2020 LENTEN REFLECTIONS
First Week of Lent
Reminiscing our CVV retreat to Snowmass Benedictine Monastery, a small sampling of my CVV22 house sat together in the retreat center nestled in the valley beneath Mt. Sopris. There was nothing grand about the experience–we simply cooked together, laughed at old memories, and reflected on the direction of our lives. And in this simple sharing of space between us, I felt so much joy and acceptance radiating from these women. Looking back on the 3 years since we all lived together, so much of who I am today is because of the formation from this beloved community.
I’ve been reflecting lately about how necessary this call to community is to be a healthy Christian. We have probably all heard the direction to “fill your cup before you can pour it out for others.” It illustrates the idea that the love you have to give in service to others must have a source within, letting love have a home in us. Examining our inner lives is perhaps one of the most neglected of Christian duties. But I’d argue that it is perhaps the most important! And while silence and individual reflection are key to this, I have often fallen into the trap of thinking my own, singular efforts are enough to cultivate love within.
On our own, our inner-landscapes can get a little ugly sometimes. My roommate Brigid (also CVV22) recently shared with me some wisdom from the spiritual master, Henri Nouwen. He says the great temptations include money, sex, and power but the greatest temptation we face is self-rejection. This is all too relatable. In my teaching practice I am constantly brought down by my failures and the nagging inner voice that my students aren’t getting the education or even the love that they deserve from me. I question myself in my relationships; sometimes my faults and confusion overpower my ability to see the good I offer others. And I am plagued by my role in society… so much of my daily life does not reflect my values of simplicity and caring for Creation. These voices make it hard to fill my cup with love.
This is where the centrality of community comes in. Henri Nouwen also talks about community as being the very first step of discernment. We can’t do this alone. At the Snowmass retreat center that night, I wasn’t just receiving warm fuzzies. I was receiving God’s affirmation of my inner self through the love of my close community. Their laughter told me I was allowed to be vulnerable and silly. Their openness gave me permission to reveal weakness. Their comforting, affirming words told me I was good to the core–my failings did not define me.
This Lent, I encourage you to explore the discipline of self-love. But don’t do it alone. The spiritual life is a sticky, beautiful mess of relationship-webs that God has woven in our lives. Draw near to your community, and let your cup be filled.
Second Week of Lent
Heather McCormack, CVV Year 20
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life.”
Worrying literally takes hours of your life. Remember that this Lent.
Happy Lent, CVV community. Something that has always stayed with me from my CCV year is Mary Frances saying to live in the liminal space, embrace the in between. Like when we went to the border, like when our income was $100 a month and yet we had shelter and food and safety, like when we were in a city of strangers and yet had twenty plus people praying for and loving us. In between spaces are difficult for us humans as we hunger for security.
I feel like I’ve been in a liminal space ever since I came to Colorado and it feels just as scary that I am in it again as I prepare to leave Colorado. I’ve been in Denver for 5 years, going on 6 since CVV 20. I’ve lived in the liminality of rooming situations, employment, and romantic relationships, between wealth and poverty, self-confidence and self-loathing, health and illness, wholehearted and broken hearted.
As much as I’ve longed for stability, certainty, and concrete answers, the most joy I’ve ever felt has been in liminal spaces. The times where I needed to sacrifice some control so God could hold me and slowly, painfully slowly, reveal His plan.
I’m sprinting toward the end of my master’s program, soon to sign my name with an MSW at the end of it and I am the most broke I hope to ever be in my life. I feel the societal shame every day that I should be saving, paying off debt, working harder, etc., etc. I’ve critiqued this Gospel passage before, “how can I not worry when if I stop worrying all the plates I’m spinning will fall and I’ll let others down, that can’t be God’s will, to let everybody down, right?” When I reflect on my current identity as a broke social work grad student, I’m struck by the amount of privilege I enjoy despite my bank account. I have a safe, beautiful home, the education to make a livable wage doing something I love, a university that supports my learning, and a spiritual community that buoys me when doubt arise. A friend reminded me that my current struggle to make ends meet over the next 4 months is a microcosm of those I wish to serve with my degree, and even then it’s a small snapshot into the barriers of systemic injustice, poor mental and physical health, and the cycle of poverty in this country and around the world.
Tonight, when I could have let the demon of fear take over, that demon that encourages me to stay silent, to minimize, to put up walls, I chose a different path. I reached out to my partner and we made a plan together regarding finances. That conversation didn’t change my bank account, but it shut down my panic. Liminal spaces are where we can learn the most about ourselves and reach for grace rather than hopelessness. Yes, God cares for the birds and clothes the lilies of the valley, how much more will He do for us? He gives us the gifts of one another. This Lent I invite you and myself to reject soul sucking worry and turn to a friend for life is more than food, and loved ones are more than the window-dressings of our lives. Friends are God’s helping hands, grasp them.
Third Week of Lent
Mariana Ugalda, CVV Year 23
Do not be afraid, for I am with you” -Isaiah 41:10
As I sit here at Annunciation Catholic School, reflecting on the past three years of my life, I can’t help but think of a word: trust. If you would have told me when I first arrived in Denver, that I was going to stay here for an additional two years after my CVV year, I would have laughed. I was clueless to the plans that God had for me. My time spent at Annunciation during CVV was transformative. It was then that I realized I wanted to pursue a career in education, specifically working with minorities and under-resourced communities; I just didn’t know the details. Should I go back home to LA? Would another opportunity lead me to another city? Would I stay in Denver?
I distinctly remember the Lenten season during my CVV year. These questions and fears about my future haunted me. I would not find out what was coming next until the summer after CVV, when I received a phone call from Bill and Mary Frances. They asked if I wanted to come back to Denver and be an alumni volunteer. When I was saying goodbye to the students at Annunciation during my first year of CVV, I had no idea that God would lead me back to experience that fulfillment, joy, and mutuality for a second time. There was no need to worry, God was there, guiding me.
I will admit, trust is not easy for me. I get caught up in my fears and doubts and wonder if I am making the right choices. I now find myself in the same situation as two years ago: unsure about the future and where my life is heading. This time around, instead of asking God for clarity, I want to ask Him to increase my trust in Him.
God has shown me time after time His trustworthiness. What better example of this than His suffering, death and resurrection? It is during His Passion that God shows us that He will never stop showing up. He will never leave us alone. I want to go through this journey with Him, just as He goes on this journey with me, trusting that I am with Him and He is with me.
Fourth Week of Lent
Mirka Gallo, CVV Year 23
Luke 5: 27-32
Jesus saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were at a table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Reflection: Reflect on a time in your life when grace came to you “unbidden and without explanation” and how did you respond?
(This reading and reflection question were taken from a Daily Lenten Reflection Book for 2020)
It has been almost 3 year since the end of my CVV career and while we go through a termination process towards the end of our year…things usually don’t hit me until months or years later. This reflection question hit me hard.
Once I finished out my CVV year I was fortunate enough to go on a camping trip to Wyoming for a week, flew home to Chicago to begin working right away before grad school started, started grad school to obtain my MSW, graduated that following May with my MSW, traveled for 5 weeks in Europe, flew home after 5 weeks and started working full time as a mental health clinician for a local nonprofit.
As I sit here writing this reflection today, this is the first time in the last 3 years I have had a moment to truly sit down and process the grace that God has given me. My CVV year was the first time I truly left everything up to God to follow him without protest. Everyone around me asked me not to go, my parents, my siblings, my friends. “Why are you going somewhere that won’t pay you enough, living with strangers, in a city so far from Chicago? Will you come back home? Will you be safe?” Truthfully, I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. I was following something in my heart, but how can you explain something that only you and God can see?
At this moment, I responded just as Levi did. A sinner unaware of the moment God was calling them to repent. In this moment Levi and I disregarded any cultural and societal norms and just said Yes. We said yes to putting away those undesirable thoughts of ourselves and finally feeling worthy of sitting at the same table with God the father.
It’s hard to hear grace sometimes, especially in a world filled with constant negativity, overindulgence in technology, and unrealistic goals. However, if we leave a little window for reflection and prayer God knows exactly what to say and how to say it.
Fifth Week of Lent
Gloria Van Sloun, CVV Year 14
Lately I have been reflecting on the life of my grandfather Ken (my mother’s father) who recently passed away. He was 84 years old, and I am so thankful for the relationship I had with him. In my grandpa I observed many qualities which I admired and seek to incorporate into my own life. I would appreciate the opportunity to share some of them with the CVV community.
My grandpa Ken was born in Minnesota, in a French-speaking household, to parents of French-Canadian descent. Grandpa Ken had a strong interest in music, and at twelve years old, after persistently asking his parents, he received a small accordion for Christmas. He immediately attached himself to it, and one month later he could play any song he tried. Shortly after, his parents gifted him a full-size accordion. Along with some cousins, he formed a band which they called “Frenchie’s Band.” He graduated high school in St. Paul, Minnesota, and met my grandmother Violet shortly after. They had two children, my mother and my uncle. My grandpa formed another band “The Triangles” with two of his brother-in-laws, and they had a blast playing local events for many years. Along with his family, music was my grandpa’s great love. As we reviewed photos at the funeral, we discovered many images of my grandpa gleefully playing his accordion, in some he even appeared to be laughing out loud.
However not everything was rosy in Grandpa Ken’s life. At 13 years old, he tragically lost his father to a heart attack, even after Grandpa attempted CPR on him. His wife (my grandmother) suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, and it affected every aspect of the family’s life. When I was young, my grandparents lost their house on the lake to bankruptcy, which they had built themselves and where they had created so many memories. And my grandpa suffered from many health problems, not just recently, but for as long as I can remember. Most impactful of these was cardiomyopathy, which affected his hands so severely that he could no longer play the accordion. In the last decade of his life, he used a walker and became blind and homebound.
But my grandpa chose not to focus on these setbacks. In fact I never heard him mention them. Rather, I always knew him to be cheerful and happy. Happiness, this idea that people spend unfathomable amounts of money chasing, my grandpa exuded from the recliner in his living room, not far from the city where he was born. Whenever I called him, he never talked about his own problems, but was much more interested in my life and wanted to know how I was doing. He somehow managed to focus his energy and attention on others instead of himself. Grandpa always made a point to thank us for visiting. He addressed everyone in the family individually, asking for specific updates on our lives and work. It was obvious that he did not take his family for granted, and that he enjoyed every minute of our time together. I seriously admired his ability to remain positive and thankful in the midst of his struggles.
When I reflect on the values Grandpa demonstrated, and my desire to grow them in myself, here are some questions I consider which you may also find fruitful:
-What is my attitude toward the people I encounter in my daily life? Do I give them my full attention or am I distracted? Do I show genuine concern for the needs of others? Where do I have room to grow?
-Who or what am I thankful for? Do I regularly give thanks for the gifts in my life? Do I tell the people in my life “thank you”? How do I demonstrate my gratitude?
-What is my “default” internal attitude? With what kind of outlook do I approach the world? Do I have room to focus more on the positive? How will I practice this?
Thank you for the chance to share about my Grandpa Ken. I enjoyed reconnecting with many of the alumni at the reunion last fall, and I continue to give thanks for my CVV experience and community. Thank you!
Sixth Week of Lent
Humberto Camarena, CVV Year 14
There are only a few events in my life where I can clearly identify a before and after. October 18th of last year marked such a turning point for me. Since then, I’ve learned what tear gas feels like in my nose, eyes and lungs. I’ve witnessed extreme police oppression on social media and in person. I’ve felt rage and indignation for human rights violations like never before. And, like millions of Chileans, I’ve also awoken to realize that composure, patience and complacency are privileges I will no longer hold.
Since October 18th I’ve also been inspired by millions of people marching for their rights. I’ve shared with hundreds of neighbors as we educate and organize. I’ve listened to strangers openly and honestly share their pain and rage towards an establishment that systematically oppresses the poor. I’ve seen young adults putting their bodies on the line for their future and the future of others. I’ve taken and shared countless images of dissent created out of the outrage of artists who aim to make visible what the privileged class ignores.
To say the least, the past four months of the popular revolution in Chile have been for me a call to break free from my personal inertia, to not just work towards social justice, but to actively demand human dignity for all. While my entire professional career I’ve been in the realm of nonprofits and social justice, for me, there is now a clear difference between working towards a cause and demanding human rights, and it has to do with what I’m willing to risk and how much I can afford to wait for change to happen.
There is a quote that has surfaced since the beginning of the revolution and has been widely shared; it is “Hasta que valga la pena vivir” or, in English, “Until life is worth living.” It’s hard to explain the intensity behind this phrase; the cultural and historic context of Chile makes this phrase particularly gut-wrenching. But, Eduardo Galeano’s quote does a good job of capturing its essence when he said, “It’s worthwhile to die for things without which it’s not worthwhile to live.” The quote captures with no exaggeration what’s on the line for millions of people.
In Chile, the social demands are clear, numerous and very much justified. Better pensions. Free and quality education. Timely, quality and accessible healthcare for all. A living wage. End to government corruption. Protection of natural resources. As I continue to hold conversations where people will no longer accept negotiating their human dignity, I ask myself what will it take for the US to begin to demand rights and let go of the privileges of composure, patience and complacency? How many children do we have to see locked in cages for us to be sufficiently outraged? How many accounts of rape must be taken to court in order for us to actively defy a systematically sexist and patriarchal society? How many more mass shootings are we willing to put up with? How much more manipulation of the justice system do we have to witness before we react to the crumbling of a democratic process? How many more black and brown lives must be killed and incarcerated for us to react with the appropriate response to the taking of innocent lives?
When will we sincerely put ourselves and our privileges on the line so that all may have a dignified life? Lent is a time of reflection where Christians around the world are invited to remember Christ’s story, His sacrifice and see themselves reflected in His teachings. During this time, I’d like to call for a very genuine personal reflection for everyone to ask yourself what you believe in and if you are doing everything you can to make that a reality.
I think back to my CVV community often and recall our conversations on the environmental justice movement. I remember our passionate marches against the School of the Americas and the ICE detention facility. I reminisce about Obama’s first election and how it pushed us into believing that real change is possible. I fondly think about those memories more than 10 years later and reflect on what we got right and what we got wrong, but one important take away is that I realize how relevant those issues still are today, and how our (in)action is just as relevant.
Kelsey Ryan-Simkins, CVV Year 20
Lent has always been my favorite liturgical season. During the darkness and cold of winter, I find myself slowing down and turning inward. The Lenten season invites me to mindfully reorganize my life as I emerge from that space.
Over the years, I have adopted a variety of practices of fasting and mindfulness during Lent: drinking only water while donating to organizations that provide clean water in remote places, abstaining from social media, writing hand-written letters to family and friends, etc. It is perhaps significant that I don’t remember how I chose to observe Lent during my CVV year. The entire year asked me to disrupt, examine, and rebuild my daily routine around the values of simplicity, community, and service.
This Lenten season, I found myself in a similar place of radically reorienting my everyday life. The week after Ash Wednesday my husband Mike (CVV20) and I welcomed our first child, Asher, into the world. My labor leading up to Asher’s birth spanned several exhausting and intense days. During this time, I relied extensively on Mike for physical and emotional support. At the hospital, we both found the attentiveness and care of the nurses and midwives brought a calm and joyfulness to the birth. Now at home, caring for an utterly dependent newborn, I am giving deeply of myself in new ways.
Throughout this experience, I have been reflecting on how accepting service, often even more so than giving it, reveals our mutual dependence on one another. During my CVV year, I was keenly aware of this dependence. My daily needs were met by my community and the generosity of the extended CVV community of supporters. There were many times I felt gifted by the people I worked with in the Elyria-Swansea community surrounding The GrowHaus.
This Lent, I am reminded of our reliance on one another. We need our close family and friends who accompany us during difficult parts of our journeys. We need the compassion of strangers. And, we need to be prepared to give of ourselves. When Mike and I brought Asher home with us, I couldn’t have imagined that two weeks later the city would have shut down around us and everyone would be cocooning themselves inside for the next month(s?). As we practice social distancing in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, may we find creative ways to connect with others. May we be grateful for the service of nurses and physicians, janitors and grocery store employees, and all those on whom we rely for our health and wellbeing. May we continue to give and connect despite the distance.
A poem for the season:
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love–
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20