Michelle Baumann, CVV 21
First Week of Lent
“Every little thing just wants to be loved.” –Sue Monk Kidd.
This quote was the theme of a digital story created by one of my fellow volunteers and has been a mantra for me during my work as a clinical social worker. During my year at CVV, I worked with youth at Urban Peak, an overnight homeless shelter. The youth taught me not every person is given love freely, some have to fight for it. At the shelter, love is a warm place to stay on a snowy night, a bus ticket to a job interview, or a person listening with an open heart and mind. Their frustrations with the staff or community were simply expressions of feeling unloved. All they wanted was a place to be loved after receiving so little love.
Currently, I am a social worker at an Early Intervention agency. Early Intervention works with families and children ages birth to three who have or are at risk for developmental delay. Every day, I see how parents and children show love in different ways. To a child who is taught that being loved means getting whatever you want, a tantrum is simply feeling unloved by a caregiver. A mother in recovery taking prescribed Suboxone while pregnant isn’t neglecting the unborn child, but making a difficult decision between risking fetal harm due to side effects and preventing a potentially life-threatening relapse. A mother force-feeding her underweight child is desperately trying to make her child medically healthy. Seemingly ill-intentioned actions can be a sign of love when explored more deeply.
The biggest challenge I face in my work is not recognizing expressions of love, but working with families on loving and caring for their child without imposing my own values or preconceived notions of love. Even if I disagree with the parenting practices, I must work with the parent to find a way to best support the child, ensuring both the child and parent feel loved. When I am unsure how to move forward or question the practices of a parent, I remind myself to simply find the love.
Chris Morgan, CVV 17
Second Week of Lent
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” NRSVCE Mt 5:3
“You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” MSG Mt 5:3
How often do you find yourself at the end of your rope? Does it prompt you to remember that you’re blessed? I’m going to guess that it doesn’t. In the lives we live, we often find ourselves in positions where we have control over a number of the variables. It gives us a sense of stability and security. Take your pick of the things in your life that you think you can control: where you sleep, what you eat, where you work, how you spend your time, where you spend some of (if not most) of your money, where you worship, etc.
At a foundation level, stability and security are not bad. As we hear from the creation accounts in Genesis, it was God who brought order out of chaos. In the Psalms, God is revered for bringing regular rains to water the crops. That brought stability to their lives. Note that these are examples of God in control.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately with people who find themselves at the end of their rope. “It feels like my life is totally out of control.” “I can’t do anything to change whether my husband lives or dies.” As a hospital chaplain who mostly works nights, you can imagine that I meet many people on the worst day of their life. This theme of control has been coming up more and more lately, and I know there is something for me to learn here.
That translation of the first Beatitude from The Message doesn’t tell us to keep from being at the end of our rope. It doesn’t say “if.” It says, “When you are at the end of your rope.” It will happen, and when it does, you are blessed. You are blessed because you are presented this great and awful opportunity. In the midst of your world feeling so out of control, you can be shaken from the stability and security you provide yourself, in what might be the only way to remember where we truly find stability and security. It is through surrendering our lives to God’s care that we experience the Kingdom. It can be difficult to do that in your everyday life where you’ve set up routines and structures to live as you see fit.
Look to those moments when you don’t have anything else to give as opportunities to go deeper with God. Those moments are dark and hard to see the way out. I pray they happen as rarely as possible, but when they do, remember the first Beatitude. Blessed are the poor in spirit! When you surrender to God’s care for you, You are participating in realizing the Kingdom of God on earth.
Lent can be a season to recognize parts of our lives that get in the way of loving God and others. I encourage you to take some time to reflect on what came up for you while reading this. Maybe some objections or some convictions. Bring them to prayer and ask what God wants you to do with them.
When we surrender our sense of being in control of our lives (or anything else), we have the opportunity for something more beautiful to happen. We have the space and the posture to co-create with God and be partners in realizing the Kingdom of God; in our community, in our family, in our work.
Coleen Calamari, CVV 21
Third Week of Lent
My year in CVV challenged me and changed me in many positive ways. I had countless experiences that continue to shape who I am as a young adult. I had moved to a different part of the country, where I was taken out of my comfort zone, to begin working with the marginalized and growing in community. Though it was difficult at times, the whole year was an immense blessing and opportunity to walk with people through the joys and sufferings of life. Words do little justice to express how much I value and learned from my journey with CVV.
Living in New York City now, it can be easy to get caught up in a self-centered culture. We all have places to go and tasks to accomplish. Yet, people find time to look out for their fellow New Yorker. It is inspiring when people look outside of themselves to help another. I often see someone sacrifice a seat on a crowded subway for the woman with a small child or someone offer leftovers to the person who is sitting alone on the sidewalk in the cold. Through these shared experiences, we together make up this imperfect, beautiful city.
Working as a nurse at a doctor’s office in New York City, I am not always encountering the marginalized in the same way as when I worked at Stout Street Health Center in Denver. My current patients typically do not have the same types of needs as the clients at Stout Street. I do, however, still encounter them at vulnerable times, such as before surgery or during illnesses. I have the privilege of being with, listening to, and offering advice during these instances. I am humbled to be entrusted with their concerns and feelings.
A unique aspect of my nursing position is working frequently with people who are immigrating to the United States. The office performs medical exams that are required during the green card application process. These exams include verifying the patient’s immunization status, among other health screenings. My favorite part of this office visit is listening to the patients’ diverse stories. Each person has his or her own unique background and circumstances that brought them to the country. I am often reminded of our border trip with CVV to El Paso, where met many people and listened to their experiences with immigration. I strive to help these patients feel cared for and listened to during a part of the often long application process.
My CVV experience taught me to see love and charity in all situations, from living in community while serving people experiencing homelessness in Denver to building a life in New York City. I continue to experience the charisms of CVV at home, at work, and with family and friends. We can participate in the Body of Christ within all life circumstances.
Sarah Mayer, CVV 17
Fourth Week of Lent
When I was reflecting on what to write for my Lenten reflection I could not help but think back to the reflection I wrote for the CVV newsletter. At the time, seven years ago, I felt quite torn up about the mandatory CVV mid-year move. My community was not without faults but to me the faults were few and far between. I tied this community to the physical location of 1544 Pearl Street and figured that everything would change if we moved. I struggled to realize that the brick and mortar surroundings did not define my community.
In the spring of 2011, I remember sitting in my Saint Mary’s College dorm room answering the application questions for CVV. When asked about how I would live with intentionality, I must confess, I googled the word intentional. Of course, I knew what the word meant but what did it mean in the context of community? I learned quickly that it meant pushing dinner back or forward depending on Mike’s rugby practice schedule because meals together were so important. I learned staying up late talking about life with Erin or Alison would make waking up for the 6am shift at St. Francis Center harder but not impossible. I remember the conversations much more than the dread I experienced getting out of bed on little sleep. I learned that it is possible to love people but not like them (Ryan Martin warned us that would happen).
CVV taught me a myriad of things but I would say the one constant has been intentionality in relationships. The excuses can pile up: work is busy, you are tired, you have had a long day, etc. The year after CVV ended, 13 of the 19 people in my year lived in Denver. It was an extension of CVV and spending time together was easy. As we have gotten older, people have moved away, gotten married, had babies, gotten graduate degrees, changed jobs, bought houses, and traveled the world. It can be hard but if CVV has taught me anything is that you still have to try. This extends beyond people from my CVV year and into my general friend group. There is not meaning beyond the saying “I do not have time for…”. You do have time, you just choose how to spend it and what to prioritize. I am nowhere near perfect but I try to be persistent to the people who are most important to me. Sometimes I think, gosh, no one ever let me in on the secret that friendships require a lot of effort. When I reflect, however, I realize CVV hinted at that idea. CVV was countercultural in many ways. One of those ways was living with intention. I am grateful for CVV for many reasons and one will be that CVV taught me to put into relationships that you “glean” something from.
Brian Sheehan, CVV 14
Fifth Week of Lent
“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” -John 12:24
My great uncle was a Trappist Monk. His name was Clarence “Nick” Prinster, and for a time during his early monastic and adult life, Brother Nick worked closely with Mother Theresa in India. Prior to becoming a monk, Nick was a handful; he gambled, drank, and radiated untamed vitality. In his later life,
Nick exuded tranquility, wisdom, and presence (this was the uncle I knew). And in his time between the polarities of youthful vigor and twilight quietude, Nick was exceptionally generative: He oversaw the year-round management of vast swaths of monastery farmland, he hand-built astonishingly elegant grandfather clocks, and worked side-by-side with Mother Theresa and her Sisters of Charity serving the destitute poor in a capacity he humbly referenced as “my apostolate.”
My uncle Nick passed away last summer at the age of 91. His entry into the next Great Journey was modest. During his final months of life, most would hardly characterize him as generative. Naturally, he spent much more time being cared for than producing, and needed more attention than he was capable of immediately giving. Yet in a peculiar way, Brother Nick’s process of dying and eventual death, though melancholy (I miss him), was productive. He left me with budding understanding where I expected a void.
Psychologist Erik Erickson was one of the first to articulate in secular terms what many mystics and religious thinkers with a grounded spirituality have intuited for centuries. Namely, Erickson stated that a healthy human psyche must develop throughout life. From birth until death, our interior sense of self is capable of growing to meet the challenges of life’s various stages, and ultimately bears fruit (i.e. generativity) by moving towards psychological integration.
In his work Sacred Fire, theologian and spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser puts it more pragmatically. He poignantly highlights that the road to human maturity unfolds according to a distinct pattern. Essentially, from adolescence onward, a fully lived life mirrors three sequential stages:
1.) Getting our lives together
2.) Giving our lives away
3.) Giving our deaths away
In Christian terms, this pattern is called the Paschal Mystery. At our collective best as Catholics, we hold the journey of birth, life, loving sacrifice, death, resurrection, and new life in the Spirit to be the underlying blueprint of a meaningful existence God writes in nature. We also believe God does not leave us alone to navigate the difficulties of this journey. Instead, God chooses to walk through a human, earthly life so we can coalesce as a community, have an ever-present Model to imitate, and glean from those who most gracefully live the Paschal voyage.
If I’m honest, I’m still probably in the ‘getting my life together’ phase. I still rent, I get bogged down by e-mails at work, and quite frankly my calendar can be an unruly source of anxiety. Sure, I work with kids, volunteer for an environmental group, and try to be kind. But If I compare my daily life to aspects of my uncle Nick’s, it’s easy to question if I’m really being generative at all!
I’ve been blessed to find myself in a professional leadership role over the last two years. As such, I’ve been challenged to view the contours of my daily work through the lens of service where the fruitfulness of my labor depends on my capacity to value others rather than simply getting my act together.
Hopefully, this is a sign I am entering the second stage of life – the ‘giving my life away’ stage. But even then, there are days I’m exceedingly busy in the name of ‘service,’ but despite all my scattered haste, I don’t seem to get anything done. The quality of my ‘giving’ when my nose is so tightly pressed to the proverbial grindstone that I can’t see beyond the challenges and complexities of the moment is inevitably characterized by concern, worry, and doubt.
My uncle Nick’s early adult life produced a wake of beauty I can only aspire to replicate in my own day-to-day activities. But paradoxically, witnessing his approach to death and dying teaches me more about making a meaningful impact than tallying his notable actions. In the end, I believe his knack for simply being is what made all his ‘doing’ so valuable , and because he knew what it meant to live contemplatively, his activity was all the more graced and fruitful.
This lent, I hope to imitate my uncle Nick. I pray that my days be marked by a little less doing and a little more being, fewer angst-filled reactions and more mindful pauses for prayer, and a generative interior space that manifests outwardly in the fruits of my labor. And more importantly, I pray that whoever reads this reflection also finds a productive sense of peace.
 Childhood and Society, by Erik Erickson
 Sacred Fire, by Ronald Rolheiser