Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Walking Towards the Ascension

The following is a reflection written by Theresa Hayes, one of our North House Volunteers. She offered this as part of her community's Pentecost reflections, which took place last Wednesday.

Every morning, I struggle to wake up. As my neighbors can attest, I snooze my alarm clock for approximately 36 minutes each day. There are a variety of reasons I might want to stay in bed. Sometimes I am tired from a late night hanging out with my housemates. In the winter, I did not want to leave the warmth of my bed
and face a snowy Chicago commute. And even sometimes fear of not knowing what the upcoming day would bring kept me hitting the snooze button.

My life changed significantly when I moved to Chicago and began Amate. Change is never easy. It is a challenge to be fully present in the now, rather than looking forward or backwards. It takes a great amount of courage to wake up, truly, to all that each day has to offer. As I lay in bed each morning, trying to convince myself that I really can’t snooze one more time, many thoughts cross my mind. Sometimes I think about the clients I will meet that day, wondering if some days they do not want to get out of bed, either. Maybe the tiredness from working two jobs and being a single mother is wearing on them, or the fear of not knowing when they will see their kids next, or whether they will be evicted from the only home they have ever known.

Other mornings, I look out my bedroom window over the North House courtyard. I have watched the seasons change from the sunshine of late summer to falling leaves of every color, to barren and snow-covered branches, and finally, budding leaves and green grass have reappeared. I have watched Spring unfold outside my bedroom window, as it has each year before. Yet the mystery of the changing seasons never fails to puzzle me. Life coming from death? It seems so illogical.

And yet it happens in the Paschal mystery, as well. Death is followed by resurrection. The apostles have heard the good news of Easter, yet they are frequently in hiding, doubting, or not recognizing Jesus among them. They are fearful for how their lives will change, what the Resurrection means to them. They are not able to fully accept the present life they are being invited to live through Jesus. Even though they have heard the good news brought by Easter, they maintain the fear that prevents them from entering fully into this new life.

This year, I have found myself fearful and unsure of my ability to accept the challenges in my own life. I have a very difficult time trusting - I want to be in control, to anticipate outcomes. Some days I want to be able to just check items off of my numerous to-do lists. Through life in community with twelve other people and among the ever-unpredictable client and volunteer behavior at a legal aid clinic, I have repeatedly been reminded that I am
not in control. The pressing demands of each day make things go much differently than I planned, or ever could have even imagined. These are the invitations to a life much richer than I could ever plan myself. We are called to be open to these lessons and growth. However, sometimes I am not open to the gift of the moment, afraid of how things may turn out, how others may perceive me, or how my actions could impact the life of a client in need.

We are called to live courageously and to trust that maybe we are more equipped to face our present circumstances than we might know. I must remind myself that I am not facing each day alone. No matter how difficult it is to trust and admit that I am not in control, the spirit continues to work through me, even when I am not aware of it. Over time, the fear subsides. Coming home after a long day of work is not daunting because our house is still getting to know one another, but it becomes comforting, even a source of joy. Work becomes more than just a place to spend 40 hours each week, but I can recognize the supportive community has formed there, sharing in struggles and successes.

The challenge posed to the apostles after Easter, and the challenge I found myself facing along with them throughout this year, is: How can I accept the changes in my life? How do I properly mourn for what has been lost? Even though experience tells me otherwise, it does not make it any easier to trust that spring will in fact come after winter. I have seen it happen each year, but I still struggle to let go of the fear and accept the invitations to grow in new ways.

Each morning, we are faced with the choice of waking up, facing our fears and making a conscious decision to recognize, accept, and celebrate life all around us. There will be challenges, and things may not go as planned. We must trust that our experiences, both good and bad, will all lead to growth. Personal growth, professional growth, growth in community, and growth in love.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Commencement Speech, Amate-Style

The following is a commencement address delivered by Jeff Peak, a 2008-2009 Amate House Alum. Jeff now works with Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Jeff shared these words with graduating seniors who were preparing to go on to serve with various service programs.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2011. Wear sunscreen.

This seems like a rather odd piece of advice to be giving to a bunch of graduates being missioned forth for life as a volunteer or in a religious community, but I stand by it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, and Baz Luhrmann wrote a song about it twelve years ago so it must be valid advice. The rest of my advice though, has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the beauty and freedom of your year. Or two years if you’re doing one of those programs. Or the rest of your life if that’s your thing. It’s a wonderfully liberating feeling to know that you’ll get back from a long day of work and there won’t be a huge pile of homework waiting for you with open arms. The open arms waiting for you will either be those of the rest of your community, or the stalker hiding in your bushes. Parents: it’s almost never a stalker in the bushes.

Write a letter every day. If you don’t have time for a letter, e-mails are fine. Phone calls are better. My relationship with Grandma flourished during my volunteer year because I was able to call her every Monday on the 15-minute walk home. Not only do letters or phone calls give you a chance to reflect on life and tell some amazing stories, but they serve as a constant reminder that there are others around the world also going on a journey of faith because of your volunteer experience.

Don’t worry about the future. It’s far too easy to become consumed with MCAT studying, applying for law school or other quote important things, that you miss out on the most meaningful things happening around you. There’s a terrible cliché about today being a gift and that’s why it’s called the present. But, you should try to unwrap that gift once in a while and see what it has to offer.

Pray. If that’s not your cup of tea, reflect or meditate, journal or contemplate. Find a way to meet your spiritual needs. It’s great being on fire to serve the world, but you’ll burn yourself out if you don’t occasionally take the time to stoke the fire.


The best advice I learned about living in community, I read in a book by a Jesuit two years after I finished volunteering. One, you are not God. Two, this is not heaven. Three, don’t be an ass.

Compromise is important, but only if you know what in your life is non-negotiable. For some people in my community, this was the type of cheese that we bought at the store every week. For others, it was that we tried to live sustainably. It’s a certainly a challenge trying to meet everyone’s needs, but it’s better than hating your life because you’ve sacrificed what’s most important to you in order to make others happy.

Take lots of pictures, it’s a great way to keep wonderful memories alive.

Speaking of great pictures, keep your student ID. It may seems slightly dishonest using this card to get discounts at movies and other endeavors after you’ve graduated, but technically speaking, you never stop learning if you’re a student of life. This just helps allow you to get into some places for cheaper than it would normally cost. That being said…

Find cheap sources of fun. This may be playing hide and seek in a dark convent with your roommates, throwing a Frisbee as far as you can off the roof of your volunteer house, or just spending a relaxing night in your courtyard with friends and a bottle of cheap wine. Great memories aren’t just made because of the amount of money that you spend, but because of the people you are with.

Maybe you’ll marry. Maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t. I’d suggest not doing either during your year of service because it’s nearly impossible to raise the appropriate dowry on a volunteer stipend, and your community budget would certainly take a hit paying for diapers and baby food.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t love or care for others. Sharing your love with those you live with, those you work with, and members of the larger community is the most authentic way that you can give of yourself. And as the prayer of St. Francis says, it’s in giving that you receive.


Don’t break the stupid rule. What’s the stupid rule? Don’t be stupid. This isn’t advice from volunteering but rather from my mother and probably every mother sitting here in this church today. In my research, over 95 percent of injuries happen when one is being stupid. While this normally makes for a fantastic story in the future, make sure your volunteer program has health insurance and that you can take the physical, emotional, or spiritual implications of said stupidity.

You will not return from this experience as the same person who started it

Finally, wear sunscreen, and give hugs. You don’t have to do both simultaneously because that might make for a greasy and possibly unsatisfying experience. But there’s a saying, that we need four hugs a day for survival, eight hugs a day for maintenance, and twelve hugs a day for growth. Make sure to stockpile some from your family and loved ones today, tomorrow, and everyday until you leave so that you’ll always be able to meet your daily quota. Then, the least of your problems everyday is whether to use the SPF 30, or 45.

Thank you all, and God bless you on your future endeavors.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Embracing Transformation

The following is a reflection written by Carlos La Puente, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

What's one of the hardest things about both Lent and Easter? Is it the fasting? Nah, that's small stuff compared to what I'm thinking. Is it the emotional roller coaster as we break through the passion narratives to get to the resurrection joy? I wouldn't say that's the hard part, all of that is a natural part of life.

So what is the hardest part? It's Jesus looking us square in the face, his eyes staring intently into ours, as he says, "You need to change."

"Wait a second," we think. "What are you talking about?"

"Take a look at my death and resurrection. I came back with a glorified body. It wasn't the same as the one before my death. Some of my closest friends didn't even recognize me! I changed. Do you remember what I said at the last supper?"

"Well, Jesus, you kind of said a lot of things. There was the institution of the Eucharist, of course. Uh, you told us that you'd go away but then send the Holy Spirit to help us. You also washed your friends' feet..."

"Stop right there," he says. "What did I tell you after that?"

"No servant is greater than his master."

"If you're going to be my disciple," Jesus says, "if you are going to walk the path of self-giving love like me, you're going to change. It's not a question for you to answer. I don't ask you if you want to follow me and then let things stay the same. If you want to continue this life of a loving Christian, you need to change. No questions asked."

"But don't you love me as I am?"

"Yes," he replies. "Of course I do. But I also know something you don't know."

"That's not a surprise. What is it?"

"You think you're happy now? Just wait for all the joy I'm going to pour into your life when you let me transform you."


"You trust me, don't you?" he continues. "Hey, I calmed the storms, I made the dead walk, I conquered death! And people are STILL talking about me thousands of years later. Now I'm telling you that if you let me change you, you will experience a glorified body and life like mine, and you'll be happier than you've ever been, happier than you ever could be without me. What do you say?"

"I say I think this is crazy."

"I know. Which is why I'm giving you 50 days of the Easter season to get used to the idea."

"Well, what do I need? Is there any prep-work that needs to be done?"

"You can hardly prepare yourself for this," he says. "But I will ask of you two things, the two things you'll find in all the stories of the saints. Without these two things you can still have a great success story, sure, but you won't have a holy, joy-filled story."

"Well, what are the two things?"

"Ready?" he asks. "It's simple, really. All I ask of you is humility and obedience. Those are the only two things I ask of you so that I can change you and so that your joy can finally be complete. You want to know what that's like? Forget all the cheap imitations, I'm ready to give you the real stuff. Are you?"

This is the hardest part about Lent and Easter. Watching Jesus come back, conquering death, rising from the tomb transformed. He looks at us and says, "Can I transform you, too?"

The hardest part is this question. Once we say yes, however... well, we saw what happened to the 12 disciples. The rest is history. Actually, the rest is more than just history. It's our story, we're living in it.

I, for one, hope to embrace this holy transformation. May God give us the grace to say yes.