On being a cheerful servant

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Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

Student: Why would you be a cup of coffee?

Me: Because it’s warm, inviting, it’s like a hug in a cup, and it wakes you up in the morning.

Student: I like that answer!

From the time that I was in High School, I have had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. So much so, that during my sophomore, junior, and senior years of high school I would arise ten minutes before I had to leave the house. My alarm would go off at 6:15am, I would then repeatedly hit snooze for a half hour, and finally arise at 6:45am. My Mom and I would then leave the house between 6:55 and 7:00am. I was a master at getting ready within ten minutes. I had the routine down to a science. My bags would be packed with my breakfast, lunch, and water bottle (at this time I hadn’t discovered the sweetness that is a cup of coffee). I would roll out of bed, brush my hair, use the bathroom, brush my teeth, and finally change. This became my routine each and every morning.

As I transitioned into college, this struggle became even more real since I had to do so on my own and drive 30-45 minutes to my college campus every morning. It was during this time that I discovered the wonderful perks of caffeinated beverages. I had a Dunkin Donuts gift card from my summer job and decided to use it each morning during my commute. This struggle of trying to wake up at a decent time has continued to be a struggle through my college and post-college career.

As I began my year of service with Capuchin Youth & Family Ministries, I knew that one of my greatest challenges of the year would be getting up and ready for the day before the students on the retreat. This proved to be especially difficult being that our retreats typically don’t wind down until about 11:30pm. This means that most of the retreatants don’t settle down until after midnight, sometimes much later. Being the “adult” it is my job to make sure that everyone is safe, in their beds, and attempting to sleep. I repeatedly tell them, “You know that I love you all, but do you know what I love even more? Sleeping.”

These odd work hours have become one of the greatest struggles of my Cap Corps year as well as one of my greatest joys. It is definitely the most difficult part of my job this past year. We constantly rearrange our sleep schedule based on different retreat programs. This is physically demanding, and lying in bed until the last possible minute doesn’t work in this field. One of the ways that I know helps me each day is waking up before the retreatants and being ready to wake them up. One of the struggles of this is doing it with a smile.

I realized early on in the year that this would be a challenge for me. In October of 2015, CYFM put on a Lock-In because of an unexpected open weekend. As bright-eyed, baby CCVs, we were so excited to put on a program that we were able to plan from scratch. However, with an overnight program filled with activities came little to no sleep. I believe I slept for a total of three hours during that retreat. The morning came, and myself along with four other volunteers and two friars had to be bright eyed, smiling servants.

As we prepared breakfast, and as the cherubs slowly rose and made their way down to the dining hall, I was actually cheery. To be honest, I still don’t know how this miracle occurred, being that I was actually exhausted. Fr. Tomas, being his normal, joyful self commented on my cheeriness and appearance of alertness. However, holding my warm cup of coffee in my hands, the only answer that I could come up with for him was that I was “faking it”.

This idea, for me, goes back to my time training to be a peer leader when I was in High School. I was a part of a ministry team that would be running the icebreakers, liturgy, and behind the scenes tasks at a youth conference in upstate New York (everything north of Westchester is upstate to a Long Islander, don’t yell at me!). The week involved Discipleship training, as well as practicing skits, games, etc. On our final day of the youth conference we were all exhausted. We rose at 6am to begin preparation for the final day of Ministry, and my youth minister was particularly cheery, as the rest of us were, well not.

I remember looking at him, with tired eyes, and asking, “Tom, how are you so awake right now?!” His response was simple, and it stuck with me (and stayed with me throughout my year of service).

“I’m not,” he replied “I’m faking it,” and he still had a smile on his face.

This idea stuck with me, not because it made my youth minister inauthentic, or made the job of ministry seem easy. This idea stuck with me because it made me realize that my youth minister was a real person, who genuinely cared about our well-being, and our souls. And although we were all exhausted, we were still there to serve, and we were there to be cheerful servants, not grumbly servants.

“Do everything without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world, as you hold on to the word of life, so that my boast for the day of Christ may be that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you. In the same way you also should rejoice and share your joy with me.” Philippians 2: 14-18

And so, that morning in October, I was reminded of that encounter and the lesson that it taught me way back when.

Whether or not I kept this lesson in mind during later retreats is a different story. However I was reminded of this lesson towards the end of the year at one of the CAM orientation days. We were playing a question game, and one question that I was asked went like this:

Student: If you could be any food, what food would you be?

I thought for a minute and couldn’t think of a food. But, for some reason at that moment, I was reminded of one of my struggles this year: getting up on time, and doing it with a smile. And so, I cheated.

Me: Hmm. I’m going to cheat with this one: I would be a cup of coffee.

When I was asked why, I responded honestly, hoping that these attributes were part of my year. I hope that I was warm, and inviting to each retreatant, and to my fellow leaders. And I hope that I was able to wake everyone up in the morning.

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The Emmaus Witness

ORBEC Walk To Emmaus #10

As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.

A conversion of heart occurs in this story from scripture. One of the great things about it is how many times this conversion happens for the disciples, and in how it shows how many different ways this conversion can occur. For me, it is a reminder that our conversion of heart, our encounter with God, doesn’t just happen once, but happens over and over again, until finally (hopefully) we rest with God in his Kingdom. I think that each one of us can think back on our faith journey, and remember our first conversion of heart. Perhaps you are still able to remember that moment. You can remember every little detail about it, the lighting, the smells, and that word, song, or talk that changed your life for the better. Perhaps it was in this very room.

In my story, my conversion of heart occurred in a room very similar to this one. But before we can get to that moment, we need to back up a little bit. My relationship with Jesus began when I made my confirmation in the seventh grade. And since I became a Cap Corps, every week, sometimes multiple times, I get up here to this podium, and tell seventh and eighth graders how I made the decision to follow Jesus at my Confirmation. I can give that talk because it is true. I found a home in the youth ministry program at my parish. I made real friends, and found that I loved learning about my faith. I shared that I had found a true friend in Jesus with the seventh and eighth graders who were here last weekend. And while all of these stories sound nice, and they are; and they can help a twelve or thirteen year old know that Jesus can be a friend to them, that moment wasn’t the turning point for me in my story. My full story is a little different. Sometimes, the story isn’t as pretty and put together; sometimes we’re the disciples running away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion.

In the eighth grade my parent’s marriage began to fail. And while their marriage hadn’t been the best throughout my childhood, it still allowed some stability throughout my young life. There was a routine, Mom got home at 5:30 and gave us dinner, and Dad’s schedule shifted because of his two jobs, but he would come home, eat dinner and watch TV, eventually. But, when my Dad stopped sleeping in his bedroom, my world changed. It was here that I truly learned to pray, and depend on God. Two years later, they finally divorced and my home life changed permanently. Youth group became my stable environment. And while there were adults who cared about me, and true friends who were there for me; I went to that blue door of the old convent, down the stairs to a blue room each week for my “Jesus fix”.

As time went on, the youth group year moved forward. And we began to discuss heavier topics like, the importance of the Eucharist, chastity, and pornography; I began to realize that the guy that I was dating, whom I believed I was in love with and was going to spend my life with, was not treating me right, and the things that we were doing, even though we weren’t having sex, were not chaste or holy. I couldn’t swallow that truth though. I knew that what we were doing was not right, but hearing that truth out loud made it all too real for me. These things that we did made me feel better. I was still dealing with that change at home. I was learning how to live in my house without my Dad, and many times, because of work, without my Mom too. This guy made me feel loved and wanted, I felt as though I had a purpose with him.  So, I made excuses, tried to push the Church’s teachings out of my mind, and eventually began to completely ignore the guilt and the pain that I was feeling.  I threw my moral compass out the window each time I saw this guy, and I began to run away from Jerusalem.

The next few years were filled with your typical teenage drama: heartbreak, angst, but also with depression and anxiety. When that relationship, which I thought was worth throwing my faith away for, finally fell apart, I was distraught. It felt as though I had to relearn how to live. By the time I reached my senior year of High School, I wasn’t living a life for Christ, even though I had gone to Church, to youth group, and volunteered my time to the poor and to the younger children at my parish. I was living day to day, trying to fake a smile, and act as though everything was okay. I knew that I wasn’t though. I knew that I was loved, but couldn’t grasp what that meant, or how it could affect my life.

And so I went on this retreat. I didn’t particularly like going to youth group anymore, but out of habit, I went on the Spring Retreat. I wasn’t so keen on going, and as we opened the retreat I wasn’t sold on the theme song. I had been going to counseling, so I began to get my depression and anxiety under control, and I knew that being a scutch and remaining closed off was not going to be fun for anyone. So, I tried to be open and listen to all of the presentations and participate in the prayer services.

Jesus was walking with me, even though I didn’t recognize him. Friday night we handed whatever was burdening us over to God by tossing a rock into the Long Island Sound. We were asked to quiet ourselves, and to think about what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach, and the sun had gone down, leaving a beautiful blue-green color painted on the sky. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. Then we each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. Although I still didn’t recognize him, Jesus was walking with me, and I urged him to stay.  

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

I sat in adoration of the Eucharist. I remember that moment; it was when everything changed for me. I can remember every detail of that night. The room was dim; the monstrance was beautiful and was surrounded by candles. I remember the smell of the incense burning. Through tear stained eyes, all I could see was Jesus. Everyone else had disappeared. Then I heard the words of a familiar song,

“He is jealous for me, Loves like a hurricane; I am a tree, bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy. When all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are, and how great your affections are for me. Oh, How He loves us.”

I had experienced God’s loving grace in the sacrament of confession. And as I sat, for the first time feeling peace in front of the Eucharist, I cried, and felt a whisper in my heart to rest, to let go, and to come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly, truly Loved.

“And heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss… I don’t have time to maintain these regrets when I think about the way he loves us.”

Suddenly things made sense. Christ was truly present in the Eucharist. Heaven came down to earth each time Mass was celebrated. Each time bread is broken at table, Christ becomes recognizable to us in the most humble, beautiful way possible. That true love, that acceptance and guidance that I had been looking for was there right in front of me:

“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

The gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, for me, is the most important aspect of my faith. It is why I am Catholic. We are able to receive him every day if we want to. That’s crazy to me. Since my encounter, I started to look at the Eucharist in a different light. I guess you could say that I started to take it more seriously. I went to World Youth Day in Spain that summer, and for the first time in my life, went to mass each day. Being able to receive the Eucharist each day helped my love for Jesus in the Eucharist grow more and more. Seeing young people from all over the world, who share the same belief, reverently, receive the body and blood of Christ changed the way that I receive the Eucharist.

However, as life moves forward, I still get distracted, and forget what gift of love is in front of me. There is another story from the Gospel of Luke that speaks to this:

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.  She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

I think that many times, I can be a Martha. And I’m sure that many of you feel the same way. I’m a do-er. I pay attention to the details because in my eyes, without them, whatever you’re trying to doesn’t matter. Like if you’re running youth group, and you forget pens for your journaling prayer station. That’s an important detail! But God still shows up. Suddenly you remember that there are a few pens in this bag, and that bag, and then suddenly you have enough pens for your prayer station. I like to do service projects where I can see God’s grace pouring out to those we are serving. And sometimes, I forget the power that prayer holds.

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Like Martha, I am cleaning, cooking, and preparing for Jesus to enter my home. It doesn’t matter that he’s already here; there is a spill on the floor over there that I need to clean now, because Jesus deserves better. How am I supposed to host him if I don’t have any clean plates? How am I supposed to let him into my heart, unless my soul is in a perfect state of grace? How is he supposed to love me if I can’t love myself?

These are questions that run through my mind when I am brought before the Eucharist in Adoration. Like Martha, I am often anxious and worried about many things. I begin to think that I am unworthy, or that those things I did years ago still matter. And then Jesus reminds us that Mary has chosen the better part.  Just being with him in the Eucharist is enough. He wants us to spend time with him. Fulton Sheen once said,

“The only time the Lord asked the apostles for anything was the night he went into agony. Not for activity did he plead but for an hour of companionship.”

Mary understood the gift of love that was in front of her. (It must be something about the name.)

She chose the better part. Our Lord loves us so much that he humbles himself to become ordinary bread, we receive him and we adore him. In the breaking of the bread, our eyes are opened.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story, and how Christ has touched my life.

*This witness was given on the College and Young Adult Retreat in February of 2016 at CYFM*

Lent

This post originally appeared on the Cap Corps Volunteer Blog

It’s that time of year again!  This Wednesday, Christians all over the world are reminded of their sinfulness and of their dependence on the Grace of God. The video above explains Lent and Ash Wednesday in two minutes… only two minutes! Take a couple of minutes, watch, and learn. Often enough, we as Catholics feel that we need to do some extraordinary acts during Lent to show that we are indeed, devout Catholics.

Don’t let your pride get in the way of letting yourself grow spiritually. The Church calls us to pray, fast, and to give alms. What is one thing that you can do to make your relationship with God better this Lent? What is one thing that is keeping you from God? Maybe its netflix, instagram, or checking your phone too much. Fast from it. How can you give of yourself? Whether it’s monetarily, or a giving of your gifts to someone else. Think about it. What would you like to do to share yourself with the world during these 40 days.

Fr. Mike Schmitz has some great advice for what we can do for Lent in this video:

Still not sure what you should do? Check out these resources:
Become a Missionary of Mercy this Lent.
As you know, Pope Francis declared this year a year of Mercy. The Capuchin Franciscans have been made special Missionaries of Mercy for this Jubilee Year. The Mass was Monday. Each Province sent a Friar to be present. Check out the pictures here!
Want more information on how to be a Missionary of Mercy? Check out these links:
Make this your best Lent yet. Prepare your heart for Easter, for the risen Christ by dying to self with Him for 40 days.