Age 25 / Shippensburg University
St. Patrick School: Paraprofessional

Patty Boland was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pa. She attended Shippensburg University and graduated with a degree in Middle...
 
 

Lenten Reflections

Hello!


Welcome to this year’s edition of the Augustinian Volunteers Lenten Reflections.  Each year, we ask people from all different roles in our program ranging from current and past volunteers to Augustinians to advisory board members to site-supervisors and others who work with and support us to contribute a reflection on the readings of a particular day of Lent.  We then give this to our volunteer communities as well as the Augustinian community at the volunteers’ particular site as well as to the greater Augustinian Volunteers community for prayer and reflection.


You may read the Lenten Reflections online here at http://osavol.org/learn/lenten-reflections or request to receive a daily email from us with the day’s reflection at osavol@gmail.com  Free feel to share this with family and friends, send them the link to the website or have them sign up for the daily email if you would like!


We would like to thank those who contributed a reflection in this year’s edition as the tradition of the Lenten Reflections would not be possible without you and your generosity with your time and effort.


We hope you enjoy this booklet and find it fruitful on your Lenten journey this year.


Joanna, Hannah and Taylor

The Augustinian Volunteers Staff


Ash Wednesday, February 10
Thursday, February 11
Friday, February 12
Saturday, February 13
First Sunday of Lent, February 14
Monday, February 15
Tuesday, February 16
Wednesday, February 17
Thursday, February 18
Friday, February 19
Saturday, February 20
Second Sunday of Lent, February 21
Monday, February 22
Tuesday, February 23
Wednesday, February 24
Thursday, February 25
Friday, February 26
Saturday, February 27
Third Sunday of Lent, February 28
Monday, February 29
Tuesday, March 1
Wednesday, March 2
Thursday, March 3
Friday, March 4
Saturday, March 5
Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 6
Monday, March 7
Tuesday, March 8
Wednesday, March 9
Thursday, March 10
Friday, March 11
Saturday, March 12
Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 13
Monday, March 14
Tuesday, March 15
Wednesday, March 16
Thursday, March 17
Friday, March 18
Saturday, March 19
Palm Sunday, March 20
Monday, March 21
Tuesday, March 22
Wednesday, March 23
Holy Thursday, March 24
Good Friday, March 25



Ash Wednesday, February 10
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021016.cfm

I know a couple that every year on their anniversary they sit down and take stock of their relationship, and what they find meaningful, what they find difficult, where they thrive as a couple and where they have failed one another. I imagine this must be an amazing yet challenging conversation to have at times, but like many difficult conversations once they get going there are sure to bear fruit. In fact, this couple told me that they never look forward to the conversation. It often brings embarrassment and guilt to the table. But they expressed that they also have always left the conversation knowing that they are loved more than they knew by their partner, even the times where the admission of failure seems to be overwhelming.

Ash Wednesday always seems to be that anniversary for me and my relationship with God. I try and succeed at coming up with countless options to distract me from this difficult task, and often Lent is here long before I have invested any time in thinking about my successes and my shortcomings. But there is a sense of relief with Ash Wednesday in that I get to stop pretending that I am not broken. Maybe because we have this social pressure around the question of “What are you giving up for Lent?”, which is a less patronizing way of saying “How could you love more?” but once I have had the opportunity to pray with the questions that the Lenten season poses, then I can come to terms with who I am in the eyes of God. In naming how I could be better, I find the energy to be better, to build the kingdom, to live in the Love that I know embraces me. It is in the coming to the conversation with God that is hard and I may drag my feet, but I trust that the conversation will end with the revelation that I am loved more than I ever knew.

Griffin Knipp
AV 2010-2011, Chicago


Thursday, February 11
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021116.cfm

The Lord has made a covenant or alliance with the people of Israel. This Alliance has as its foundation that the Lord God would provide all that Israel needed as long as the whole nation of Israel would live lives following His commandments—namely that they would love Him and walk in His ways.

What is of interest is that this covenant was not made with just a part of the nation of Israel. Rather, it was made with all the people of Israel. They all had to agree to what they would do and then also expect God to keep His part of the Covenant. Thus, if some of the people chose not to obey “His commandments, statutes and decrees,” then that would cause problems (being censured, not having crops, etc.) for the whole nation.

This for me is always a point of reflection. As a person, I am responsible for my own life. I need to live in a way that my actions are based upon my core values. I am also a member of many communities such as my faith community, my family, my work place, etc. In all of these “communities” I have said yes to a certain way of living or of being part of those communities.

During this Lenten Season, it might be a time for me to reflect upon the communities that I am part of and my role within them.

What are the challenges they have presented to me?
How have I grown because of them?
How am I present to the other members of these communities?
How have the other members been present to me?

Fr. William Lego, O.S.A.
Augustinian Site Supervisor, Chicago


Friday, February 12
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021216.cfm

Recently, I attended a worship service in which the pastor’s sermon emphasized the inherent difference between a student and a disciple. A student, eager for knowledge, seeks to gather information and to postulate and theorize with their newfound knowledge. A disciple, however, seeks to take the lessons they have learned and apply them to their actions and interactions. This reading, I believe, highlights this characteristic distinction as well.

There are times, sometimes more often than not, when we go through the motions of our day and of our faith. We go to mass, listen to the readings, learn a thing or two that maybe we didn’t know before; but our lives remain ultimately unchanged, and therefore neither do we do anything to change the lives of others around us. But when we internalize the lessons we listen to and read about in church and take the commandments God sets before us, they are an opportunity to not only act in a Christian way, but to uncover the power and the truth that resides in them.

Putting faith into action is, of course, much easier said than done. But it starts, I believe, with first realizing that it doesn’t take much to do the small things that God asks of us—small things that can have profound and rippling effects. Being an Augustinian Volunteer has shown me the power in the simplicity of selflessness as well as the integrability of “fasting” in your everyday life. But this understanding has also showed me that this kind of intentionality isn’t exclusive to a year-of-service program—its purpose is far-reaching and its application is lifelong.

Francis Cunningham
Current AV, San Diego


Saturday, February 13
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021316.cfm

Our response in the Psalm reads, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.”  How often do I sit asking for that grace?  Teach me your way O Lord.

In the Gospel we see Jesus living out his way, seeking out those whom society and the leaders have ostracized and inviting them into relationship.  Do I make time and space in my own life to go outside my typical schedule and comfortable places to encounter those who are suffering?  The Pharisees and their scribes complain, presumably feeling overlooked and dismissed in their attempts at righteousness.  Where have I allowed my own “being right” to prevent my ability to see the pain and needs of another.  This Gospel in particular calls to mind the fact that it is our deep brokenness that not only allows the love of God to enter and transform our lives but is also that which unites us as brothers and sisters.

Teach me your way, O Lord.  Help me to see myself as you do: perfect only in my imperfections.  Help me to see others as you do: reflections of your love, but also in need of the works of mercy embodied by human hands.  Help me to see the world as you do: imbued with your love but in need of healing and care.  Teach me your way, O lord that I might walk in your truth accepting your healing love and in turn be that love for others.

Brian McCabe
AV Advisory Board Member



First Sunday of Lent, February 14
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021416.cfm

“One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4

How often do you ask for more in life? Society has a way of making us feel that we are not complete, not yet, it tells us that we always need more in life: a new style has emerged, a new fad, a new diet plan, pressure to be a better person, make more money or be the “perfect family.” But how do we live a complete life in God? Just as Matthew’s reading states, “one does not live on bread alone,” we need to follow the teachings of God and the lessons He has given to us. These are the things that complete our lives.  

As an Augustinian Volunteer, you are surrounded by endless opportunities to surround yourself with the words of God but more importantly with others who are following his teachings. In your communities, amongst the Augustinian Friars, at your service sites, there are others who are living the teachings of God. Surround yourself with more opportunities to delve deeper in your faith and challenge others to do the same. You need more than food, clothing, and shelter to live a complete life; search for the word of God and find those things that will bring you to a more complete life in faith. Feel supported by those around you and support them as well because we are all on similar journeys.

Kelly Lenehan
AV 2012-2013, San Diego



Monday, February 15
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021516.cfm

At times, we are searching for structure in our daily lives and today’s readings challenge us to consider the Commandments.  The call to action is not within the literal words in the First Reading from Leviticus today, but within the reaction from each.  As the reading progresses, we must reflect on how we as members of a faith community live and take action regarding each.  Upon conclusion, the reading provides encouragement for how to live this way by loving our neighbors as ourselves.  This simple action is often overlooked in our lives and yet at its core is a foundation of our faith.  

Reinforcing the first reading is our response, with “Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.”   This litany is important for us to hold today.  As we live our lives as sinners, it reminds us that by placing the words of God into our daily life we will be encouraged to live in His name.  

Finally, today’s Gospel message from Matthew reinforces our First Reading and Psalm as Jesus says, “Amen I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”  This reassures us as Catholics that we must heed God’s word, be inclusive of all of God’s people, and mindful of how we live God’s message here on Earth.

Michael Cunningham
AV 2008-2009, San Diego


Tuesday, February 16
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021616.cfm

In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples on prayer, emphasizing that the Lord knows what is on their hearts and minds before they speak. He states the necessity of brevity, adding that speaking just to speak isn’t correct prayer. He then gives the disciples the words that we now know to form the Lord’s Prayer. In a way, reading this passage today, within a modern context is almost ironic. The Lord’s Prayer is something so familiar to us. We learn it as children, rattling it off well into adulthood without often thinking about the meaning of the words. And yet, when we pray this way, are we like the pagans, “babbling” without recognizing the intentions in our hearts and behind our words?

In a way, this passage may inspire prayer in our communities. For many of us, we may have had our faith passed down from our families and have settled into comfortable routines. We may say the same prayers over and over again. Maybe we forget that God already knows what we need. As a community though, we have this opportunity to grow through new ways of prayer. For what may be routine for us, maybe completely new for our community members. By coming together, we learn from each other and we mature in our understanding of prayer. The Lenten season is a perfect time to re-commit as a community to prayer, and to realize that we don’t need to babble for God to hear us.  

Joanna Bowen
Director of Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2007-2008, San Diego


Wednesday, February 17
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021716.cfm

Reflection questions for today’s readings:

Reading 1: When was a time you have been surprised by God’s gentleness and forgiveness when you might have been expecting strong consequences and justice?

Responsorial Psalm: How is your Lenten promise this Lenten season allowing God to give you humility, a clean heart or a contrite spirit?

Gospel: Jesus says Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites as the Son of Man is to the generation of his time. In what ways is Jesus still a sign to us today? What is his significance in your life?


Thursday, February 18
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021816.cfm

The Scriptural readings today emphasize the centrality of prayer in the daily life of a child of God. The Book of Esther is a moving reminder that God’s Providence continually watches over us, never abandoning us provided we turn to him faithfully in prayer and repentance. The familiar triple Gospel invitation of Jesus, “Ask . . . seek . . . knock . . . “, well known to those who are His disciples, assures us that if we respond to these words, we will experience an opening, a receiving and a finding. Today’s Responsorial Psalm expresses well the message of the entire Liturgy of the Word, “Lord, on the day I called for help, you answered me.”

I wish to emphasize an aspect of prayer which, in my experience, is often lacking. I suggest that some moments be spent today reflecting and considering the role of SILENCE in one’s prayer, not actively asking, seeking or knocking but rather spending a good amount of prayer time simply listening to God, a time of silence, stillness and solitude, heightening one’s awareness of the Presence of God in one’s life, not only while at prayer but indeed, a Presence that abides.

For the past six months, I have had the opportunity, one that I have come to appreciate as a gift, to live in an Augustinian community where a significant part of each day is lived as “quiet time”. The novices are spending a year asking themselves AND God, “Am I being called to profess vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience as an Augustinian Friar?” An essential part of this year is to provide an atmosphere of quiet as a reminder that listening to God is far more important that talking to God. I suspect that those of you who are currently living this year as an Augustinian Volunteer are asking a similar question: “Who does God want me to be; what might God be asking of me.” In reality, are not these questions for all of us, whatever our stage of life?

During the first month of my own new ministry, I met with a spiritual director who offered me what I have found is an engaging and encouraging assistance to my own daily prayer.

“Silence is never merely the cessation of words . . . rather, it is the pause that holds together – indeed it makes sense of - all the words, both spoken and unspoken. Silence is the glue that connects our attitudes and our actions. Silence is the fullness, not emptiness; it is not absence, but the awareness of a Presence.” John Chryssavgis

As you consider the place of prayer in your life today - why you pray, how you pray, when you pray, for whom do you pray, to Whom do you pray - please consider the place of silence and how it might enrich you as one who seeks.

Fr. Jim Wenzel, O.S.A.
Former AV Advisory Board Member; Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Lawrence

Friday, February 19
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/021916.cfm

Many people are intimidated by verses similar to those in today’s reading. They aren’t sure if they can live up to a religion that states you must “settle with your opponent quickly” or “you will be thrown in prison…” 

The truth is, it takes hard work to be a Christian. It isn’t simply memorizing verses or declaring it on Facebook. It is believing in the lessons in the Bible and dedicating your life to God. 

But it doesn’t have to be that scary. We are a little over a week into the Lenten season and I bet people are starting to crave what they gave up. Why would we want to be part of a religion that makes us sacrifice? 

The answer is in today’s verse. If we turn away from evil and guilty pleasures, we have the opportunity to LIVE and be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven. This Lenten season is an opportunity for each of us to take on a new heart and new spirit directed towards understanding and spreading God’s love. It is a time to hit the ‘refresh’ button and see that while we are sacrificing one or some of our vices, Jesus sacrificed much, much more. The least we could do is actively try to turn away from evil and start living out a virtuous life.

Abby MacDonald
AV 2014-2015, Philadelphia


Saturday, February 20
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022016.cfm

“Blessed are those who follow the law of the Lord!” Lent is a time where we make a return to God, to God’s law. We take this season to reflect on our lives and challenge ourselves; to ask, how well are we following the law of the Lord? Are we observing his decrees “with all our heart and with all of our soul?” Are we feeding ourselves spiritually through attending mass, receiving the sacraments, and participating in the liturgy? Are we upholding the dignity of others, in service to the poor as well as in our own moral choices? The concept of “the law” often holds a negative connotation for us. Perhaps we recall the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, whom Jesus often criticizes. And yet, as Christians, in professing our faith, we’ve made “an agreement with the Lord,” to follow His law, to “walk in his ways” and “hearken to his voice.” And the ultimate law of the Lord is love, a radical love that stretches even to our enemies and those who persecute us, as Jesus tells us in the Gospel today. As volunteers, both past and present, we have been given an incredible gift: a year to live in community and intentionally practice this radical love. It is easy to gravitate toward the people we naturally get along with, but in community life, we are called to go even further, to reach out and form meaningful relationships with people who we would not normally seek out as friends, who maybe rub us the wrong way initially. As alumni, we can continue to build upon that virtue. Whether directed toward a coworker, roommate, acquaintance, or a close relative –  all of our actions must flow from this ultimate law of love. Not because God “told us so,” but because he loved us first. “So be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect.” In this case, perfection is measured by how perfect and pure and all-encompassing our love is. 

Emily Thompson
AV 2013-2014, Ventura

Second Sunday of Lent, February 21
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022116.cfm

These readings give me the hope, confidence, and faith of looking towards our heavenly home and always being reminded of continual conversion. God makes a blood covenant with us in the first reading with the sacrifice of animals through Abraham providing us with trust and the start of an eternal relationship that eventually Jesus seals with his blood outpoured on the cross. Then Paul assures us of staying strong and living in the world, but not of the world, because we are meant for something and someone greater. He instructs us to be imitators of Christ and to await Christ’s coming and he also declares Jesus will change our lowly bodies for a glorified body. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ transfiguration gives us a glimpse into the future, wherein heaven, we will have glorified, dazzling white bodies that reflect the love and grace of God. Our bodies will not be impaired or lacking just as on the day of our Baptism when we are white as snow. Remembering my goddaughter’s baptism and the importance and the responsibility of keeping her on track to enter heaven just as white as her gown was hard to imagine, but through conversion and the sacraments this is made easier. They give us the tools to become as white on our souls once again. In heaven our entire bodies will be pure. When we see others struggle or our own struggle in our bodies setting limitations or barriers to life’s basic necessities it can be hard to realize that in heaven there is no obstruction between us and Christ and us in doing anything.  Lent gives us the opportunity to reflect, seek conversion and become as dazzling white in our souls as Christ is in heaven. 

Elise Zajicek
Current AV, Lawrence

Monday, February 22
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022216.cfm

There are two phrases in today’s readings that I can’t seem to get out of my head: “there is nothing I shall want” and “But who do you say that I am?”

I don’t know about you but I find myself constantly wanting. We live in a society that breeds wanting what we do not have. Whether it is wanting the latest Apple product or the newest styles in fashion or a bigger place to live, many of us want something more than what we have. I have heard this Psalm many times before, but today it leaves me unsettled. Why is it that constantly I am left wanting? Why am I not satisfied with what I already have?

Then comes Jesus in the gospel asking his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” It is a question that stops me dead in my tracks almost every time that I hear it. I picture Jesus asking me that question. Peter responds correctly for a change, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Would I respond correctly if Jesus put me on the spot like that? Even after having years to reflect on that question I often feel like I still don’t know how to answer.

In my opinion, Jesus was someone who wanted, but he did not want the newest anything. He wanted justice. He wanted people to be in relationship with God and one another. He wanted people to be open to all he had to teach and show. Peter’s answer may not be my own, but Jesus truly was the son of the living God. Perhaps it is not a bad thing to be left wanting as long as it is wanting for the things that bring life and bring about the Kingdom of God as opposed to my own comfort.

April Gagne
Former Director of Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2000-2001, San Diego; 2001-2002, Camden

Tuesday, February 23
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022316.cfm

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is the call to Christian service and to true humility. Service is the path to humility, for service is merely humility in action. The essence of both service and humility is putting the needs of others above the needs of oneself. Humility, however, is not something that can be accomplished by sheer will. We cannot decide to be humble, but we can choose to serve; and in order to become the humble people Christ calls us to be, we must serve. 

To truly serve and to be truly humble we must love one another as we love ourselves. We must ignore the divide between our own self and another self and recognize that each of us is a child of the one God. We are all equal in the eyes of God, our father, and so we must be in our own eyes as well. We cannot see our own concerns as more important than the concerns of our neighbor. By serving others, we condition ourselves to think of others before we think of ourselves. 

Not all service requires a person to give up a year of his or her life, although doing so can be a good start for a life of service and humility. Service can be small. As St. Augustine says, “You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” As a tiny mustard seed produces a great plant, so our small acts of service produce humility.

Michael Donovan
AV 2015, Peru


Wednesday, February 24
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022416.cfm

Just after Jesus’ stern warning in yesterday’s gospel about the dangers of pious ambition and religious entitlement, Matthew gives us today’s story in which a mother of two of Jesus’ disciples tries to secure privileged positions of honor for her sons in the Kingdom of Heaven. What mother does not want the very best for her children nor does not worry about their future? In America, lack of ambition is considered a serious disorder, punishable by fewer opportunities for advancement and “moving up” in the world. But Jesus’ answer to her request reverses the whole idea of a “kingdom” and advancement. Instead of power, privilege, and status the key here is service and sacrifice, even to the extent of sacrificing one’s life. The gospel does not say how the mother of James and John took this news. The other ten disciples were not ready to hear it either. Are we? This message is not new to us but it is to be “renewed” in us at every Eucharist especially when we approach the altar to receive from the Cup (chalice) of Jesus’ body and blood. Can we take that cup in our ordinary daily lives, in large and small experiences, drinking in all that it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? Jesus never asked us to worship him but to follow him as he humbly embraced all that it meant to give himself totally to the will of His Father in sacrifice. We can all forgive a mother’s ambitions for her children. However, what are our own ambitions in life? What does Mary, our Mother, ask her children to do, but to “Do whatever He tells you”.

Fr. Frank Doyle, O.S.A.
Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, South Africa

Thursday, February 25
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022516.cfm

“How tortuous is the human heart!” Imagine the person who first composed this passage—the tortuous feelings pushing the pen or stylus that scratched this plaintive Jeremiad across the parchment. Perhaps it was Jeremiah himself, or one of his disciples. Their torture would have been in what seemed to be the end of the covenant: the destruction of the Temple and the exile to Babylon. 

What of the rich man in Jesus’ story to the Pharisees? Jesus describes his torture in hell. But had his life also been tortuous? Beyond the fine garments and sumptuous meals, did he spend a lifetime in an occupation that he found tortuous in its daily, grinding demands? Was he tortured by the vindictive, twisted jealousies of those he had bested in business and surpassed in prestige? Did such worries torment him in mocking anticipation of his final state?

Most of us know how tortuous the human heart can be. Someone may have broken yours. Or, difficult circumstances around job or money or family may cause stress that over time weakens and damages the heart. You may be comfortable, even wealthy like the rich man. You may be struggling, poor like Lazarus. None of us, despite our circumstances, is immune from a tortuous heart.

If there is a way to soothe the heart, to calm our fears and quiet our worries, both the Psalmist and Jesus teach us how. Jesus tells us simply to listen. Listen to the words of scripture—Moses and the prophets. Listen to the message of Jesus himself. To listen the Psalmist adds: meditate, day and night on what you hear.

Life will at times be difficult, even tortuous. Listening to and meditating on the Word of God is our healing.

Joseph Kelley
AV Advisory Board Member


Friday, February 26
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022616.cfm

After reading this Lenten passage, two significant themes rose to my mind's surface:

Fear-Of-Missing-Out (better known as FOMO) is an epidemically-sized issue among the millennial generation. Whether it's due to unlimited access to social media, or due to someone telling you about an event that you weren't privy to, there always seems to be choice. What will you choose to do? And were you provided access? Even if you were provided access, is it what you really want to do? In this passage, this idea of FOMO is taken to an extreme, highlighted with the thought of killing Joseph to decrease his brothers' feeling of belittlement and rejection. 

A quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

Looking back on my AV experience, FOMO ran rampant in my six-person community. We were mainly kidding, but, in essence, a little bit of FOMO was still always there, and we felt it on various degrees of inclusiveness. I think it was a growing moment for all of us when we weren't able to make a dinner or event based on service, family commitment, or personal choice. In life, you'll always have this feeling of being behind, having some sort of unawareness that the rest of the world knows about that you just don't know yet. I've learned that's it's okay, and that it's really about the mindset you have on the selected circumstance. 

A mentor of mind once said to me, "Are you happy with how you are spending your time?" I think about this a lot. Every moment of your life, you are deciding how to spend your time. Think about your day today - are you growing from it? Can you pinpoint a moment of happiness? How can you change it? How can you turn your day around to make it the way God wants it to be? 

Another great phrase that has grown with me is "Let Go, Let God." I heard it at AV orientation, and it's stuck with me ever since. In moments of despair or loneliness, Let Go and Let God. When you feel like you're not where you want to be in your community, Let Go and Let God.  When you messed up at your work site, Let Go and Let God. When you've said something hurtful or offensive to a community member, Let Go and Let God. When you miss a flight to see your community members before a snowstorm, Let Go and Let God. He works in mysterious and wonderful ways - ebbing and flowing into our messy, glorious, perfectly-created lives.

It's important to drive forward a life that is full of lightness - of joviality, positive, higher-thinking things. In this bible verse, I grasp again the importance of love amidst a messy world that blends together all sorts of emotional moods and vibes. Your community members, random strangers, or friends and family will say things that strike a chord. Do not let it turn your thoughts negatively. Embrace what you can from it, but do not let it change your mindset. Continue to go forward in faith, be happy with how you spend your time, and Let Go and Let God.

Marissa D’Ambrosio
AV 2014-2015, San Diego


Saturday, February 27
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022716.cfm

I have always found that telling stories is a great way to bond with others.  Stories about yourself, your family, your friends, your experiences; all of these stories make up a piece of who you are, and can be a very powerful ways of connecting to others.  When I was volunteering in Peru, and subsequently working in Latin America, I found that telling stories and sharing my experiences with others was the best way to connect on a deeper level with people. 

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells a powerful story about forgiveness and redemption in the parable of the prodigal son.  I imagine Jesus telling this story to a group of captivated sinners and tax collectors and Pharisees and scribes in a public place, all hearing and connecting with the story in their own way.  Some of the listeners may have seen themselves as the prodigal son, who left his family and squandered his fortune, only to find himself crawling home for forgiveness.  Others, may see themselves as the righteous older brother; unable to see past his brother's selfishness and mistakes.   Still others may see themselves in the role of the father, willing and able to forgive his son for the pain he caused because the love he has for his son is stronger than past transgressions.  

What I find so interesting about this story is how Jesus challenges both the "sinner", in this case the Prodigal son, and the "good son", who thinks of himself as better than his brother, but is sinning in his own selfish way.  We know that Jesus was addressing both the outcasts in his society, as well as the people in the establishment who saw themselves as better than the sinners.  And his message was the same: God loves you, he forgives you and he will welcome you home.

Who do you connect with in this parable?  The younger brother, the older brother, or maybe the Father?  How can you apply this story to your own life this Lenten season? 

Maura Powell
AV 2007, Peru


Third Sunday of Lent, February 28
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022816-third-sunday-lent.cfm

I found the following verse interesting in today’s second reading: “Therefore, whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall.” Maybe you can relate to this, I know I sure can. It’s one of many paradoxes I find in Christianity. When we think we have it together in life, we often are reminded soon after that we don’t. But when we are aware of our incompleteness, we oddly enough are probably as “together” as it is possible in this life. For my fellow perfectionists out there, my incompleteness or weakness(es) often terrifies me. However, when I’m at my best in life, it is because I am aware of my weaknesses (yet not forgetting or downplaying my strengths) and trust that God can take this flawed being and make it something halfway decent. There are many examples of these people like us in the bible: the first reading is about Moses being chosen by God to save the Hebrews. Moses killed a man, struggled greatly with his speech amongst other things, but when he embraced his weaknesses instead of trying to cover them up or ignore them, God worked through him. Take some time this Lent to reflect on your weaknesses and if you are healthily in tune with them (acknowledging and embracing them, not denying or trying to hide them). If we are caught up in thinking “I’m one of the better members of this community” or work team, family, church etc. we probably are guilty of thinking we are “standing secure.” The second reading also tells us to take care not to fall and perhaps the best way to do that is to be aware we can fall at anytime, but by trusting in God that he will help us along.

Taylor Gostomski
Assistant Director of Augustinian Volunteers; AV 2014, Peru


Monday, February 29
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/022916.cfm

Today’s readings have a common theme: traveling. In the first reading Naaman traveled to Israel to be cured of his leprosy by Elisha, while the Gospel says, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place” and talks about how Elijah and Elisha were sent out. As a volunteer living 3000 miles away from my native place, this is what stuck out to me when reflecting on the readings. Although I have always felt accepted in my native land, I have found to be called to different places, first it was leaving the Bronx for high school in Manhattan, then it was leaving New York for college in Philadelphia, and now it is leaving the East Coast to head west with the AVs. We are called to spread the Word of God. Jesus traveled from Nazareth to Jerusalem and everywhere in between. Although I have never considered myself much of a traveler or missionary before, in going out you learn about others and yourself. In these places I have met people who have impacted me and have had experiences that have shaped me. I truly would not be who I am today if I had not left my native land. I encourage others to experience other places. This can be as simple as visiting a friend a few hours away or as far as going to a new country. Wherever you end up is where you are called to be.

Ryan Masserano
Current AV, Ventura


Tuesday, March 1
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030116.cfm

I recently received a penance in which the priest asked me to perform acts of kindness.  There was no number attached to the penance as to how many acts of kindness; just simply go and do kindness.  It is this word, kindness, that stood out to me from today’s readings.  It is a simple concept; one that children from a young age understand: Are you being kind?  Was that a kind thing to do?

We have the option to choose kindness each day: in community, at work, with our families and friends, with strangers, with our enemies.  At times it may be easier to respond to a person or situation with anger, impatience, spite, revenge, jealousy, or the desire to punish them for a wrong-doing towards us, but these reactions will not bring us or the other person closer to God’s mercy. 

God’s mercy is for all of us, all of the time.  He does not choose it for some and not for others.  He does not hand-pick those He thinks are most deserving.  God has already chosen all of us to receive His mercy.  It is we who must choose God, choose His mercy.  When we choose to be kind, we are choosing His mercy, and we are spreading His mercy to others. 

Be kind to the co-worker who annoys you.

Do a random act of kindness for each community member.

Treat the stranger you meet with kindness.

Pray that you can respond with kindness to one who has hurt you.

Recognize God’s “kindness and great mercy” working in your life.

Mary Dillon
AV 2004-2005, Lawrence; 2005-2006 South Africa

Wednesday, March 2
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030216.cfm

The first reading always used to confuse me – I always imagined the first reading as what the Pharisees would quote back to Jesus trying to embarrass Him in situations like we see in the second reading. But this reading now matters more to me. Not only is this because I have completed a volunteer year, but especially because I have had time to go back and reflect on it. No longer coordinating service projects for high schoolers, I’ve joined the sell-outs who go into the world after their volunteer year.

Grappling with the gradual erosion of the strong, emotional reaction I had immediately after End of Year Retreat has forced me to realize that although the year I spent in community means so much to me, only an intentional effort to continually and conscientiously internalize the lessons I learned will allow this to not just fade into memory and old Facebook photos like another semester abroad or a fun trip.

“However, 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 you children’s children.” (Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9)

The above quote perfectly encapsulates what I hope to be able to accomplish. All volunteers living intentionally internalize their experience; that much I feel I understand. But now I am trying to let these potent attitudes percolate into my actions and relationships. Patience with co-workers, encouraging friends to be more intentional with language, recognizing vulnerability in all forms… these seem easier to digest when living in community but harder to prioritize outside that framework. Growing apart over time from the mindset of the new alumnus/a is partially inevitable, but not even trying to maintain our growth would be a senseless waste of the gift we’ve been given: introspection that can turn to action.

This quote from Deuteronomy will shape the spiritual calisthenics I hope to work on during Lent, and I hope it also strikes you as worthwhile and thought-provoking.

Mike Bucaria
AV 2014-2015, Ventura

Thursday, March 3
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030316.cfm

How very direct are the words of the Lord God in today’s first reading from Jeremiah:  “Listen to my voice… Walk in the way of my commands – that you may prosper.”  And yet the people did not listen, did not obey, and did not heed – they were not faithful and so did not prosper.

“If today…” How will God speak to us today?  Yet when he does, how often we do not listen, or obey, or heed God’s command to love – we who have been first loved by God.  How often we test our God in ways both simple and profound.  How often we have hardened our hearts!  Such choices, it seems, are so much more tolerable when ‘everyone’ makes them.  And so today we are invited to risk looking more inward, to replace “we” with “I,” and to ponder God’s invitation and God’s command.

As I am reminded of who and how God is (I am gracious and merciful), I am called in humility and in truth to reflect upon how and when and where and, yes, even why I do or do not respond to God.  Does my response flow from a spirit of gratitude that helps me to act thankfully?  Does my response build upon a spirit of trust, believing that God is with me in all that I do and that I am never alone or abandoned by him?  Does my response flow from a spirit of openness to whatever God asks of me, confident that God is at work in and through me – and that God desires that I and all his faithful ones prosper?

The Psalmist extends the invitation once again to us:  “Come into God’s presence with thanksgiving for He is our God, who shepherds us.”  

Perhaps the most important words proclaimed today are those of the Gospel acclamation:  “Even now (and in all time to come) return to me with your whole heart – for I, the Lord, am gracious and merciful.”  As we continue our Lenten journey and move toward the joy of Easter resurrection, let us pray for gentle, open, and grateful hearts so that we might better accept and receive God’s love for us.  Let us grow in our responsiveness, faithfulness, and care for all that God asks of us, for all that God entrusts to our care so that we together might build the City of God and prosper in his love.

Very Rev. Kevin C. Mullins, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Augustine

Friday, March 4
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030416.cfm

Today’s gospel reading, Mark 12:28-34, is one of my favorites because it condenses the heart of the Catholic faith into a few stanzas.

“Love God with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

As a volunteer, you are pulled in a hundred different directions all at once. Am I fulfilling my community obligations? Am I staying present to my community members while also nurturing my personal faith? Am I thriving at my service site? While juggling so many important aspects of community life, it’s easy to become overwhelmed because, most of the time, life is messy.

Today’s gospel reading reminds us that our faith, at its core, is simple. Love God, and love your neighbor. That’s it. If you are doing those things, you “are not far from the Kingdom of God.” So instead of getting caught up in the everyday details of community life, ask yourself, am I doing this out of love? Am I communicating love through my thoughts, words, and actions? 

Unfortunately, life is not going to slow down; in fact, the second half of your volunteer year will probably fly by. But if you allow yourself to intentionally bring love into everything you say and do, you will be able to better navigate the chaos. In the words of Mother Teresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Remember, life is complicated, but faith doesn’t have to be.

Rosie McCarty
AV 2014-2015, Chicago

Saturday, March 5
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030516.cfm

The line that struck me most from today’s readings can be found in the first reading.  “He will come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth.”  I have spent my entire life on the East Coast, where rain is plentiful and most people that I know complain about it.  I have experienced some droughts in my lifetime, but usually there is too much rain and people are worried about flooding, getting water in their basement, or losing power because of the storms.  However, being out in California as an Augustinian Volunteer this year, I have witnessed a completely different attitude towards rain.  They are in the middle of a multi year drought and people out here pray for rain during Mass and get very excited when they see clouds hoping that it will rain later in the day.

Your perspective on things can change when you are taken out of your comfort zone and removed from a place that you have lived forever.  It rained in Ventura, CA on a Sunday in January and the next day, on my way to work, I noticed that the mountains looked greener.  It was a beautiful site to see and reminded me what a positive impact a rain storm can have on crops and nature.  The crops need the rain in order to survive and we need God in order to survive.  I challenge you to praise God for the rain the next time it comes instead of complaining about how it is ruining your plans for the day.  Let us pray that we are able to benefit from God the way crops are able to benefit from a rain storm.

Marie Graney
Current AV, Ventura

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 6
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030616-fourth-sunday-lent.cfm

In today’s gospel reading we hear the famous story of the prodigal son.  When I was a child I was confused by this story.  Personally I always connected with the oldest son, the son who did nothing wrong and always stood by his father.   The youngest son was ungrateful and greedy and took half of his inheritance and squandered it on meaningless activities and temptations.  During this time the oldest son stood by this father, supported the family and was grateful for his many gifts and blessings.

I am in my 8th year as an educator and 3rd year as a principal and this story now has a completely different impact on me as compared to me as a child.  At my school we have many “prodigal” children who have squandered gifts, talents and resources numerous times and people have given up on them.  It is these “prodigal” children that we are called to bring to the light, give them a hand and celebrate when they come home.  The oldest son doesn’t need the extra support and love, he is already overflowing with it, however the youngest son is lacking that love and support and needs more of it.

Everyday we encounter people who are successful and talented like the oldest son, and we look at them with admiration.  At the same time, we encounter people who are struggling or living on the margins or need a leg up like the prodigal son.  During this Lenten season I challenge you to see the “prodigal” children in your community, and to help them and raise them to be one with Christ.  We all need support, guidance and love, and some of us just need a little more just like the prodigal son.

Kevin Powers
AV Service Site Supervisor and Principal at Saint Margaret of Scotland School, Chicago

Monday, March 7
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030716.cfm

Reflection questions for today’s readings:

Reading 1: In this first passage, we get a glimpse as to what heaven will look like. Using this passage and your own thoughts, briefly reflect on what you think and hope heaven will be? Will it be “heaven” solely because of the external things we are promised and hope for? Or will it also be heaven because of an internal change in us so much that externals don’t matter as much? What is one thing you can do today, or during this season of Lent to experience a little more of “heaven on earth?” What is one thing you can ask God for guidance on in how to change a particular attitude of your heart that you wish was more Christ-like?

Responsorial Psalm: What are a few things God has rescued you from? Sometimes these might be actual physical dangers from an illness, and ailment, etc. Other times these dangers can be our own plans, desires or ideas that might take us further away from our relationship with God. Take a moment to be thankful for the times God has rescued you—especially the times when you didn’t think you needed rescuing.

Gospel: In what ways do you struggle to believe in your faith? Some parts of our faith we can accept more easily while other times we almost need “signs and wonders” to believe. What are some of the obstacles that challenge your more difficult beliefs in your faith?

Tuesday, March 8
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030816.cfm

How many times have you thought about improving a trait about yourself? For me, I have always wanted to work on my positivity. This year (in addition to several failed attempts in the past), as an AV, it is my goal to become a more positive person. In the past, I have often let negative thoughts consume me and did little to improve my negative mindset. I realize that I have not had a strong desire to change. If my desire was strong enough, I would have.  It was much easier letting negativity in than reframing situations to become more positive.  

In today’s Gospel, Jesus singles out a man who had been an invalid for nearly forty years and asks him, “Do you really want to be healed?” When I first read the Gospel, I thought Jesus’s question was unnecessary.  I thought, obviously, the sick man wanted to be healed.  However, after reflection, I realized the sick man needed to have a desire to be healed. Jesus was not going to heal the man unless he really wanted to be better. 

Like the invalid, we too must have a strong desire to heal, to become better people, to be more faithful and to grow. As an AV, my mindset has improved. My desire has become finally strong enough and I find myself looking more at the positive in life. No one else is going make changes for you. It is up to you to fully desire to make a change.  Use this Lenten season to make changes in your life.  Just as Jesus asked the invalid, you must ask yourself, “Do you really want to be healed?” 

Clare Spence
Current AV, Lawrence

Wednesday, March 9
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030916.cfm

“Thus says the Lord,” is an expression that we hear frequently in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. We hear it today from the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, who delivers a message that is not his own. Indeed, the very vocation of the prophet is to speak, not in his own name, but on behalf of the one by whom he is sent. We can never forget who it is that is speaking to us. 

Isaiah delivers a comforting and encouraging word of God to his people: “I answer you … I help you.” With these words he affirms what the people have already heard in their long experience of journeying through struggle and conflict, conquest and infidelity, but which, sadly, is so often forgotten: "You shall be my people and I will be your God".

We, no less than the people of old, need to be reminded again and again as we journey through life – and through these days of Lent – that God answers us, that God helps us. In this Year of Mercy, we are wise to consider well and long, what our God has done for us and, above all, who he is for us. With such awareness we can echo confidently the sentiment of Jesus’ in today’s Gospel passage: “I cannot do anything on my own.” In fact, we cannot! But God makes all things possible in us, and the awareness of this truth opens the path to freedom in our lives, as we relinquish unrealistic expectations that we place upon ourselves or others upon us. But more than freedom, we discover also the true source of power and possibility: who it is that answers, who it is that helps us!

Very Rev. Michael Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial of the Province of Saint Thomas of Villanova

Thursday, March 10
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031016.cfm

Recently I have been contemplating vocation. I want to choose a career path where I can make a difference and be fulfilled. But finding the perfect job is hard! The gospel today speaks about how John lived: “He was a burning and shining lamp.” This has made me think how I want to be a light. But what does that mean? Does my job choice decide when I can be a light? Do I need to figure out exactly what I am called to do in order to be a light to people? 

As a volunteer you start to think about what you want to do after that year. Five years after getting back from Peru I am still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life...as if I cannot start truly living until I am in the perfect job. But what if that takes forever? This could be a lifelong process of different career paths. But maybe the perfect path does not matter...

Being a light can be anywhere. It is more about being a light wherever you are in the present moment. Being a light does not have to wait! You can be a light in someone’s day by asking someone in the grocery store how thdif day is. Or you can be a constant friendly face at work to your coworkers. Or maybe it is just keeping in touch with your family. Bringing kindness, joy, peace, and positivity into your interactions with people is what counts. It is in the little things everyday that we become a light.  

Caitlin Risk
AV 2011, Peru

Friday, March 11
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031116.cfm

It never ceases to amaze me how those who are wise and clever can often act in an ignorant or foolish manner.  Our Scriptures for today make it quite obvious how this is true.  The book of Wisdom outlines very clearly how those who should know better plot again this “just one” thinking their plan will prove him either to be a true Son of God or someone just claiming to be so.  Jesus is coping with the same type of ignorance in our Gospel as he continues his mission of preaching and teaching in public knowing that there are those who want to put him to death for his message of love and justice, claiming it to be contrary to God's law.

Ignorance can be a very destructive attribute that can corrupt even those of us who claim to possess wisdom.  Our selfish intentions or foolish pride can often interfere with us thinking and acting in a rational manner.  We too often make the same mistakes over and over because we fail to learn from our foolishness or poor decisions.  Conversion is the essence of the Lenten Season but for conversion to take root, we must be open to the wisdom of God not our own efforts to be wise. We must be careful not to allow our blinded perception of the world to cloud our judgement as we attempt to do God's will in our lives.  

As we move closer and closer to our celebration of Easter and the new life it can bring, may our desire to be more Christ-like not be tainted by our inability to see clearly what God calls us to each Lent.  Following Christ in our daily lives calls us to respond to Christ's call to conversion with an open mind and heart.  This is the perfect cure for human ignorance.  How different the story of Christ's life would have ended if only those who heard his message actually listened to it as the Wisdom of God.

Fr. Joe Mostardi, O.S.A.
AV Advisory Board Member; Founding Director of Augustinian Volunteers


Saturday, March 12
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031216.cfm

In these readings I see two themes that are intertwined; God searching for us and our trust in God.  Jeremiah tells us of God searching for us, while David tells us to take refuge in the Lord in the Responsorial Psalm.  God's love is so great for us that He searches us out.  Our response to this powerful love is trusting in His love and plan for us.  We can trust in the Lord because He not only loves us, but He is also a just God.  He will protect us from people who try to harm us, but also calls upon us to be just people.  In His call for us to be just people, the Psalm says God punishes us day by day.  This chance of renewal each day allows us to reflect and better ourselves a little at a time.  Knowing that God gives us a chance to learn and grow changes the harshness of a punishing God. 

How easy of a message is that for us?  For me, it's taken a long time to even try to begin to understand. As an Augustinian Volunteer, this year has been the most that I have ever trusted God's plan and felt myself grow in that trust.  I have seen my doubtful trust from the first month of being in Ventura grow into a belief that there is some sort of plan laid out.  First, the trust that we were all placed at our sites and in our community.  Second, learning at my service site to look at new ways to be just and loving at the same time.  Third, admitting that I don't understand the plan for me and don't know where it will lead me, but it's okay if I have trust in God.

Megan Telfer
Current AV, Ventura

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 13
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031316-fifth-sunday-lent.cfm

In my mom’s house, there is a macaroni and bean collage that says, “Happy Mother’s Day”. Below the collage is a stick figure drawing of a boy with spikey hair and a woman in a blue triangle dress. This year, that Mother’s Day card I made for my mom in kindergarten will be 20 years old.  

There is a story that goes like this; once at a convent in Naples, St. Thomas Aquinas was lifted up off the floor of the chapel. Then, a voice came from the crucifix that said, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas”. What an affirmation that must have been for the great Saint. The very Subject St. Thomas wrote about told him all the time he spent writing thousands of pages was not in vain.

Contrastingly, there is another story, set towards the end of St. Thomas’ life. As he was celebrating mass he received a vision (what this vision was we do not know) that caused him to write and dictate no more. When asked why he discontinued his writing the great Saint said, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.”

St. Paul states that very same thing in today’s second reading, that everything compared to God, Himself, is rubbish. Any joy one can experience on earth, no matter how pleasing, pales in comparison to Heaven. Throughout this Lenten journey thus far, have we been living in a penitential way that will be considered “well” by the God we are doing it for? Two people know when you are giving 100% effort versus 75% or 50%: you and God.

Do not fret though, like my mom, God will be pleased when we give some sort of effort. But how great it is for us to give our best. 

Vincent Reyes
AV 2013-2014, Ventura


Monday, March 14
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031416.cfm

If you have ever lived through a blackout you’ll surely know that to be forced to walk around in the darkness is not fun.  There are so many unseen dangers, pitfalls, overhanging obstacles; the sense of insecurity increases, gloom and doom seep into your mind and heart, fear sprouts up and begins to flourish. 

So many people around us truly experience this sense of insecurity: the undocumented immigrants, the young African American male, the elderly widow with no pension or social security benefits, those who are searching for a home, refugees, those who don’t know where their next meal will come from.  

We are drawing to the end of this truly special season of Lent, this time when we are invited to return to our original commitment to Jesus and his message of love and forgiveness, to renew our commitment to build with Christ a better world. 

Next Sunday we begin the journey of Holy Week, which can only truly be “holy” if you and I choose to allow God’s holiness to grow in and through us.  

Precisely now, almost as a lightning flash or a jolt of energy, the church presents us with the figure of Jesus proclaiming: “I am the light of the world!  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.”  

This is truly good news for those of us who live in fear, with a sense of dread, insecurity: Jesus is the light.  We only need to stay by his side, be close to him, walk with him, in order to share in the light.

If we choose to journey with Christ this Holy Week we know that it will take us into the dark, to draw closer to those who experience insecurity and obscurity in their life.  Our journey with Christ will bring us closer to those who live on the outside, the underside, the forgotten, the unwanted, those not needed nor appreciated.  We have the opportunity to share new life with so many who know only despair and darkness. 

Fr. Art Purcaro, O.S.A.
Former Augustinian Site Supervisor, Peru

Tuesday, March 15
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031516.cfm

Reflection questions for today’s readings:

Reading 1: Has there been a time in your life when you’ve felt like the Hebrews in the First Reading—that God has brought you out of one struggle yet you find yourself in another, seemingly more challenging, struggle? How did you still find God in that?

Responsorial Psalm: Today’s Psalm is filled with an aching desperation for God to hear one’s prayer. Do you allow yourself to be honest with God and let him know how you are really feeling, even if you think it does align with what a “strong faith” should look like? 

Gospel: The Gospel reading confirms Jesus as the “Son of Man”. Just like it was thousands of years ago for the people of that time (Pharisees, the common people, etc.) it is still a big statement for people today. How do you react to Jesus’ claim to being the Son of Man? Some people in the Gospel believe Jesus as the Son of Man, others don’t and some are in-between. Who can you most relate to? How can you challenge yourself to explore this question?

Wednesday, March 16
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031616.cfm

“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.” (John 8: 31-32)

“And the truth will set you free,” is undoubtedly a phrase that each of us have heard many times throughout our lifetime. As I child, I’m sure we’ve also been told to “always tell the truth.” However, John’s Gospel today speaks of a different truth, the truth of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. In accepting that truth, we must, as Jesus instructed the descendants of Abraham, accept Him into our life, and accept His plan for us, in order to truly become free. 

This is something that I’ve struggled with a lot during my year as an Augustinian Volunteer. More often than not in my life, and in particular throughout this year, my plan and God’s plan seemed to be in opposition. There would be times throughout this year that, because of a difficult day at work, or conflict in my community, I found myself trying to look to God for guidance, but really I would blame God for these issues and demand to know why they were happening to me. I wasn’t accepting the truth in my life, and allowing it to set me free. Instead, I became a slave to my own doubt. I allowed it consume me. Eventually, however, I set myself free of that fear and doubt, and I allowed God’s plan to work through me. Since submitting to myself to God’s plan, and trusting in his plan for me, I have entered into a unique position where I am able to find joy in the pain and growth in the struggles. So I encourage each one of you, especially during this Lenten Season, to submit to God’s plan. By doing so, you will arrive at the truth of God’s love for you, and it will set you free.

Greg Tosto
Current AV, Chicago

Thursday, March 17
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031716.cfm

The readings today focus on promises. Promises for success. Promises for life. Promises for abundance. In the first reading we witness the beginning of God and Abraham’s relationship. It is from that relationship between Abraham and God that there flows blessings and promises: of descendants, of land, and of legacy.

This important reading makes me think back to 2007 when I embarked on my volunteer year in Lawrence, MA. I think in particular about orientation and the stepping stones of the program: community, hospitality, service and justice.

As my volunteer year unfolded, there were some difficult moments which made me question the promises and stepping stones of the program. During those difficult times at my volunteer site, with my community, or with my own faith, I found it difficult to believe that these promises were coming true. It was those moments of struggle and challenge that also became moments of growth and transformation. And so, I have come to realize that the seemingly unfilled promises, in fact, were very present, especially in the difficult times. And so it is with our reading from Genesis. We see that God did not promise Abraham that his journey would be easy or that the promises and blessings would come without struggle, but, instead, promised Abraham that God would accompany him through it all.

And so, this is exactly what God is calling us to remember and experience during this season of Lent. Lent is all about preparing for Easter. And it is in that preparation that we encounter areas in our lives that need to be transformed. It is in that process that we begin to receive the promises and blessings of our relationship with God. Lent is not an easy journey, but with God by our side we can embrace the fullness of the experience.

Andrew McMillin
AV 2007-2008, Lawrence


Friday, March 18
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031816.cfm

No matter the commitment, big or small, the first part is rarely the hardest.  Whether it be the first few miles of a race, the first few months of a new relationship, or the first few weeks as a volunteer living in community, the task ahead seems exciting and enriching at the outset.  But as time goes on and the miles build, the relationship matures, the volunteer work loses its novelty, our dedication begins to waver.  Those running shoes don’t feel so comfortable after all.  Our partner’s endearing quirks grate on our nerves.  Our community members vie to be the "hardest worker".  Reality begins to close in around us.

So it can be with the Lenten season.  As this fifth week of Lent draws to a close, today’s readings speak to the feelings of distress that can set in as we lose steam.   We are only human, after all.  We are tempted to hit the snooze button, to lose our patience, to call home in tears.   Today we may question why we are even observing Lent in the first place.  But through the frustration, we are called to find refuge in our faith and draw upon it for strength.   We must return to the other side of the Jordan River, to a familiar place, and refocus our mindset by recognizing that these six weeks are not a burden, but an opportunity.  Let us keep the finish line in mind and in the face of our natural human distraction, recommit to our own Lent today.  If we persevere and honor our commitment to the transformation of the Lenten season, our renewed and strengthened faith will be the sweetest reward of them all.

Sinéad Cloughley
AV 2010, South Africa

Saturday, March 19
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/031916.cfm

During the Season of Lent, we have two Solemnities…the Annunciation and the Feast of St. Joseph (sorry to inform the Irish that St. Patrick is not a Solemnity, although it does seem to be a universal party day)! 

Today is a great day to reflect on the role of St. Joseph, the Husband of Mary, and the Foster Father of Jesus! I believe that Joseph has not been given the attention or credit he deserves as part of the Holy Family, and I was very happy when Pope Francis decreed that St Joseph should be added to all the Eucharistic Prayers which means we now hear his name at every Mass! 

Pope Francis has a special devotion to the sleeping St. Joseph. As you may remember, God spoke to St Joseph in his dreams when he was told to accept Mary as his wife instead of turning her over to be stoned for presumed infidelity, and also to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the wrath of Herod. Quite literally, St. Joseph saved their lives by listening and responding to God's promptings. I now have and encourage this devotion to St. Joseph and put my prayer requests on paper and under the head of the sleeping St. Joseph statute. I pray that I may have the courage, grace and strength to respond like St. Joseph did!

I'm sure that St. Joseph also taught Jesus how to be a gentleman and to be a tradesman as a carpenter. He guided and protected and provided for the Holy Family, all without fanfare or credit. He is truly a faithful servant who worked behind the scenes. 

I think we can all learn from St. Joseph how to be faithful to our calling to do what we are asked to do without looking for credit or fanfare. We are called to listen to the Lord and respond with generous hearts to serve the needs of all the Holy Families that we are called to minister to.  

May this Feast of this ordinary Joe, who made an extraordinary difference in the lives of others by his faithfulness, inspire us to make a difference in our world today by our faithfulness!

Enjoy the Feast....no fasting or Lenten practices or penance today! 

St. Joseph . . . Intercede and Pray For Us!

Sincerely in Christ and St. Augustine,

Very. Rev. Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial of the Province of Our Mother of Good Council

Palm Sunday, March 20
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032016.cfm

The Bible, and the New Testament in particular, is filled with individuals making a choice to listen to Jesus’ words and follow Him or walk a different path. Whenever I read bible passages that involve people making these choices I wonder, “If I were in their shoes, where would I stand?”  The Palm Sunday Gospel is filled with people calling for Jesus’ crucifixion or weeping as He carried the cross to His death. As modern day Christians, I think we like to believe we would be on the right side of history, but certainly we have all embodied different Gospel figures from time to time.  

Jesus’ disciples fall short many times in the Gospel, giving in to greed and fear instead of standing with Jesus. Even Peter, a devout follower and confident in his faith, denies Jesus three times. Being openly faithful and voicing your belief in God can be difficult and unpopular, especially as a young adult. It is far easier to separate your faith life from your personal or work life, but doing so is to deny an integral part of your character. As volunteers you have taken a step away from the norm and through your work you exemplify a belief in a faith that calls you to service. While the reasons for volunteering vary, our faith or desire to explore it is what connects us.

Simon the Cyrenian is an interesting figure in this Gospel. We remember him as the one who helped Jesus carry the cross, but we forget how he felt in doing so. Simon was an outsider and reluctant to go against the grain. He wanted to blend in with the crowd, but instead was forced to stand with Jesus. God had a plan for Simon just as He has a plan for us, but it can often differ from the plans we make for ourselves. Whether doing a year of service was part of your plan or not, living in community, budgeting your lifestyle, and volunteering at a work site is intrinsically different than the path most graduates take. It can be challenging at times, but just as Simon was cared for, God is a part of our journey and we should trust the direction He calls us in.

No one shows greater trust in God than Jesus at the Mount of Olives. While praying he says, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” Jesus lived the human experience so that He could understand us and serve God like us. This Gospel shows His human fear and anxiety yet he remains faithful. We may often pray to God for things we want but it can be challenging to pray that His will be done. God knows what is in our hearts and will always care for us so we need to trust Him. This Lent, pray for greater faith in His will for you. Trust is the foundation of faith so let us remember that is where we stand.

Brittany Patten
AV 2014-2015, Lawrence

Monday, March 21
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032116.cfm

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” 

Has Jesus gone?

During my two years as an AV, I encountered overwhelming and oppressive issues: extreme poverty, severe malnutrition, high rates of infant mortality, inadequate education, the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS… Maybe Jesus has gone.

But we know better, right? Jesus hasn’t gone. Right?

I don’t think that Jesus was trying to be deceitful when he spoke the words of today’s Gospel. Rather, I think he was trying to point out to us where to find him when he left this world and ascended. “You will always have the poor with you.”

I didn’t find Jesus in the “issues” of my volunteer year; I found Jesus in the people, in the poor. I have found Jesus in the Nicaraguans who were working to bring clean water to rural communities; in the daily Mass attendants at the Augustinian parish in the Bronx; in the “poor” members of my community who had given up a salary and independence to commit to service and intentional living; in the nurses and care workers at the AIDS hospice; in the tender touch of a dying friend. I found Jesus in the poor.

“You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. But now you know where to find me!”

Where have you found Jesus?

Brian Strassburger, S.J.
AV 2006-2007 Bronx; 2008 South Africa

Tuesday, March 22
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032216.cfm

In today’s gospel, Peter says to Jesus, “I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answers him, “Will you lay down your life for me?” I imagine the emphasis to be on the word ‘will’ because he is clearly expressing his doubts that Peter will follow through.  He knows Peter has good intentions but he also knows what it’s like to be human and to face the reality of the difficulty of giving yourself up completely to God.  We all want to be strong enough to lay down our lives for God, whether that is physically or figuratively, but in reality, we are imperfect beings often full of fear, doubts and temptations.  Jesus teaches us the importance of being honest with ourselves and with others.  We can only advance by acknowledging our fears and shortcomings.  When I decided to become an AV and serve in Chulucanas, many people told me things like, “Wow! What a great thing you’re going to do!” and “What an incredible impact you’re going to have!”  The more I thought about it, the more I started to see this as my opportunity to “lay down my life” for God; however, a few months closer to our departure from the US, I began to worry about all the challenges.  I have many fears and worries about this year.  A fear of not knowing what the heck is going on, of not being as good as the previous volunteers at my site, of making a fool of myself, along with many others.  But if I say I want to lay down my life for God, I must imagine Jesus’ question, paraphrased: “Will you really lay down your life?”  If I can acknowledge those things that might get in my way, then just maybe will I be one step closer to truly saying to God, “I will lay down my life for you.”       

Bridget Hennessy
Current AV, Peru


Wednesday, March 23
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032316.cfm

One of my biggest frustrations in my role in Campus Ministry was that the challenges that my students faced were insurmountable. I felt like the majority of students were not open to exploring their spiritual lives because of the challenges they faced. During the middle of my AV year, I began to feel dejected and I felt that the problems I had encountered were too large to conquer. One of greatest lessons I learned during my time as an AV occurred during a dinner at the Augustinian Theologate in Hyde Park. Dominic, an Augustinian novice from the California Province, used a simple metaphor for how to approach every moment in the hallways as a campus minister at St. Rita. He said, “View yourself as a sprinkler on a large field on a farm. A farmer relies on hundreds of sprinklers to provide water for the crops to grow and develop, all responsible for providing water to a certain area.”

I believe that Jesus Christ relies on each of us to spread Gospel message through our actions and words, similar to how the farmer relies on the sprinklers to provide water on the farm. I gained a new perspective that I still carry with me today. I focused on my area of the farm, treating each and every student with compassion and used Jesus Christ as the ultimate example of leading through serving others. In this approach, I understood that I had to give everything I had to everyone around me and I needed to trust God to take care of the rest. Today’s first reading, Isiah chapter 50, reinforces this approach. It encourages all of us to give our best effort in every moment and to let go and let God take care of the rest. My hope is that this community of individuals continue to spread the Gospel message every day: to water the farm and to trust in God to take care of the rest.

Rory Magargee
AV 2014-2015, Chicago

Holy Thursday, March 24
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032416-lords-supper.cfm

Today marks an important beginning. It is the beginning of the great Easter Tridium, the three most sacred days in the Church year. We begin it today with Holy Thursday as we celebrate a new relationship between God and humanity in the gift of the Eucharist. Tomorrow, Good Friday, is the celebration of the gift of Christ dying for all humanity. On Saturday we celebrate the greatest feast of the Church, the Great Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.

In the Gospel for Holy Thursday we would expect to see the account of the Last Supper when Jesus took bread and said, “take and eat, this is my Body”, and then the cup of wine saying, “this is the cup of my Blood.” Instead the Last Supper Gospel account for Holy Thursday is Jesus raising from the table and washing the feet of his disciples and telling them to do the same. Jesus is demonstrating what the Eucharist calls us to be and to do – to serve, to wash the feet of one another. 

The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist calls and challenges us to live the Body and Blood of Christ in service. Can we truly say that we see this challenge in the Eucharist? Can we say that we feel the sharing of the Eucharist sends us forth to serve others? 

As we enter into the most important week of the Church year, the week we call Holy, can I reflect on how I live my faith in service to others? What service have I offered to others? How have I washed the feet of others? How have I really lived the Eucharist in service to my sister’s and brothers?

Tony Burrascano, O.S.A.
Augustinian Site Supervisor, Philadelphia

Good Friday, March 25
http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/032516.cfm

Good Friday, a day for solemn remembrance of Jesus’ greatest sacrifice, the giving of his life to save ours. The Passion of Jesus is a familiar account for many Christians, yet I wonder how many of us take time to really sit with and contemplate the suffering that Jesus endured, the betrayal he experienced from his closest disciples, and his scourging at the pillar. What must all this have been like for Jesus?  Did he feel alone or wonder where God was in the midst of the hatred and violence being shown towards him? I invite you to take some quiet time today to read the Gospel account of Jesus’ Passion. Consider what resonates with you. Where has God been most present to you during your Lenten journey as an Augustinian volunteer?

The account of Jesus’ Passion and Death reminds me that I am never alone in my suffering.  God is in solidarity with us all. God suffers with each of us. In his book The Great Themes of Scripture, Franciscan friar Richard Rohr writes, “After the cross, we know that God is not watching human pain, nor apparently always stopping human pain, as much as God is found hanging with us alongside all human pain.” There is something comforting in this realization as it speaks to God’s great mercy and love for us all.  As you continue to live out your role as Augustinian volunteers, I invite you to be gentle with yourselves during the challenging moments and to consider ways in which you can journey with others who may be suffering, be it someone at your work site or a fellow community member. We might not be able to eliminate the pain or suffering, but we can be there in the midst of it so that no one will suffer alone. 

Lisa Mehalick
AV 2009-20010, Chicago