Fully Present in Africa

Caitlin O’Donnell[1]

Before I got here, my understanding of Africa was limited to what I heard about it on the news and what I remembered from my freshman History seminar in college. Which is to say that my knowledge of the place was reduced to Poverty, HIV/AIDS, and Colonialism— not an optimistic picture. Blame the journalists, blame the history book writers, blame the continent itself,  but it just seemed like the only news coming out of Africa was bad news. If I’m being completely honest with you, Africa sounded a bit scary from where I sat in the suburbs of New Jersey. But then again, most places in the world would sound scary to a young person whose greatest challenge in life was the SAT.

Nonetheless, a lifetime as a Girl Scout, several years in Amnesty International club and an enlightening college education made social justice and service very important values in my life by the time I was ready to graduate last spring. I sought an opportunity to do some direct service overseas, so I applied and was eventually accepted to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, which placed me where I am today: Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  I’m teaching English, Music, Social Science, and Religion at a local secondary school in the city, along with three other American volunteers. I’ll be here until the end of 2013.

I don’t mean this to be self-serving, but this is usually the point in my story when the person I’m talking to will tell me that I’m brave or generous, and that I’m going to change the world, like my service is a noble thing. I feel some shame now when I confess that before I arrived in Tanzania, I secretly agreed with them. Romanticized visions of life in a hut flashed through my distant, starry eyes. I could build a school like Oprah! Maybe I’ll see a lion while I find a way to provide a remote village with electricity! I’ll pave roads! I’ll educate children! I will change the world! Eighteen years as a student had taught me that our society is unfair and broken; at last I was going into the thick of things to do something about it. It was going to be great. And noble. I just knew it.

It definitely has been great, but not in the ways I expected. There isn’t a single Tanzanian who has been delivered justice because I showed up, nor is there an inch of newly paved road that had anything to do with my work. HIV/AIDS still infects about 8% of the population here, and Tanzania’s average life expectancy continues to hover around 55 years. Service here, it turns out, is not as straightforward as I thought it would be, and the Third World is a very complicated place. Even if I make it through the full two-year term as a Jesuit Volunteer, even if I become fluent in Kiswahili and work really hard every day, the mark I leave in this country will still be small and temporary at best.

In the beginning it was a hard thing to accept because there are a lot of improvements to be made here. Tanzania is desperately and tragically impoverished, and the flaws in the country’s government, education system, and economy were glaring to my American eye. I was hungry to do something about it, to fix things and see results, to improve Tanzanians’ quality of life with concrete development and legitimate social change. With time, however, the question “What can I do?” became a better one: “What should I do?”

As a volunteer with good intentions, my work in Tanzania is not going to be the sweeping structural social change I had stupidly dreamt of before I got here. It’s not my place; that kind of initiative has to come from a Tanzanian, who will naturally be far better equipped than I, a white person, a twenty-something, a foreigner. My purpose, and maybe the purpose of any service more generally, is just to be present. Nothing validates a person’s humanity like another person’s humanity, and that is absolutely something I can provide. Unlike the elimination of corruption in the federal government, smiles and kind words to my Tanzanian neighbors, fellow teachers, and friends are definitely feasible. To be enthusiastically, peacefully, and lovingly present is both something that I can and should do. To be fully present to another person might be the greatest service and honor we can give them.

So I’m not living in a hut, and I definitely won’t get around to constructing that school like Oprah did, but I won’t deny that I still fantasize about it from time to time. There are still countless rural villages without electricity and the paved road that is closest to my home here is still a ten-minute walk away. Can my service change the world? Probably not. But I’m content to hope my humanity might brighten a small corner of it.


[1] Caitlin O’Donnell volunteered in the Center for FaithJustice’s LeaderworX program for two summers while a student at Villanova University.  You can read more about her JVC experience at http://twoyearsintanzania.wordpress.com/.

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On Leaving

Michael O’Connor[1]

Just over two years ago, I packed up my car, said goodbye, and left Birmingham, Alabama, my home for two years during my time in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program through the University of Notre Dame.

FootstepsI remember the sunny, humid days that signaled summer’s arrival and my own departure, a final meal with my fellow housemates who had also been teaching in Birmingham and participating in the ACE program, the rush to clean our house so that it would pass our landlord’s inspection, and the Tetris-like puzzle of packing my belongings of two years in my not-so-spacious car.

Even more vividly, I recall my last day of school with my students abuzz with summer joy and carelessness (though more quietly expressing concerns about what they would do and where they would be during the summer break).  I remember my last Mass at the parish and saying goodbye to that community, which also overlapped with my school community.  I remember my surrogate Birmingham mothers wishing me well, telling me to keep in touch, and reminding me to visit.  I remember saying goodbye to them with bittersweet emotions, sad to be leaving my students, their families, my school community, my parish community, but happy and excited to be starting a new endeavor, a new program in Philadelphia.  I remember faces, smiles, sounds, and parting words.

One of the ACE program pillars, similar to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) and many other service and mission-based programs, including the program I would be helping start in Philadelphia (ACESJU), is community.  Community has many definitions, but I like to think of it as a group of people coming together over an authentic desire to love one another by being present to one another.  This presence can take many forms – simply sitting as a companion to another person, listening, conversing (in both serious or light matters), performing acts of service, or by forming bonds of relationship through activities, sports, etc… that allow one to share a bit of oneself while receiving a bit from others.  While I certainly struggled (and still do) in authentically forming community, I have consistently realized that the community I formed in Birmingham was one of the most powerful expressions of it that I have encountered in my life.

“Community has many definitions, but I like to think of it as a group of people coming together over an authentic desire to love one another by being present to one another.”

As I drove my car down the driveway of our Wonder Lane house (yes, that was the name of our street), I had a strong, somewhat unexpected, feeling of guilt.  Over two years, I had become a member of the Holy Family community, or the “Holy Family Family,” as folks liked to say.  Sometimes with great challenge, other times with natural ease, I had done my best to enter into what the ACE program asked me to enter into – community.  And now I was leaving.  Just as I felt that I was a part of something, something truly big and loving and special, I was leaving.

I have struggled with these feelings over the past two years.  But I have learned to better identify and deal with what I first thought was guilt.  I go back to Birmingham around three times a year to visit my “Holy Family Family,” not because I feel I have to, not because I feel that they need me, but because I am still a part of that community.  When tornadoes ravaged Birmingham, particularly neighborhoods from which many Holy Family student and parish families lived, I went down to help clean up, to visit, and to try and raise some money for relief aid.   And I realized in my heart that I was doing it because if something similar happened in my hometown in Pennsylvania (and people can testify to how much I love NEPA), I would do the very same thing.  Sometimes we have to leave.  We see this in the very life of Jesus.  But if we hold our communities in our hearts, we do our best to follow Christ and to be love and encourage love in others.

Over these two years since leaving Birmingham, I have learned something very valuable.  Community is beautiful and powerful.  It is God and living and breathing.  Love incarnate, so to speak.  Though not always perfect, I am fortunate and blessed to be a member of communities.  I must dedicate time, energy, love, and presence to participate in those communities.  I will not find another Birmingham or another “Holy Family Family,” but this doesn’t mean that I cannot find community again.  Previous time spent in community, whether in a service program or not, should never be an excuse to avoid new communities, new experiences, and new opportunities to love and see God.  The best way to give witness to my communities, including my “Holy Family Family,” is to love and be open to new love.  I like to think this is what we as people of faith are about, and what programs such as ACE, JVC, and ACESJU are about.  Ultimately, I believe it is what God calls each of us to, through our own unique invitation to participate in community.


[1]Michael O’Connor recently concluded his time on staff with the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU), a post-graduate teaching fellows program that serves urban Catholic schools in Philadelphia, and is preparing to begin doctoral studies in Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College in Fall 2012 . Originally from Kingston, PA (in a region fondly referred to as “NEPA”), he received his M.Ed. from the Alliance for Catholic Education Service Through Teaching program at the University of Notre Dame while teaching middle school for two years in Birmingham, AL.

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Lessons from Raising Triplets

Ken Likely[1]

One day this past fall, my daughter called from college, and she was pretty upset.  She was working on a paper for a history class, she was having a difficult time finding the focus for her paper, and her deadline was looming.   I knew nothing about the topic that she was writing about, so I couldn’t offer much help there.  So I suggested that we do what I usually do when I’m feeling a bit lost – I suggested that we pray.   A quick Google search revealed that St. Bede the Venerable (who, I must confess, was previously unknown to me) is the patron saint of historians, so we asked St. Bede to intercede with a bit of guidance.  Glorious St. Bede, help me faithfully explore my place in the Word and the world. Amen.  Happily, St. Bede did not disappoint us – my daughter calmed down, she found the focus that she needed, and she ended up with an A on the paper.

I share this story not because I think it is wise for students to rely on the saints to get them through college.  I do think it is wise, though, for parents to remind their children that they are never alone.  Children, as well as grown-ups, need to know that, in the good times and in those moments when life is hard, God is always with them.

I certainly trust that God is always with me.  Being a parent is hard work, and every now and then it can be scary work.  Who would want to go it alone, without the comfort of knowing that God is on your side?  Certainly not me — I need all the help I can get.  As a matter of fact, I never felt more in need of God’s grace and guidance until the moment, almost twenty-two years ago, that I found out that I was going to be the father of triplets.  I expect that most men are unsure of what kind of father they will be.  I had my own dad as a role model, but otherwise, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  So, like most men, I tried my best, and with the help of both God and an extraordinary wife, I have managed pretty well.  I know that I have learned a thing or two over the past twenty-one years about what it means to be a good father and to raise children to be good people.

The foremost lesson I have learned is about the importance of providing your children with opportunities to receive the gift of faith.  Though there are countless instances of people finding their faith on their own, growing up close to God has to make for a richer and deeper faith experience.  Soon after our three children were born, my wife and I were very fortunate to move to a town with a wonderful and vibrant Catholic community.  As members of this parish, our children learned how deeply God loves them, were able to recognize and be grateful for God’s many blessings, and to understand the connection between faith and justice.  I hope that no matter where they go in life, this parish family will always be a moral compass in the lives of our children.

The other fact I have discovered may seem simple, but it’s an important one nonetheless — if you want your children to grow to be good Christians, then you must be one yourself.  Children understand that we are called to serve when they see you doing the work of Jesus.  They learn kindness of speech when they hear it spoken at home.  They learn to be still and to listen to God’s word when you make time as a family to attend Sunday Mass.

Being a father is the greatest gift I will ever receive, and over the past twenty-one years my faith has grown and I have learned from my children as much or more than I have been able to teach them.  I was taught to not worry so much about the future, but to enjoy each moment, each stage and yes, each challenge.  I have learned to be patient, and I have learned to love.  But perhaps most importantly, I have come to understand that, With God, all things are possible.


[1] Ken Likely is a member of the Center for FaithJustice Board of Trustees, a parishioner and former Chair of the Pastoral Council at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Community (Skillman, NJ) and the father of three rising college seniors. In the spring and fall, you can usually find him driving to or from a college campus with a packed minivan.

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Partnering for Development

Editor’s Note: The following is the last in a series of articles reviewing the progress and challenges in reaching the United Nations Development Goals.  You can find all the articles in this series here.  Thank you to all our authors.


Alexis Hyder[1]

Develop a global partnership for development.  This can mean so many things, but I understand Millennium Development Goal #8 to suggest that developing countries ought not to be left alone to alleviate poverty in their countries.  Partnerships for development can offer the scale to make an idea, project, or action compelling. Partnerships can provide capacity-building support and lend credibility to an initiative.  Partnerships can offer hope and help for countries working to alleviate poverty.

I spent much of 2008 living in Liberia as a volunteer with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). CHAI’s approach to global health and development is partnership-based, in that it establishes a presence in a country upon receiving an invitation from the host government.  CHAI serves at the pleasure of the head of state, and works closely with its Ministry of Health to achieve that country’s health access goals.

CHAI’s early success stemmed from its efforts related to MDG #8, Target 8.F: In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries.  Prior to 2003, pharmaceutical companies’ production and sales of antiretroviral medicines (ARVs) followed a model of low volume, high price.  The relative few who could afford the HIV medicine paid a lot for it. As a result, most people living with HIV in the developing world were unable to access treatment. CHAI convinced pharmaceutical companies that there was a significant market opportunity in the developing world, and that the firms would benefit were they to convert to a model of high volume, low price. In October of 2003, President Clinton announced a 50% price reduction in first line drug regimens, after CHAI negotiated this deal with generic drug companies.[2]  Also in 2003, the U.S. Government committed $15 billion to HIV treatment, prevention, and care programs globally. In 2008, another $48 billion was authorized for the second five year cycle of the program. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) is the largest commitment by any one nation to combat a specific disease, and, among other goals, it aims to work in partnership with donors and recipient countries to reduce the cost of ARVs.[3]  By the end of 2010, 6.6 million people in the developing world were receiving antiretroviral treatment, as compared to just 200,000 seven years earlier, although 7.6 million people remain in need of treatment today.[4]

While price is an important first step, Target 8.F’s access to affordable, essential drugs does not encompass price alone.  Individuals must be able to receive treatment, and in countries with poor infrastructure, challenged health systems, and few health professionals, this is not an easy feat.  Partnerships for development must be structured to address these factors and more.  In 2007, the Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare issued its National Health Policy and Plan, which outlined the country’s health priorities and goals for achieving them.  The Plan defined and standardized the health services that the Ministry committed to providing every Liberian citizen and empowered its counties to manage health care delivery locally.  One example of this is the rebuilding of County Health Teams, professionals who provide local health services and access to care and treatment.[5]

2003 marked the end of Liberia’s prolonged civil war, throughout which the country’s leaders emptied the national coffers and sunk the country into extreme debt. Target 8.D reminds us that poverty alleviation is a particular challenge for those countries with financial burdens: Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt.  In recent years, Liberia’s debt burden was forgiven by virtue of a multilateral partnership for development. The IMF and World Bank established the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative in 1996 to ease the significant debt some countries shoulder. If a country meets specified criteria, commits to poverty reduction policies, and demonstrates a track record of reform, it is eligible for HIPC assistance.   Liberia is one of 32 countries, among 40 eligible nations, to have received debt relief under HIPC; it even received additional (“beyond-HIPC”) debt forgiveness.[6]

Liberia has focused not only on easing its national debt, but managing incoming donor funds well.  Target 8.B indicates partnerships for development should address the special needs of least developed countries. By the time I arrived, the country had attracted the attention of major international donors who committed funds for the country’s re-development. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female head of state, was elected in 2006 and quickly became a darling of the international community.  Several of Liberia’s government Ministries, including Health and Social Welfare, established policies and systems that signaled the government was serious about rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.

As the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare developed its National Health Policy and Plan, and committed to providing all citizens with a Basic Package of Health Services, donor funds were earmarked to implement these health targets.  However, implementation takes time, particularly when paired with infrastructure improvement and capacity-building.  To aid in Liberia’s post-conflict transition from relief to development, and to coordinate donor funds provided to the country’s health sector[7], the Ministry established a Health Sector Pool Fund, through support from partners and donors including UNICEF, UNHCR, DFID and Irish Aid.[8]  The Pool Fund assures donors that funds are well-managed and will be spent against the priorities outlined in the Policy and Plan.

MDG #8 is unique among the Millennium Development Goals in that it is cross-cutting and can be applied to all of the other Goals.  Poverty alleviation cannot happen in isolation.  It requires political will, international commitments, significant funding, and strong communities.  It involves heads of state, multilateral institutions, technical advisors, and local citizens.  It is both complex and simple, in that it requires sustained effort by diverse partners, yet there are opportunities for all of us to play a role.


[1] Alexis Hyder is a Manager of Urban Business Initiatives at ICIC: the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City. In 2008, Alexis volunteered with the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) in Monrovia, Liberia, and worked closely with the Deputy Minister for Social Welfare at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

[2] Clinton Health Access Initiative, at http://www.clintonhealthaccess.org/about/history.

[3] US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, at http://www.pepfar.gov/about/index.htm.

[4] UNITAID, at http://www.unitaid.eu/what/hiv.

[5] Liberian Ministry of Health: Policies – National Health Policy and Plan, at http://liberiamohsw.org/Policies&Plan.html.

[6] IMF Factsheet, at http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/facts/hipc.htm.

[7] Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare: Policies – Pool Fund for Health in Liberia, at http://liberiamohsw.org/Policies&Plan.html.

[8] Liberian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare: The Pool Fund, at http://liberiamohsw.org/The%20Pool%20Fund.html.

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Growth in my garden

Martha Dudich

It starts each year in early February when the first seed catalog arrives.  I look out to my garden – usually blanketed in snow or leaves and other winter debris – and begin to imagine its return to foliage and flower.  I have the immediate urge to plant something, which can be temporarily soothed by bringing a bunch of tulips home with the groceries.  There is excitementLavender coupled with a deep comfort when that first green pushes up from the soil.  I often call my friend Nancy, herself a masterful gardener who has gifted me with any number of plants and cuttings.  “The allium are coming up!” I announce, once again amazed that what seems dead is dead no longer.  And before too long – much earlier this year with no winter to speak of here in Hardiness Zone 6, resulting in an uncommonly prolonged and extraordinary spring – I join those otherwise by and large sane people who thrive with dirt under our fingernails.  Garden dirt that invites, heals and demands. Generally one to couple exercise with disregard, even contempt, I will bend, kneel, push, pull, shovel, squat, haul, crawl and all other manner of muscle and joint abuse, certain of two eternal truths: my participation in promise and possibility, and the best beer will eventually be enjoyed in the shower!

No surprise, nor intended pun, gardening is fertile soil for conversation on the spiritual life.  As Oscar Wilde reminds us, “The Book of Life begins with a man and a woman in a garden.”  The connections are significant and fairly obvious, with each requiring daily attention, practice not theory, providing solace and renewal, holding infinite possibilities.

For centuries, just about everyone tended a garden or worked the fields to survive.  The lessons derived were honorable and readily understood, rooted in tradition and planted in every child.  Gardening teaches us much about ourselves, about our interdependence with the natural universe, about the relationship between work and creativity, about our quieter and deeper selves, and about how we might begin to discern those sacred, even mystical dimensions that elude us in other aspects of our lives.  Gardening can produce revelations of the profound in the ordinary.  The simple existence of our gardens – sometimes begun in emptiness, from barren ground – with their varied forms and transformations can startle and delight both our mind and spirit.  From each parcel of soil and seed, vines and blossoms nourished, weeded, transplanted, pruned, we harvest practical wisdom about beauty, love, history, lasting values, mortality and the seasons of our lives.  Beloved poet Stanley Kunitz reflected on a century in his garden as a parable of the human experience, “created to endure just as humans emerge, thrive, suffer, give pleasure and, in due season, depart.”  (The Wild Braid, 2005)

Rain that fell through the night has subsided and I take my coffee out into the garden this morning.  Inspecting some of the work accomplished on the weekend (strangely, without diminishing the skill and energies required for these other achievements, we seem to play chess or tennis, practice meditation or the piano, yet work in the garden) the divided irises appear content and the new rose bushes are both joyously fragrant and certain to invite an intentional care and nourishment I’ve avoided returning to for a while.  Just getting them in the ground offered something of a life-lesson.  Finding there would not be enough sun where I’d originally thought to plant them, I dug in another spot only to discover enormous roots from a tree some distance away.  Trying to be alert as well as patient, I watched and waited a few days, meanwhile discovering new plants that had “volunteered” in surprising places, a gentle reminder that I share this space with so many other creatures, above and below the earth.  Gardens, like the best of friends, are not deceptive: they let you know.  Imposing my pattern on the landscape – as on a friendship – would be a mistake.  That life-lesson?  Respect, don’t invade.

I stand at the end of this path, observing all that has taken shape here over these thirteen years and how so much has been reflective of my own state of being at a particular time.  The stretch of lavender that allows me to return each summer to the French countryside I visited too long ago with a cherished friend. Hydrangeas that helped transform a high school stage into the garden of resurrection for the Great Vigil of Easter (another lesson in patient trust, as these hothouse plants forced for holiday bloom took five years finding their way back to a natural flowering cycle).  And the cannas, connecting me to the grandfather I know mostly from photographs, one where he stands grinning among his own enormous blossoms, sporting a straw Fedora and clutching his long briar pipe.  He’s in a white shirt and tie so I expect it’s Sunday and he’s just returned from church.  Stretching my imagination a bit farther and recalling anecdotes passed on by my father, I’m sure he’s singing, some Hungarian folksong, maybe a hymn from the earlier church service.  Singing as he walks between the carefully tended rows of his tenement lot, pulling a few weeds, staking the tallest stems, then pulling his rocker into the shade to enjoy his pipe on a Sabbath afternoon.

In 1995, Stanley Kunitz welcomed his 90th year with a life-affirming collection of poems titled Passing Through.  A few lines from “The Round” return to me.

. . . I saw light kiss
the silk of the roses
flushed with their brandy.
A curious gladness shook me.
. . . I can scarcely wait till tomorrow
when a new life begins for me,
as it does each day,
as it does each day.

I have the immediate urge to plant something.

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Deep Gladness

Fr. Aidan Rooney, CM

There’s a great happiness to be found serving God’s poor. Part of that happiness is the closeness you can achieve, especially with children, in a very short time. Being with the little ones in our day care in Mocomoco always puts a smile on my face.

Those of you who are connected with me on Facebook know that May 7th didn’t start out as a great day. For a missionary in rural Bolivia, the last thing I want to encounter when visiting the city (El Alto / La Paz) to do necessary things is a transportation stoppage. What usually takes one hour now takes four. Three of these hours will be spent walking in the hot sun amidst ones equally-put-out brothers and sisters. I think this may be the first CFJ blog post that starts out with a 55 year-old whining like a baby….

Well, anyway, when I have time to read, I read in chunks. What usually happens is I get interested (or re-interested) in a particular author and now, with the assistance of Kindle, read to my hearts content. Lately, it has been re-reading works by Frederick Beuchner, Presbyterian theologian whose work extends from the mid-twentieth century into our own. Those of you who might not know him have probably heard an often quoted “proverb” on vocation: “The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. HarperOne; Rev Exp edition 1993.) I’ll come back to this.

I left the house on the morning of May 7th grumpy. With my empty backpack ready for my purchases, I set off on the one an one half hour walk to the “Ceja” of El Alto, looking to pick up some necessary hardware and tools for repairs to our house in Mocomoco (some five hours north of La Paz). As I walked, I began to notice that I was cheering up, probably smiling (since I received some smiles and odd looks from others – which may only have been looks of curiosity at the tall, rangy gringo who was walking at a pretty fast clip), and even whistling. Probably the exercise was lifting my spirit, but also I was keenly aware that I was in “my place,” “at home.” In doing the day-to-day stuff that I have to do as a missionary I realize that after almost three years here, I live here and I like it here. Even the ordinary stuff is the stuff of revelation. I recall Beuchner once again,

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

(Now and Then.  Harper San Francisco, 1991)

You can’t do that if you’re not “at home,” wherever that may be at any given moment. If you lose that feeling after a reasonable amount of time (and, no, I don’t know how much time that is), God probably wants you elsewhere. If the ordinary day-to-day stuff is not opening up to something else, maybe it’s time to move on. One of our missionaries who was with us this last year just discovered that and had the good sense to return to his home country. That’s not to say he didn’t serve well while here. To the contrary, his gift will remain and be built upon. Beuchner again:

“The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.”

(The Hungering Dark. HarperOne, 1985.)

Everything we do advances (or thwarts) the great scheme of “God’s will” to some degree. So don’t sweat it if it’s time to move on. Your life will have done some good. The world has hungers that you can fill, whether you’re happy or not. But, you should be happy.

And now I can come back to the first Beuchner citation. To be a missionary means to be at the service of the reign of God – and that service includes ones own salvation as well. St. Vincent de Paul in his rule for missionaries instructed us to seek that holiness that would have us become more and more like Christ. He said that the first purpose of our Congregation is to “to have a genuine commitment to grow in holiness, patterning ourselves, as far as possible, on the virtues which the great Master himself graciously taught us in what he said and did;”  (if you want to read the whole thing its downloadable here.) Christ, for Vincent, is the missionary, serving the will of the Father while becoming/revealing ones true self. To be happy – to experience Beuchner’s “deep gladness” – is equally part of being a missionary as is the service we offer when we encounter the “world’s deep hunger.”

So, on May 7th, after many days of joy-filled service on the Altiplano, I encountered a deep gladness walking amidst the folks of El Alto. I think God wants me here. I wrote this as an invitation to anyone who is giving part or all of their life to the service among God’s poor. Have you found that deep gladness yet amidst the hungers that you’ve encountered? Do you feel “at home” where you are?

If you haven’t read any of Beuchner’s work, I very much recommend it. And by the way, I found all the things I was looking for in the “Ceja.” I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to fine a good, used Stanley Stillson wrench!

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Cups and Chalices (On Growing Up)

Mike Laskey

If you drive over the Ben Franklin Bridge from Camden to Philadelphia these days, and look up to the left as you arrive in Pennsylvania, you’ll see a billboard for the beer Stella Artois.

Stella has been famous for snobbish advertising since it introduced the slogan “Reassuringly Expensive” in 1982, and this new billboard continues the tradition. Next to a picture of a poured Stella is the caption, “It’s a chalice, not a glass.”

Every time I see it, I think of the new English Mass translation, which has substituted the word “chalice” for “cup” during the part of the Eucharistic Prayer called the Institution Narrative: “In a similar way, when supper was ended, he took the chalice and, once more giving thanks, he gave it to his disciples…”

I’ll admit that this part of the new translation particularly bothered me, not unlike the way the self-important Stella billboard makes me roll my eyes. Who uses the word “chalice” in everyday conversation? Wasn’t that the point of translating the Mass into the vernacular in the first place?

Newcastle Brown Ale seems to agree:

In November, just before the new translation took effect, I put together an evening for the high school ministry I direct to introduce them (and me) to the changes. This included the cup-to-chalice switch, and so I looked up what the U.S. bishops had to say about it:

 “[C]halice” implies a special kind of cup – one that is precious and set aside for a noble purpose (in this case, for the “new and eternal covenant”).  This is part of the dignified language brought out by the new translation: just as we do not refer to the altar of sacrifice as merely a “table,” so saying “chalice” at this moment emphasizes that the Blood of Christ is no ordinary drink.  Such language can help foster greater reverence at the Holy Mass.

Not a bad argument. I translated this into high school English and presented it with enthusiasm. Fake enthusiasm, that is. Despite the bishops’ reasoning, the whole change didn’t sit well. I love the liturgy and I love language, and the adjustments seemed to be taking some of the poetry out of the English Mass, replacing it with archaic words and stilted syntax.

On the First Sunday of Advent, the new missal’s introduction, I went to Mass with my fiancée, and headed quickly to the car afterward. “Give me five minutes to vent, and then I’ll never say anything about it again,” I told her. I broke that promise a handful of times in the following weeks, but during the Easter Triduum last month I realized that I barely even noticed the differences anymore. Sure, I still have to read off the card in the pew for the Creed, but otherwise, everything is good. The frustration in December has evaporated by May. I’m still not crazy about the changes, but they don’t boil my blood anymore either. I can even appreciate certain phrases I missed during my quiet, self-righteous scoffing a few months ago: It is right and just. From the rising of the sun to its setting. Like the dewfall.

My noticing that I was no longer noticing coincided with a similar realization about parishes. My childhood church is wonderful, and it was extremely important to me. I thought I’d never be happy anywhere else, and I acted like it during college, saying over and over again that my hometown parish was so much better than what we had at school. Better preaching, better music, better building, better understanding of the connection between faith and justice. I was bitter at most Masses I attended throughout college, missing home and missing the point.

This problem continued to dog me after school, especially during the Triduum, which was always a liturgical tour de force at my hometown parish. The way you miss your family when you’re away for a holiday or birthday was how I would feel about my parish on those holiest days of the year.

But the parish where I work and worship now, St. Ann’s in Lawrenceville, has become a new home for me since moving here two years ago. I was a lector and Confirmation sponsor at this year’s Easter Vigil. I visited with friends and high school students after Mass and then broke the Lenten fast at Houlihan’s with some of my favorite people. Sure, St. Ann’s doesn’t use the music I loved as a kid, but there are other things that are so good. This was the first Triduum away from home that I didn’t compare to what I came from. No, I actually sort of prayed and paid attention.

These two connected experiences have been powerful lessons about growing up. As a child, the ways my family, my religion, and my parish did things were the only ways to do them. Opening myself to new possibilities is hard, but I am learning. With my fiancée, I have discovered that while my father’s way of cooking rice is a good way, there are other ways. With the Mass changes, I have remembered that the Eucharist is more powerful than the limitations of human language, and that any prayers we come up with to address God will always be imperfect and grasping. With my new parish, I have learned that journeying with the people in a faith community matters a lot more than the version of the Gloria you sing.

Each of these cases is a matter of moving from “me” to “we.” This is surprising, because I was pretty sure as a kid that getting older would mean becoming more independent, with no bedtime and ice cream for breakfast and going to church only when I really felt like it. But more and more, I’m realizing that puffed-up claims of independence come nowhere close to matching the joys and blessings of community. Even when that means drinking out of a chalice instead of a cup.

Mike is a program coordinator at CFJ and the youth minister at the Church of Saint Ann in Lawrenceville, NJ.

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