of the integral and active role we play in our lives and in this world. God invites us every day to take part in creating a world in His image, but we must say yes, we must rise, take up our mats, and walk. Take some time during this Lenten season to reflect on your AV year thus far. Where has God invited you to be part of finding an answer or changing something for the better? It could be a personal struggle, a conflict big or small in your community, or a need you see from someone at your work site. May we prayerfully embrace the ways we are being invited to be God’s instruments in this world.
AV 2006-2007, San Diego; AV Advisory Board Member
Wednesday, March 14, 2018
Is 49:8-15; Ps 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18; Jn 5:17-30
In today’s gospel, Jesus says “my Father is at work now, so I am at work.” What statement can ring truer to the Augustinian life than this? For the life of an Augustinian, both volunteers and friars, never ends. We perform work at our churches, schools, and service sites. Then when that work is finished we return home and work within our community. Our Father is always at work, so we must be. Now, this work is for each of us because God has called and showed us how to fulfill it. Jesus says, “For the Father loves the Son and shows him everything that he himself does, and he will show him greater works than these, so that you may be amazed.” In our own unique way, God has guided us along this path towards the work of an Augustinian. Just take a moment to view each volunteer’s bio and you will see how God’s providence has guided each and every one of our lives to fulfill His work. For some of us, we have seen the greater work that God has shown us. But for many of us we continue to work as our Father does, waiting and searching for what His work will lead us towards next. Throughout the rest of the Lenten Season, let us challenge ourselves to discover both the work within ourselves and those around us. For if our Father knows what work you are called to do, the question is, do you?
Current AV, San Diego
Thursday, March 15, 2018
Ex 32:7-14; Ps 106:19-20, 21-22, 23; Jn 5:31-47
On the few times I would get in trouble as a youth, my mother would tell my dad, “You better go talk to your son, he [insert actions here]…” Apparently, I was no longer her son. She disowned me as easy as that. On the contrary, I always remember beaming with pride when my parents would proclaim, “That’s my son!” Ownership is funny like that. I always thought you could tell a lot about a person by what they associate or distance themselves from. For some reason, that’s what today’s first reading reminded me of. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down at once to YOUR people…’” Because of their actions, they were close to no longer being the Lord’s people. That is a scary thought, to be disowned by God. As one of the chosen of God, I try and remind myself that I must always seek to act like I am one of the chosen. I must serve humbly at home and at work, to the best of my abilities. While praying that when I fail to act like a chosen person of God, that I always have advocates (like Moses) to pray that God stays closest to me during those times. Have your actions during this Lenten Journey been in line with being a chosen person of God? Who do you advocate for, in other words, who do you pray that God stays close to?
AV 2013-2014, Ventura
Friday, March 16, 2018
Wis 2:1a, 12-22; Ps 34:17-18, 19-20, 21 and 23; Jn 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
“One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” These words from the verse before the gospel are perhaps more relevant for Catholics today than ever before. Service and volunteering for the average lay Catholic has become a robotic cycle of donating clothes, serving at a soup kitchen, organizing toiletries for the homeless. While these are good things, they are also an easy out for Catholics to pat themselves on the back and say they did as Jesus did. But these words above tell us that these acts of mercy are not enough. While they are often used as the end point of service, they need to be the beginning; they need to lead to an outpouring of the word of God. If material items solved poverty, injustice, loneliness, depression, addiction, than Flint, MI (where I work), one of the poorest cities in the US, and many other cities like it, would not have a multitude of problems. Bread, soup, clothes, and shampoo, do not transform lives; but they can be the beginning of a relationship, of building community, and spreading Christ’s love. It is the latter that will truly transform lives and hearts and allow people to live, to be free. In a post-Christendom society, it is not easy to spread the word of God, but it is necessary. It takes courage and may come with some persecution, just as Christ experienced. But He did not hesitate to “boast that God is his Father” (WIS 2:16). Will you?
Mary (Dillon) Dowsett
AV 2004-2005, Lawrence; 2005-2007, South Africa
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Jer 11:18-20; Ps 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12; Jn 7:40-53
“Christianity is supposed to be counter-cultural,” my high school teacher once said. He was a former Trappist monk and left a law firm to teach high school because it “contradicted his morals.” Today’s readings are intense: vengeance and threats, doubt and insecurity in the face of a culture that moves one direction and core convictions that move in another. “Look and see that no prophet arises from Galilee,” instructs the menacing crowd. We, the crowd, do not respond well to moral courage. A 1966 Gallup poll showed that a large majority of the public disapproved of Martin Luther King, Jr. Today King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is seared into our national consciousness, yet we largely skip over the “white moderate” paragraphs from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and seldom read his challenge to American dominance in “Beyond Vietnam.” We live in the contradiction of being called to be prophets in the words of our baptism even as we often resent prophetic voices in our midst. We turn bitter and defensive when people kneel instead of stand or speak out instead of stay quiet. One can imagine the prophet, activist, or boat-rocker praying for God’s protection as in the psalm. I do not often (read: never) find myself praying for God’s refuge for having taken a stand or rocked the boat. Yet if I take my faith and my experience as an AV seriously, perhaps these readings call me to wonder if perhaps I could do a greater job of living out that prophetic, counter-cultural mission.
AV 2017, Peru
Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 18, 2018
Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33
Have you ever seen your favorite musician perform or experienced a celebrity sighting? Situations like these typically draw crowds. People are just naturally drawn to those we admire. If we get close enough, we might snap a selfie and share it with others. In time, however, the high we feel from this encounter usually fades, and we settle back into our normal routine. An encounter with Jesus, on the other hand, is an invitation to total transformation. According to St. John, Jesus himself is met by excited crowds when entering Jerusalem. He teaches, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies it produces much fruit.” (JN 12:24). In other words, our individual lives have the potential to be transformed into lives of service and sacrifice for others. This might involve letting go of certain personal comforts, or letting some non-life-giving habits die in order for new life to grow within us. Maybe you have experienced this sense of new life as an Augustinian Volunteer, living more simply and making time to be present to your other community members. This can be a year of shifting focus from one’s own concerns to the needs of others. What are some things in our lives today that we might let go of so that the potential for new life might come to fruition? How many people, hungry for a transformed life, might we invite to our encounter with Jesus?
AV 2009-2010, Chicago
Monday, March 19, 2018
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
In today’s Gospel, God bestows Joseph with an extraordinary yet unexpected gift: the role of Jesus’ earthly father. Just like Joseph, God has given each of us an abundance of gifts. We are reminded this Lenten season of the greatest gift God gave the world: His only Son. What if we were asked to give God a gift? What could we possibly give to the one who has given us everything? I believe the greatest gift we can give God is our faith. The kind of faith that allows us to fully surrender ourselves to Him, even through our most trying times. The kind of faith that gives us the courage to live what some might call a “radical” life: a life that is devoted to spreading the same type of love that God continually shows each of us. Our faith has a way of being truly alive in the somber season of Lent. Without faith, we would not be selflessly fasting, fervently praying, or compassionately giving alms for forty days. Without faith, our hearts would be hardened, filled with despair, and lacking the hope that Easter Day fills us with. Without faith, we would not be able to fully rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus. Our faith is truly what makes the season of Lent operate as it does. God has called each and every one of us to be people of faith. Let us find a special way to offer ourselves, others, and God the gift of faith this Lenten season.
Current AV, Lawrence
Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Nm 21:4-9; Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21; Jn 8:21-30
Two nights ago, my friend dreamt of a yellow snake lurking in his house. The snake had been fighting with a rat, and it was unclear to the occupants of the house who had won. The dreamer summoned his courage to check around back – where he found the snake dead, killed by the rat. Though he had been terrified, he was now able to pick up the snake with his bare hands and remove it from “the house,” which might well be his soul.
That straightforward dream illustrates that wherever conflict and uncertainty abound, “snakes” dependably hiss into our collective consciousness. This has always been so, as seen in today’s Old Testament reading where the grumbling Israelites are tormented by God’s serpents, who bite and kill many of them. Strangely, God’s prescription is for Moses to hang a bronze snake on a high stake. Whoever is bitten yet sees the bronze snake shall live.
In the corresponding Gospel reading, Jesus says “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me.” Jesus is prophesying his place on the cross and the healing that will take place after. Once, a bronze thing was raised to heal living creations. Now the living Son is being raised to heal us who are like bronze ourselves – rigid and rusted.
Healing occurs in community, when we raise the cause of our suffering higher than ourselves. Christ also says, “The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone.” I believe that you and I are not alone either. Raise that which hurts you. Give a name to your pain, especially the self-inflicted kind. Find your anam cara – your soul friend, this Lent. Speak, shout, stamp in the sand, but don’t give up and don’t give in to fear! What ills you will save you. Because the snake existed in my friend’s dream, he found a courage the other dream characters did not possess.
AV 2014-2015, Ventura
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56; Jn 8:31-42
In the Gospel today, Jesus said, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Though the audience was surprised by Jesus’s notion that they were not already “free,” Jesus reminded them that the only real freedom is through him. Jesus gives us freedom as a choice. Yes, we are free, but we must choose freedom by choosing to live in the truth rather than choosing sin. When we turn our back on God, we become enslaved to the evil of sin, thus, giving up our freedom. Yet even in our sin we are offered a path back to Jesus through mercy and reconciliation. The gift of freedom comes with another great gift—the gift of responsibility. In our own lives, we may view freedom as the right to choose to practice religion freely, or the freedom to wear the clothing that we want to wear to best express ourselves, or the voice to speak-out discontent over any situation that seems unfair. Most of all, we have the freedom to be who we want to be. When others challenge us on these “freedoms,” we often become uncomfortable, irritated, or defensive. But real freedom rests in Him. We must remember our call to truth and choose responsibly the paths we take. For Reflection: Am I truly free? What are the things in my life that temp me to give up freedom? How does responsibility come to play in my decisions?
Lori Blake Tedjeske
AV Advisory Board Member
Thursday, March 22, 2018
Gn 17:3-9; Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; Jn 8:51-59
One of the most challenging aspects of service, I believe, is the realization that the work you’re doing is for the future; one that you may or may not be a part of. Service is the work of hope—hope for a cause, for people, for a time that is better than it is now. But service is also the work of action—the initiative to act upon a need, the opening of your heart and mind to a world that is different than your own, the devotion of your time and energy to someone other than yourself. With this spirit of both hope and action, there is an element of faith that is indivisible from the importance of service itself. In the first reading, God is asking Abraham to not only place his faith and hope in Him to provide the future He is promising, but also calling Abraham to action, saying, “… you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.” There is also an echo of selflessness that is related to service, and it’s highlighted in the Gospel reading when Jesus says, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me.” All these themes, I believe, are intertwined, and in this season of Lent, it is worth remembering that the service we do has much to do with our faith in the communities we serve as it does with the actions we choose for ourselves.
AV 2015-2016, San Diego
Friday, March 23, 2018
Jer 20:10-13; Ps 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7; Jn 10:31-42
The Lenten season has always been when I feel the most connected with my faith. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten journey as we make the visual expression of our faith combined with the stark self-denial of fasting and abstaining from meat. The following 40 days are an incredible opportunity for spiritual growth and connectedness with God. Through life experience, I have realized that giving up material things is a lot easier than giving up thoughts or emotions that keep us from being available to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Giving up feelings like anxiety about the future, insecurity, and unworthiness, etc. takes much more perseverance and reliance on God. God uses our uncomfortableness and neediness as opportunities for growth. I have tried to make the most of the opportunity for spiritual growth during Lent by combining self-denial with actions: attending Stations of the Cross on Fridays, participating in more daily mass, or increasing my time spent with the Lord in the Adoration chapel. As we deny ourselves, we leave more room for the Holy Spirit to fill us with wisdom, fortitude, and joy. Practicing love and adoration during our smaller sacrifices of Lent can help us to recall these actions during the larger trials of life. As Psalm 18 states, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and he heard my voice.” Lent is a way for us to condition our souls and have exercises available to implement in times of suffering.
Current AV, Lawrence
Saturday, March 24, 2018
Ez 37:21-28; Jer 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13; Jn 11:45-56
In the first reading we hear God exclaim: “I will make them one nation upon the land… My dwelling shall be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.” During my time as an AV at Villanova Prep, our school celebrated International Day. Students from countries around the world prepared delicious foods from their cultures, prepping in the days and hours leading up to the International lunch. In the afternoon, the entire school gathered in the gymnasium to celebrate cultural dances, songs, and performances by students and staff celebrating their international roots. What struck me most, however, was not the differences between style and presentation. What struck me most was the overwhelming support of the entire Villanova Prep community displayed as they came together to share joyfully with one another. In our first reading we hear God proclaim that God’s people will be “one nation upon the land… “I imagine that this is what God intends. “I will make them one nation” to celebrate joyfully and to use our differences as catalysts to share with one another rather than to divide.
AV 2016-2017, Ventura
Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1—15:47
Our journey is reaching its climax. The days of Lent – sobering, reflective, and generous – have readied us to meet the crowd that cheers Jesus on. We join their company and move along. The most challenging of days, and the most contrasting, await us.
Someone from the crowd hands us palm branches. We join in the chorus, but with some hesitation. Does this really fit? Is this what we’ve been preparing for? The branch itself seems an unlikely symbol with which to show approval and esteem. Poor and fragile, delicate and unstable, common and, now separated from its tree, already dying. How fickle! In a day or two it will become brittle and dry – good for little more than to be burned and turn to ash. But we take it and, mingling with the crowd, follow along.
Jesus seems unimpressed with the adulation he’s receiving. He sits low on the ass, quiet, pensive, as if suspicious of what’s happening. We can’t help but notice the contrast between the clamor of the people and his silence, the eagerness of this animated throng and the reluctance of the guest of honor. Perhaps it’s good that we’re hesitant. Things are not always as they seem to be.
Time passes. Some people are growing tired and are dropping away. It’s not easy to keep enthusiasm up. The din grows fainter. The twelve are wearied, looking tousled and scruffy from the press of the crowds, but they remain, walking alongside Jesus into the darkness.
How well this day seems to capture the rhythm of so many days, of long spans of life – highs and lows, peaks and valleys.
What shall we do? Do we also go back, now that the festivity seems to be winding down? Does this forlorn Jesus with his motley group of disciples have anything to draw us and keep us close? Is this what we were looking for?
Fr. Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial of St. Thomas of Villanova Province, AV Advisory Board Member
Monday, March 26, 2018
Is 42:1-7; Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14; Jn 12:1-11
During Holy Week, the first readings come from the book of Isaiah. Collectively these texts are known as the Servant Songs. Service. A concept that those of us who share in the AV experience are asked to reflect on regularly as one of the three core values of the program. The connection that I find to these words from Isaiah comes from my time as a student leader at the University of San Diego where I was exposed to the idea of being a servant leader. The pillars of which I would like to offer as a guide for how each of us may continue to follow the example of Jesus and strive to answer the call to be a part of God’s “victory of justice”. Which one of these pillars comes most naturally to you? Which is most challenging? Are there other qualities that are vital to Christ-like service? Grounded in faith—to be in relationship with the Creator who “created the heaven and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth with its crops, who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it.” Generous with are gifts—just as Martha serves Jesus in the Gospel and Mary anoints Jesus’s feet, each of us has a unique sets of gifts and talents that we bring to the table and are called to use generously. Humble—we bring attention not to ourselves but to the greater glory of God. Others focused—we are called not to self-serving action but to be acutely in tune with the needs of those around us and use our gifts to respond to those needs.
AV 2016-2017, Philadelphia
Tuesday, March 27, 2018
Is 49:1-6; Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15 and 17; Jn 13:21-33, 36-38
Imagine what it would have been like to be one of the disciples of Jesus, sitting around a table and hearing Jesus say, “One of you will betray me.” What would be going through your mind? Would you be trying to figure out which person it would be? Would you think to yourself, “Is he talking about me?” Would you think there’s no way any of us could betray Jesus? Think about yourself right now and your relationship with Jesus and reflect on how you would feel if you were sitting at that table. Later in the Gospel, Jesus says, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, though you will follow later.” Now think about a close friend you have, who you admire and respect, and imagine them saying this to you. You want to follow your friend, but you don’t understand why you cannot follow them now. You trust your friend enough to let them go and believe them when they say you will follow later. We don’t always understand God’s plan, but in the end everything will work out according to His perfect plan. We must trust that He knows what is best for us. Lord, help us to draw closer to you during this Holy Week so that we can prepare our hearts and minds for the joy of Easter Sunday.
AV 2015-2016, Ventura
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34; Mt 26:14-25
You have to have sympathy for anyone named Judas. When you hear that name you immediately think of the man in today’s Gospel, the one who betrayed Jesus. Judas has become synonymous with “betrayal.”
Every year during Holy Week when we read this Gospel and hear of Judas plotting to betray Jesus, we think how terrible he was in what he did. When you hear Jesus declare that someone who is sharing that meal with him would betray him, we can feel how sad that must have been for Jesus. It does not take much to feel animosity toward the betrayer, Judas Iscariot.
How could anyone who knew Jesus, walk with him, heard him speak, who knew him and his mission, how could they ever betray him? It is easy to point our finger at Judas, but, if we are honest with ourselves isn’t there a little bit of Judas in each of us? Don’t we in different ways, at different times, also betray Jesus? We betray Jesus when we do not live the gift of faith, the gift of life which he has given us. When we do not reach out to others in service and love, we betray Jesus. How often are we like Judas and betray Jesus by how we live, how we treat others, our world, ourselves?
Lent is a time to reflect on our relationship with God. Let this Lenten season be a time for us to reflect on how we are like Judas Iscariot and betray Jesus by what we do, or do not do, with our lives.
Fr. Tony Burrascano, O.S.A.
Service Site Supervisor at Augustinian Defenders of the Rights of the Poor, Philadelphia; Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Philadelphia
Holy Thursday, March 29, 2018
Ex 12:1-8, 11-14; Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18; 1 Cor 11:23-26; Jn 13:1-15
Today’s readings remind us of service and sacrifice, and frankly the ultimate sacrifice in the giving of one’s life for others. Until the very end, Jesus followed the will of his Father in service to mankind and also taught us about the importance of being humble and literally placing one’s self at the feet of others. As we reflect on our lives, it’s important to ask the question, “How can I balance my own interests with service to others?” While this maybe counter cultural, deep down we know that helping others brings great fulfillment and purpose to our lives and we also know that there’s a great need for it. Aren’t we fortunate to have the opportunity through a volunteer year to devote a year of our lives to exploring our spirituality in community and service to others? Let’s make the most of our time so we can grow and be open to God’s call as Jesus was and to trust in His power and love.
AV 2003-2004, San Diego
Good Friday, March 30, 2018
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
We know the Good Friday readings by heart. Not because we have the text memorized but because it is our Salvation History. These scriptures present the same story arc: same beginning, same middle, same end. Christ became obedient… In each reading, we’re presented with a man persecuted for doing good in the world. Hebrews refers to him by the name his mother gave him: Jesus. He’s fully human, following the will of God, but with a conviction that hints at something more. To the point of death, even death on a cross… By the middle of each story, we begin to see what makes this man different. Obedience to God doesn’t just mean taking the bad with the good. It means a self-emptying giving his life for the sake of others. This is not just a man, but a man like no other, the Savior, the Son of God, whom we are called to emulate. Because of this, God greatly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every other name… By the end of this story, written on our hearts, we glimpse what comes next. Yes, we are here on Good Friday, crying at the foot of the cross, ashamed of our sins and shortcomings and distraught over the evil that man has wrought against one who did nothing but challenge us to love. And yet, we know what happens after the tomb is shut. We know the epilogue of our Salvation History. For he is not only Jesus; he is also the Christ. Even in the deepest part of this overwhelming darkness, the whisper of faith within us susurrates: He will rise in glory.
AV 2010-2011, Lawrence