Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross

The following is a reflection about the fourteenth station of the cross prepared by Chris Huben, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Chris is working at Cabrini Green Legal Aid and he shared his story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

As you walk around Chicago, there will be no sounds of nails being hammered into wood. You will not hear someone crying out in agony because nails are being sent through their hands and feet. You will not see a man hanging from tree forgiving those who put him up there. You will not see a gruesome sight like this. However, though not identical to this exact sight, every day I witness something very similar to this, and I am confident that everyone witnesses these events. If one does not see them, then they must look harder.

Everyday heading to work on the train, I change from the Clark and Lake orange line train to the blue line. I've noticed a middle aged woman with no legs sitting in a wheelchair. After seeing her on multiple occasions, I decided to make conversation with her. Miss Shirley has become one of my new best friends. Even though sometimes she calls me Mike, sometimes she is able to remember my name.

I have never met someone like Miss Shirley. It is extremely difficult to make conversation with her. Most of the conversations end with her crying and looking down to the ground and not saying anything else to me. Miss Shirley has been nailed to the cross. Suffering from drug addiction, no home, and most of all, a lack of love. Thousands of people walk by her each week, and only a fraction give her any attention.

Mother Teresa once said, “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” Each time someone walks by Miss Shirley, the nails are being driven even deeper. When the crowds of hurried passengers ignore her humanity, the pain from hanging on the cross becomes even sharper. When Christ was on the cross, this was the last of his suffering. He remained there until he breathed his last. Miss Shirley, right now, is hanging on the cross, and it seems as if she has given up.
Chris shares his reflection at the McKinley Park Stations of the Cross reflection night. 
Miss Shirley told me that she loves Milky Ways, so I purchased some from CVS. The next time I saw her, I was so excited to give her one. However, Miss Shirley would barely look up. She did not understand what it meant to receive a gift. I don’t even think she thanked me. She simply took the candy and the conversation slowly dwindled. Have you ever been in so much pain that no compliment or act of kindness could even bring the slightest bit of comfort? The nails are very deep and the period of hanging on the cross is becoming a harder and harder.

As Christ hung on the cross, He cried out, “Father why have you abandoned me.” I can hear the echoes of this agonizing shout as I look into the eyes of Miss Shirley.

Lord, we pray that you give us the eyes to see those who are nailed down to the cross. Give us the grace to find them and try to bring them comfort. We are weak though Lord, and we need your grace to do good. We beg you now to send the Holy Spirit upon us so that we might become filled with a burning desire to bring comfort and love to everyone we meet, for in doing that, we are loving you. Help us to set aside our selfishness and tend to the brokenhearted and those in pain. Instill in our minds an understanding that these actions are not done so that others might think highly of us, but because you loved us first and we want to respond to that love.

Jesus Falls for the Second Time

The following is a reflection about the seventh station of the cross prepared by Gina Bartindale, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Gina is working as a nurse at Erie Family Health Center and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

Even with help, Jesus falls and stumbles to the ground a second time, under the weight of the cross. There he lay, face down in the dirt, sweat dripping from his brow, reopening the bloody cuts on his knees. Oh, what he would do to have it all just end here; but he is only halfway to Calvary. 

Reflecting on this station, I can’t help but imagine Señora Lupe, weighed down by the weight of injustice and suffering; the broken systems in this country cause her to fall once again. Her five year old son has special needs and receives care at the clinic I work at, Erie Family Health. She is a single mom who migrated to the US illegally several years ago. She is going to court next week, at risk of deportation back to Mexico. Lupe knows that her son’s medical needs are complex and that he needs to remain here in the states to receive adequate care for him. She sits in the exam room with tears in her eyes as she asks my favorite pediatrician if she will be her son’s guardian if she has to leave him.

Lupe is weighed down by poverty, a frustrating healthcare system, a language barrier, racism, the legal system… how could anyone remain standing under all that weight? Other patients have similarly fallen under different injustices and suffering that absolutely break my heart some days. I think of the parents who recently arrived from a refugee camp in Myanmar where they were highly persecuted; after arriving at our clinic with their newborn baby, we struggle to even find an interpreter that can speak their rare language of Rohingya. A teenage, homeless mom is weighed down by cyclical poverty and mental illness. She tells me she feels like a failure, falling deeper into depression, when her 6-month-old baby is hospitalized with pneumonia.

These patients have all fallen onto their knees, exhausted, face down in the dust like Jesus, a demoralizing message to them that they are just that: dust in the wind. And while we are all mortal and will return to dust one day, my time as an Amate House nurse has confirmed my belief that it is our calling as humans on Earth to remind one another of our dignity. We are all so much more than dust; we are all humans worthy of love and respect because we are made from the same dust, in the same image of Jesus Christ.

There have been so many phone calls or appointments this year where I honestly felt helpless. I can recommend home remedies for a patient’s cough or teach a new diabetic how to use their insulin, but I rarely have the opportunity or the knowledge to address the deeper injustices or broken systems that are affecting and weighing down my patients. I often try to recall a phrase from the Oscar Romero prayer that gives me encouragement: It says “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

Gina shares her Stations reflection at St. Maurice Church in McKinley Park.
So I have been slowly learning that the “something” I can do and am perhaps am called to do is give patients dignity through accompaniment; I still have a ways to go until I reach that doing it “very well” part. I can listen to a patient on the phone vent about topics unrelated to her health. Or I can sit with a patient during a home visit and let her just cry about her new, scary diagnosis of stomach cancer. I can give patients dignity by being present. In return, my patients’ perseverance and strength inspires and teaches me daily.

I believe we are called to come next to our brothers and sisters when they are fallen to help them carry the weight of their crosses and burdens—not for each other, but with each other, lifting them out of the dust.

I have had my own share of falls this year in community: anxiety, exhaustion, Durango breakdowns, and literal falls on my tailbone. In the last couple of months, I have realized that I must let others--especially those in my community-- help carry my crosses; when I lean on them, they are always there to hold me up. Recently, when I was feeling helpless about an old pal struggling with homelessness and lack of faith, my own faith felt fickle. I expressed to a housemate that I didn’t see the point in even praying for her anymore. He texted me every day and night for the next week when he was praying for my friend since he knew I didn’t have the energy. He was a true prayer warrior for both of us, accompanying and re-energizing me and my faith. What a gift to have other people to walk beside us and lift us up, if we let them-- and maybe even lend a cute piece of clothing or bring us a cup of coffee along with it.

When Jesus falls for the second time, He is even more discouraged and broken than the first. The weight of the cross feels even heavier, thinking about how much farther he still has to go. But the hope of the 7th station is that while he falls again, he also gets up again. He keeps going. And he keeps going all the way to Calvary for Señora Lupe, for the refugee parents, for the homeless teen mom, for me, and for each and every one of us here. In the dust and mess of injustice and suffering, there is still hope.

Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

The following is a reflection about the sixth station of the cross prepared by Leslie Carandang, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Leslie is working at Catholic Charities Southwest Regional Office and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

Because of Amate House, the phrase “love in action” is frequently heard around here, and it was the phrase that first came into my mind with this Station of the Cross. Here, Veronica wipes Jesus’ bloody, sweaty face, a seemingly small gesture towards an individual experiencing deep suffering and hardship and a demonstration of her love for him through her actions. On a personal level, reflecting on Veronica’s small act of love has allowed me to recall how small gestures have served as expressions of love throughout my Amate year, both in my community and at my site placement.

Undoubtedly, I have felt loved by my community members through their seemingly small gestures towards me. Sometimes the act of love seems very small – a surprise Take 5 candy bar bought for me, an unexpected hug, a mug of coffee (with a straw of course) brought to my room. Other times, the small gesture seems a little grander because at the time I was struggling with something or otherwise suffering. For example, one morning before work, I was in a horrible mood and clearly unable to disguise it. I put my head down on the kitchen table, feeling defeated and uncertain of how I was going to make it through the entire day feeling so low. Unprompted, one of my housemates came over to me and stood by me, and she stroked my hair for a few moments. She did not know the specifics as to what was wrong, but she did not need to. She was just there.
Or, as another example, back in December, I had a mild medical episode where I felt like I had something stuck in my throat, and I ended up having difficulties breathing. I turned to one of my housemates for her input, but she was stumped too and unsure of what to suggest or do to help me best as I was struggling. However, she drove me through a snowstorm on a Sunday afternoon to urgent care. This gesture – driving me, staying with me, teaching me to use my new inhaler later – seemed rooted in compassion and truly made me feel loved.

I believe in a God who loves all of humanity in a way that is so vast and unconditional. Relatedly, I believe that God works through people to demonstrate this love for each of us. So, to me, each small gesture from someone in my life that makes me feel loved in turn feels like God working through that person to remind me and show me how much he loves me. Remembering how God loves me, and recognizing his demonstration of that love for me through people placed throughout my life, calls me to act in a particular way, especially at my site placement.
Leslie shares her Stations of the Cross reflection at St. Maurice church in McKinley Park.
I strive to be a loving person towards the people I interact with at Catholic Charities. Acting lovingly towards the people who walk through our door does not happen through dramatic actions or drastic measures to radically transform their current situations; most of the time, I’m not even in a position to act in such a way. Instead, I focus on the little things that I can do to love the person right in front of me, particularly when that person has come to my office under precarious and complicated circumstances. The philosopher Edmund Burke once wrote, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little,” and I channel that mentality often.

To that end, I see the bags of food I hand out to clients at Casa Catalina on Tuesdays, the box of Kleenex that I’ll slide across my desk toward a client who is crying, the thirty minutes I’ll occasionally spend quizzing someone for an immigration test they still don’t know if they’re ultimately going to take – all as small gestures of love. And sometimes I like to think that maybe my clients will have a similar reflection down the road – a thought like, “You know, that was nice,” and they will feel the warmth of God’s love for them because of some kindness I showed them or something I did, just like how I have felt God’s love myself through my housemates’ kindness towards me. Most of the time, I have no idea though if my actions truly have this effect, but I am grateful to have a handful of stories that have given me a glimpse of the effect of which I’m speaking.

For instance, one day, someone I’ve known for a while came by with her husband because they needed assistance filling out all of this paperwork to apply for social security because of his disability. They speak mainly Spanish, and this paperwork was pages and pages of questions… of course only available in English. So, I offered to be the person who would sit with them and work through it. I stumbled through translations at times, and the longer we worked and the more stories he told me about the reality of his injuries, the more invested I became, and I found myself wishing I could do more to alleviate his pain; my efforts at completing this highly-official governmental form seemed trivial at most.  Classic me – when we finally finished, I apologized that it took so long, feeling like I had inconvenienced them; this was probably not how they had hoped to spend their morning. However, I was kindly told that I was mistaken. Because of his disability that leaves him so dependent on others, he usually spends the days by himself while his wife is at work. He told me that he found our three hours working together through this paperwork to be a blessing in his day because for once, his day was not spent feeling so lonely. This small deed – some paperwork and some presence – appeared to have had a positive impact and perhaps was enough.

Veronica’s action in this Station of the Cross is a classic small gesture of love. She could not change Jesus’ circumstances, similar to how my housemates/friends often can’t change mine and how I often can’t change those of my clients at Catholic Charities. Perhaps, though, that’s not even what living out the love of God is asking of us. I see it more as loving people where they are, as they are, and I think that’s what Veronica did for Jesus. She recognized what she could do – a small act out of love – and she did it confidently. For my community, my clients at work, and myself, I think that’s what we’re all doing in being there for each other too.

Friday, April 07, 2017

Jesus Takes Up His Cross

The following is a reflection about the second station of the cross prepared by Laura LeBrun, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Laura is working at Perspectives High School of Technology in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood and she shared her story at Amate House’s Stations of the Cross evening of reflection on April 5, 2017.

From the Gospel according to Matthew. 27:27-31

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

To a random passerby, Jesus may have seemed to deserve such punishment. Who is this “King of the Jews” who acts as though he deserves special treatment? On the surface, He seems self-indulgent, self-righteous, and even borderline heretic. If one does not venture further into Jesus’ story, He seems worthy of the punishment set upon Him.

Likewise, when one thinks of the youth in impoverished schools, they tend to take things at the surface level. These kids are lazy. They don’t care. They’ll never amount to much. As time goes on, even though I can get frustrated with their behavior, I realize that, like Jesus, these teenagers cannot be defined through broad generalizations. The parallels between their lives are striking. My students are born into this world with their lives defined. Jesus did not choose to be the Son of God; however, he took up His cross, even when it resulted in His death. My students didn’t choose to grow up surrounded by poverty, violence, emotional and physical struggles, and many other debilitating characteristics. Despite their burden, however, they take up their cross, even when that cross is challenging beyond what most people can imagine. Through birth, the framework of their lives is decided.

In 2016, sixteen-year-old Pierre Loury was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer as he evaded them by jumping a fence. Pierre’s story was brought to me when a student wrote about being friends with Loury in a class assignment. I pored over news articles about him, wondering how a child could end up in such a situation. For Pierre, though he grew up in North Lawndale, was very similar to the teens I interact with on a daily basis. He was not perfect; he had juvenile court records, smoked marijuana, ditched class, and had a heroin charge by fifteen. Looking at the surface level, Pierre may have, to some, seemed deserving of such a death. But upon reading testaments from his friends and family, I struggle to accept this sentiment. At sixteen, he got a tattoo to memorialize a fellow gang member who was slain. His younger siblings looked up to him, and he loved making up rhymes and listening to music. One of his friends commented, “I want him to be remembered as someone who loved and cared about everyone. And even though he wasn’t the best kid, he had the best heart.”

Turning to the gang life isn’t an ideal solution, but for kids in some Chicago communities, gang life is necessary for survival. In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Judge Michael Toomin, who presides over Cook County’s juvenile court system, notes “[Kids] turn to gangs because gangs give them friends, give them some structure, give them protections…”

Laura reads her reflection on the second station at St. Maurice Church in McKinley Park.
On the surface level, joining a gang doesn’t make sense. Deeper down, it is a cross given simply by being born into the wrong neighborhood. Like Jesus, they carry this cross without complaint. And like Jesus, they may be mocked and dismissed as thugs, worthless, and underserving by those who do not understand.

I have been fortunate enough to experience many joys with my students. Through my experience as an On Track and High School Completion Coach in Chicago’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood, I have learned to look beyond these gang members (although, I will admit I was nervous at first) and see the wonderful young adults they truly are. They continue to teach me to look deeper, even now. The other day, my student was explaining to me about how he did not want to go to school when he casually added, “I got shot at.” He didn’t even add punctuation; just “I didn’t want to go I got shot at yesterday.” In my casual, I’m-a-teacher-so-I-technically-can’t-acknowledge-that-you’re-in-a-gang voice, I inquired, “Well, was what you were doing legal?” He responded, “But you don’t get it, you don’t abandon your brothers when they’re getting shot at.”

He’s right. I don’t get it, for I did not grow up in this neighborhood, in this life, in this sense of poverty, where crime can emerge even while you are walking home from school. My cross is different than theirs, but like them, I need to take up my cross, even if my teacher doesn’t understand, even if the general public doesn’t understand, even if I am being mocked and stripped and crucified. For by taking up your cross, even when you are the only one that knows the good that comes from it, you are teaching everyone around you how to live.

These are your brothers. You can’t abandon them. You just need to pick up that cross and persevere through those struggles for the sake of others, no matter what these struggles are. My precious child: I wish you weren’t on the streets, but I love that you are willing to express compassion and love, no matter what cross you were born to carry.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Amate House Hosts College Immersion Groups

The following is a reflection prepared by Jimmy Haubert, a Volunteer living in the Little Village Community. Jimmy serves at Erie Family Health Center at Johnson Elementary this year. The Little Village Community hosted two college immersion service trips this winter and he shares a little bit about their experience with the most recent group.

Let’s face it. Explaining to people why you chose to live a year of solidarity with those you serve, how you manage to do so, and where you find your motivation when the going gets tough is hard. Sometimes I feel as though the only way to express truly the answers to these questions is a simplified “You’d have to experience it yourself.” That’s where immersion groups come in! Every year, each Amate House community hosts two different groups of university students looking to gain a greater insight into the life of an Amate House Volunteer. Ranging from college freshmen to graduate students, these groups spend a week living in one of our Amate homes – volunteering at different sites throughout the week, sharing meals with us, and reflecting on their own experience.

Earlier in the year, our Little Village community hosted students from the University of Dayton, and this past week we welcomed students from St. Mary’s Parish at the University of Michigan. Adam, Mary-Catherine, Julia, and Tiffany visited various service sites in Chicago to learn more about the organizations’ purposes and missions, as well as to spend the day volunteering. Here are some of the places they went!
St. Mary's students visit Fr. Dan Reim at St. Procopius in Pilsen.
 Fr. Dan used to work at the St. Mary Student Parish in Ann Arbor.
St. James Catholic Church Food Pantry: One of largest food pantries in Chicago, St. James food pantry serves residents facing high levels of unemployment and increasing scarcity of affordable housing. The volunteers spent the day processing donations, packing food, and organizing distribution. This is also an Amate House service site this year.

Port Ministries: Port Ministries offers free services and resources to south-side Chicago residents so they can better themselves and their families while strengthening the community. The volunteers assisted with their after-school tutoring program for elementary school students who live in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.

Misericordia: A massive facility in northern Chicago, Misericordia offers a community of care for persons with mild to profound developmental disabilities, many of whom are physically challenged as well. The volunteers spent the day interacting with residents and helping out at different facilities on campus.

Of course, our life at Amate House is not solely about service. It is about community, too. Living in community allows us to affirm our intentionality in our work, as well as share our trials and our triumphs with those who we live with. We welcomed our immersion group to experience the joy of our Little Village community. Every night we shared wholesome, home-cooked meals, prayed together, and shared our reflections on our days of service. We shared a meditative spirituality night, and even got caught up in a fun word-association game called Codenames!

As a parting gift, Adam, Mary-Catherine, Tiffany, and Julia left us a thank-you card, thanking us for our hospitality and a chance to experience a week-in-the-life of an Amate House Volunteer. But I would like to share a parting thank you to them:
Thank you, thank you for giving of yourselves to be the voice for those in Chicago who have none to stand for them. Thank you for embracing Amate House’s mission and vision of love, and revitalizing our community with your perspectives and prayers. Thank you for blessing us with your presence in our community.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A Look Back At Retreat

The following is a reflection prepared by Jackie Ascenzi, a Volunteer living in the Little Village Community. Jackie serves at Little Brothers, Friends of the Elderly this year. She shares her experience of embracing time with community on the winter retreat which took place mid-January.

On my birthday last month, I lost my wallet which held my driver’s license, debit card, money, and a beloved Target gift card I had not used yet. To say the least, 2017 got off to a rough start. Just when I thought I had figured out a solution to get a new driver’s license, there was hoop after hoop I had to jump through. I can’t drive for my job without a driver’s license, I had to fly back to California in order to get a new one after just returning from California a few days prior, how was I supposed to get on a plane without an ID, etc. Losing my wallet became so stressful and time-consuming the only thing I was looking forward to was winter retreat. I was just ready to get away from work and get away from my problems. I flew to California January 16, came back January 18 with a lovely temporary ID, packed my bags for retreat January 19, and was ready to take off.  

I have always loved retreats. I love being crammed in a room with 5-6 people, waking up and being able to wear pajamas all day, everyone collectively being off their phones, and just constantly surrounding yourself with nature the whole time. Highlights of this retreat included playing in the game room for about 2 hours straight and a few of my housemates and I filmed a mockumentary of “The Blair Witch Project” all on snapchat. I always say that I wish South House and the Little Village House were closer because there is really never much time to bond with the other house. That is why on retreats I enjoy the company of the other house and being surrounded by them for 3 days straight. Out of all the Amate House tenets, community is my favorite one. Community is something everyone has the ability to be involved in regardless of religion, beliefs, background, etc. Community is a thing you really cannot avoid. Living with 8 other people, there are times where you physically will always see at least 1 other person and I love that. With community comes intentionality. It is one thing to just live with 8 other people, but it is another to be intentional about how and when to spend time with them.

At Amate House, there is a heavy importance put on eating meals together, having spirituality nights, and engaging in community nights every week. Although not all are mandatory, there is a genuine desire to be present for them. At times, it feels forced or there are days when I don’t want to be involved, but once I am there, I am glad. My community is what brings this sense of gladness. If it was not for them, it would be hard to be intentional. After I lost my wallet, some of my housemates went outside in the 7 degree weather at night to help me look for it. In that moment, I knew how important and supportive my community was to me. Winter retreat was such a perfect break to all the madness that the days prior had given me. I am thankful for not only my Little Village community, but the overall Amate House community as well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Using Creativity and Faith to Guide Vocation

The following is a reflection prepared by Chris Yates, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. Chris is serving at the St. John Paul II Newman Center at UIC and shares this story about his passion for photography and the gift of being able to translate that talent into his service.

Photography has always been a large part of my adult life. This is just a nice way of saying that it has taken over my life, in the best way possible.  It is the way in which I view the world and more importantly, tell the stories within it. I remember sitting on my phone a few years ago, scrolling through the movies coming out that weekend.  One in particular caught my eye:  The Salt of the Earth.  It had a 99% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and even though I knew nothing about it, I was extremely interested.  So often, our lives are chronicled by those moments where our hearts are lit on fire, and this was certainly one of those moments.  The Salt of the Earth follows the well-known social justice photographer Sebastião Salgado as he embarks on his final photography project: Genesis.  For over 20 years, Salgado has traveled the Earth, documenting the most horrifying human tragedies and human rights issues along the way.  He became depressed after all that he witnessed, so his last project aimed to rediscover the inherent beauty in the world.  After being inspired by his work and the documentary, I realized that I could not separate my creativity and my faith, which, in tangent, guide my vocation.

About a year and a half ago, this passion became my practice.  I went to a Jesuit school and was very involved in Campus Ministry, where I was exposed to a number of the Jesuits who lived on campus. Throughout my four years, I came to realize that there is a deep disconnect between how society views priests and who they really are. Following in the footsteps of Salgado, this prompted me to create my own photography project — Emmaus: The Nature of the Way — which documents the lives of 22 Jesuit Priests living at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  Through personal stories of life experiences combined with photographs that exhibit these men's passions, this project brings back their humanity, which is all too often lost.  The project has been picked up by a publisher, and we will be releasing this coffee table photography book in April 2017.  You can check out the book at www.natureoftheway.org.

Before I began working at the John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was hesitant that I would not be able to bring all of myself — my passions, interests, and creativity — to the job.  Luckily, my site supervisor, Fr. Pat, and the team here fully embraced this notion of looking at ministry and social justice through a different lens... literally.  Over this past semester, I created five, separate, hour-long guided reflections on social justice issues, rooted in the work of photographers throughout history, titled: Through the Lens: Social Justice and Photography.  I began the series with looking at racism through photographer Edward Curtis' work known as The North American Indian.  Along with recognizing the inherent biases that all of us possess, we began to question reality itself, struggling with the question, "Can a photograph tell the truth?"  Throughout the next few months, the students and I came to realize that pulling the trigger of a camera is sometimes more deadly and often times way more powerful than pulling the trigger of a gun, that we cannot judge photographers because we will never see the "full truth," and that photographs must always be taken with a grain of salt.

Oftentimes in society, and especially in places like Campus Ministry, the exposure we have to social justice issues can make us numb to their harsh realities.  The opportunity to look at these same issues that have been discussed many times in a new and refreshing way has reignited the fire and passion of students to become more knowledgeable and engaged.  Bringing this series to the Newman Center has also encouraged the students to explore issues in the Chicago area creatively.  The Good Shepherd is a project I have started with the students to explore "Renew My Church," — an Archdiocese of Chicago initiative to reevaluate resources and inevitably close a number of parishes and ministries — through photography.  We will go and experience a daily mass, meet with the pastor and take photographs of him within his parish.  These programs have had a great deal of traction within the community as it gives the students a personal relatability to those things going on within their communities.

It is truly a blessing that my work site is supportive of "unconventional" forms of viewing and relating to issues going on in this community.  Being able to bring my passion for photography has given me great life within my work site, making me truly want to be there each and every day.  I continually challenge students to find what they are passionate about and bring it to the table, because you never know where it may take you.  Being able to work at a place where I get the much needed support, has transformed my experience of a year of service.  I look forward to continuing my ministry into this next semester at the Newman Center, camera in hand.

Friday, January 06, 2017

The will of God will never lead you where the Grace of God will not sustain you

The following is a reflection prepared by Clare Potyrala, a Volunteer living in the McKinley Park Community. She serves at St. James Food Pantry on the near south side of Chicago. Clare first visited Amate House one year ago as part of an immersion trip through her university. She spent a week with the McKinley Park community and visited service sites around the city. This January Clare and her housemates will be hosting another college service group at their house.

2017 is a breath of fresh air. It is also the marking of the almost half-way point of my year of service with Amate House…which is strange to say, because routine and life in community has become the new normal for me. I attended and graduated from the University of Dayton this past May and had chosen to pursue a year of post-grad service early on during my senior year. Formed in the Marianist tradition, teaching, and spirituality, I had previously lived in intentional community for 9 weeks in Appalachia on a mission trip in college. I gained many valuable thoughts, feelings, and lessons from that experience and wanted the challenge of living together in a committed community for a year.

Amate House pulled me in last January. UD does Service Break-out trips during our winter breaks and I was asked to lead the break-out to Amate House by my Campus Ministry. My lay Marianist community member, Tia, was already there serving her year and because I was looking into Amate House as one of my options, I jumped at the chance to visit and explore Chicago. I took a group of about 10 students up to Chicago and we stayed a week at South House in McKinley Park, visiting different service sites each day and spending reflection time together in the evenings. I’m a firm believer that God has this funny way of working in our lives and His presence was made known during this trip. One of the places we visited was a food pantry, called St. James Food Pantry. We participated in handing out groceries in the morning and left before the homeless lunch program, which happens every afternoon. When I walked into this building, it felt like home. The volunteers and staff were extremely welcoming and I began to picture myself in this place if I ended up choosing to apply to Amate House. I met my current boss, Peter, and I could tell the Holy Spirit was hard at work. Time would tell where I would end up...

Clare shows off the stocked shelves of the St. James Food Pantry.
Fast forward to August 2016: St. James became my placement site. To give some stats, St. James serves two different zip codes and about 1700 families each month. Some human rights issues I am passionate about are poverty and hunger. I felt that St. James would give me hands-on experience in serving the marginalized, learning more about food scarcity, and pull me out of my comfort zone. While I enjoy my job as Volunteer Coordinator here, this position has not been without its challenges. Some of my homeless clients, I see every single day, which is heartwarming because at least I know that they are receiving food. But it has been a struggle to recognize and sit with the feeling of ‘wanting to do more/fix their situation’ when in reality, all I was giving to them was this lunch. It hurt my heart knowing I couldn’t do more to help them in their lives and it took me a long time to let go of my frustrations of complacency. However, I have learned, lunch isn’t ‘just lunch.’ It is a smile given to my clients and recognition of their name and acknowledgement of their worth and human dignity as a child of God. So often I’ve thought about the last time some of my clients heard their name, because I feel like our current society labels and dismisses the vulnerable and marginalized as  the ‘Other’ or ‘less than.’ Just because someone is homeless or experiencing a hardship of any kind, does NOT give any of us the right to dismiss their dignity and worth. In God’s eyes, we are all His children, and who are we to judge?

My experience at Amate House has taught me about sacrifice, especially recently during the Christmas season. I had to work on Christmas for the first time in my life this year because St. James puts on a Christmas Lunch for the homeless. The entire week leading up to Christmas, I was experiencing this anxiety, dread, and jealousy because not only was I attempting to pull enough volunteers together for this lunch, I was watching my community members get excited about going home to see their families for Christmas. I’m not proud of my feelings, especially the negative ones, but I won’t discount them because they were real, valid, and it was my right to feel whatever I felt.

I had to remind myself that this year of service was not about ME. It wasn’t about what I wanted or how this year could serve me. It is about how God is breaking me down…flooding me with His Grace in order to mold, shape, and use me this year to serve others. I am sure I will gain something from this entire experience, but this year is about giving to others and being a servant leader as Jesus calls us to be. I was giving up my Christmas in order to be with those in need; people like me who otherwise wouldn’t get a meal or get to experience a place of warmth if St. James did not have a lunch program. Thankfully I ended up having enough volunteers and Christmas Day went pretty smoothly. We had about 220 people come to lunch and we able to give out gifts to kids and their parents. I saw such joy on people’s faces as they received their buffet lunch, laughed with their families, kids visited Santa, and listened to the live music. I went home that day with a full heart and am extremely thankful I was able to experience this Christmas program. Christ was present amongst everyone that day, more so this Christmas than any other recent Christmas and I was blessed to experience the richness God can provide us.

Now, it is back to work and the everyday life, but it is a start of a new year and a clean slate. For the rest of my year of service with Amate House and throughout 2017, my constant prayer is for God to use me. Use me. Love me. Use my hands, feet, heart, soul, words, and actions to bring Your kingdom to life. Break me. Break me down in order to bless me up with Your abundance of mercy, grace, love, and compassion… Help me seek the richness in the extraordinary and normal moments. To give me the eyes to see the richness in the thin places in my life. Be this force to continue to stretch and push me out of my comfort zones. Not my will, but Yours be done, Lord. 

I want to walk away changed from this year. My prayer for you is that you will not be hesitant to seek His will in your lives. Because He’s never going to leave you in this place where His Grace will not sustain you… I firmly believe God’s will for me is to serve through Amate House. And this year, I want to be as present as I can for the remainder of my time.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Embrace the Unexpected and Say Yes

The following is an Advent reflection prepared by Maggie Lamb, a Volunteer living in the Little Village Community. Maggie is working at Lawndale Christian Legal Center in North Lawndale and she shared her story at Amate House’s Las Posadas evening of reflection on December 14, 2016.

About a week before I moved to Chicago, I realized something.  I was incredibly, gut-wrenchingly nervous. Would I be able to do my job? Could I handle simple living? What does it even mean to be in intentional community? At every transition before this, I’d had others who could tell me what to expect. Friends above me at my high school told me to get my skirt shortened before I arrived. Everyone I met offered some advice for getting along with my first roommate in college.  No one who I know well has done a year of service before.  I didn’t know anyone in Chicago. For the first time, I was really moving into the unknown and had no idea what to expect.

Learning to embrace the unexpected and the unknown has truly defined my year so far and has given me so many questions that occupy my mind.  In this season of advent, Mary is a beautiful model in accepting the unexpected.  When I think about Mary, I am usually caught up in her “yes.” I am so enamored by the way that she was able to fully accept a terrifying new experience with love and grace.  This year, however, I am more interested in her questions.  Mary’s “yes” is surrounded by uncertainty and confusion. When the Angel Gabriel appeared to her, she is initially troubled.  In fact, the very first words she utters in the Bible are a question: “How can this be?” After the birth of her Son, upon hearing others again discuss things that seem extraordinary, “she pondered them in her heart.”  This year, I am called to consider the questions that I am asking of God and of those around me in the face of so much I did not expect.
Maggie shares her reflection at Las Posadas at
Our Lady of Tepeyac High School.

At work, I am challenged by injustice and pain.  I have witnessed young people targeted and hurt by a system that that breaks every rule of justice. A few months ago, a young girl told me about the hurt that she was experiencing. It was pain that I had never experienced and I was caught in a spiral of shock.  I knew that this kind of suffering existed but I had no idea how to respond.  A few weeks later, a young man was surrounded by police officers with drawn guns and held overnight despite being cleared almost immediately.  He was on his way to receive an award for all of his hard work.

There are days when some of this just seems like too much.  I did not expect this to be such a pervasive reality and I am unprepared to emotionally handle this.  Like Mary, I look to God and to those around me and ask “how can this be?” I barely get an answer. But I do witness Mary’s “yes.”  I have never been so frustrated - and yet I have never seen God so clearly.  Our attorneys from the top tier law schools say “yes” when they accept low paying jobs without health insurance to fight daily against a flawed system.  Our case managers say "yes" when they drive twenty minutes out of their way on a weekend to give kids bus cards so they can get to school on Monday.  Those I work with say “yes” every day that they glare through tears at computer screens, fighting their own heartbreak in order to make the lives of their young people better.  And they say “yes” every time we love each other and offer each other support through our craziest days.
Jimmy and Maggie pose after Las Posadas! Great job LV!

And I wouldn’t be able to offer my own “yes” if my community didn’t help me.  I had questions at home too. What does it mean to practice unconditional positive regard? What does intentionality mean? Seriously, what the heck is a chia seed and why are these people putting them in cookies?  I know that I am so blessed to live with people who pose these questions and help me find answers.  I thought I might make some friends, but I didn’t expect to find role models in my own home.  But I did. I found people who have shown me such love and generosity that I never could have expected from people who I really just met.  I like to be in control, and the word “unexpected” has always been associated with negativity.  In our little home on Ridgeway, I learned that the unexpected can carry unimaginable beauty.

I have so much that I ponder in my heart this year.  I am learning so much so quickly and can only scrape the surface in this moment.  I just hope that, like Mary, when I am asked to embrace the unexpected and the unknown I can take a deep breath and calmly and confidently say “yes.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

Welcoming the Stranger

The following is an Advent reflection prepared by Caroline Musslewhite, a Volunteer living in the Little Village Community. Caroline is a first grade teacher’s aide at Our Lady of Tepeyac Elementary School in Little Village and she shared her story at Amate House’s Las Posadas evening of reflection on December 14, 2016.

As I was preparing for the Little Village Las Posadas evening of reflection, surrounded by a group of giggling Little Village-ers, I thought back to when I first moved to Chicago. I was nervous about my placement, working as a teacher with no prior experience. I was uncertain about my neighborhood, having been forewarned by many family, friends, and strangers about my safety. I was apprehensive about my housemates, envisioning potential conflict or lukewarm acquaintances. In a nutshell, I feared many layers of being a stranger – feeling incompetent, misunderstood, unprepared, and unknown.

The experience of being a stranger expressed itself in many ways. Going to mass by myself in Spanish and mumbling through the mass parts. Failing to appreciate the mistake a teacher can make by sending too many boys to the bathroom at the same time (essentially, giving them your blessing to play in the bathroom). It came in not knowing which was the safest route to take to the train or, more seriously, how far away was the sound of a gunshot I heard in the night.

These moments, significant and small, compounded to an overwhelming feeling of being an outsider. But then again, I only can appreciate how much I felt like a stranger then because in the past I have felt known, at peace in a community, understood, prepared, and competent. I am so blessed for these moments that I haven’t felt like an outsider. I’ll come back to that…
Caroline shares her story at Las Posadas evening of reflection at
 Our Lady of Tepeyac High School.
One of my highlights of the month of September was when I got my library card. I checked out “Tattoos on the Heart” by Fr. Greg Boyle. Fr. Greg is a Jesuit priest living in L.A. who runs Homeboy Industries, an organization that provides employment, services, and a community of support for gang members. Fr. Greg quotes a Jesuit priest Anthony de Mello, who said of God’s love for people “Behold the One beholding you and smiling.” This line hit a chord in me. Throughout our experiences of being a stranger, throughout the tumult of feeling incompetent, misunderstood, unprepared, and unknown, there is One who knows us fully and is wholeheartedly proud.

But it takes fearlessness to welcome the stranger. The stranger is the outsider in the room, the awkward new student, the one who doesn’t speak the language or understand the social rules. The stranger is the child who we have given up on trying to understand, being constantly baffled by their actions. The stranger is the one who is always behind in class, always asking the question after the explanation has been given hundreds of time. The stranger is the one easily forgotten because they drift into the background, quietly struggling.

In so many facets of our education system, in our homes, in our daily lives, we can ignore, mock, and even hate the stranger. But in Advent, we are called to worship a man who was the stranger. A man who was born into poverty, hunted as a baby, swiftly put into exile, and who came from a place that was said: of it no good can come. Jesus certainly was not the stereotypical image of a messiah.

And so as a teacher, as a friend, as a person, I am called to remember to welcome my heart to the ones that don’t quite fit in. To know that even if I struggle with it, there is One who is “beholding them and smiling.” To reevaluate how I unconsciously rank people in my mind, evaluating their worth based on how effectively they can navigate our system. And to remember the moments when I have been a stranger and the gift others have given me by welcoming me into their hearts.

My closing prayer is that we notice those that we let stay the stranger in the room--those that we are content to remain ignored, mocked or hated—and that we can extend gratitude to the people who have reminded us that we are worth smiling about.