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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Embarking on your Faith Journey

Have any of you ever read a really great book or watched a really great movie or heard a really great story? Now, what did that book, movie or story have that was so great about it? Maybe it had to do with some mythical place, or an incredibly interesting main character. Perhaps you were able to identify with it in some way. Something about that story drew you in. And I can tell you, that each of these stories has something very simple in common. They all have some sort of journey that you as the reader, watcher, or listener follow. It may be a journey to a long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia, Metropolis or Gotham. It might be a journey of self-discovery, or one where the main character saves the world. We are drawn into this story. We are drawn into the mystery.

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I have this map up here. It belongs to my Dad, and it had a prominent place in my home for most of my life. It’s a hand drawn map of Middle Earth, the world that J.R.R. Tolkien created for his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. I grew up staring at it, memorizing the landmarks and physical obstacles along the way from the Shire to Mount Doom in Mordor. This is one of the stories that I was enamored with as a child. I loved the idea of the adventures that took place in Middle Earth. I wanted to meet characters like Bilbo and Gandalf, and I wanted to be a strong heroin just like Arwen.

Now, what if I told you that our faith can be just like one of these journeys.

Just like the ones that we see in our favorite books, movies, or stories.

 You might be thinking I’m a little crazy at this point. But, one of my favorite saints, St. John Paul II is quoted in saying, “Life with Christ is a Wonderful Adventure”.

There is a moment in every story where the main character is posed with a question. Usually that question is whether or not to take on an adventure. Whether they’re off to destroy a ring, find a horcrux, or save the city from eternal doom, there is a moment when the main character consciously makes the choice to do the right thing. And often enough, we learn that the main character was destined to take part in that journey.

So are we.

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This painting is one of my favorites. It’s called “The Calling of St. Matthew” and it was painted by a guy named Caravaggio in 1600. Here we can see a ray of light making its way to Matthew, while Christ is pointing at him. The story of this painting actually comes from a story in the Gospel. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:

 “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew- sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. While he was at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and his disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” – Matthew 9:9-13

We all have this moment. There is a moment where we are asked to join Christ on a journey. We are asked to accompany him on an adventure that we were made for.

My faith journey started out like many others. It was quiet. I grew up on Long Island, went to public school, lived with my Grandma, Mom & Dad, big sister Julie, and went to Mass on Sundays. I played with neighbors as a kid, and loved to draw and write stories. For me, this moment of encounter didn’t happen as a child, at my baptism, first communion, or confirmation, but rather, it happened on a retreat, kind of like the one you’re on right now. I had had a couple of really rough years in high school. I was anxious, depressed, I had lost friends, and a boyfriend who I was too dependent on, and my Dad had moved out and my parents divorced. I was a senior in 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. Ironically, or not so ironically, the theme of the retreat was “I will Follow” and we had to sing this awful song and do silly hand movements to it. However, 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. 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 of what was burdening us. There were thousands of pebbles on the beach. We each picked up two rocks. One represented our burdens, and one represented a promise. We each threw our burden into the Sound, and held on tight to our promise. I began to open up then. But the true turning point for me was on Saturday night. I sat in adoration of the Eucharist, which is when the Eucharist is exposed in a gold stand called a monstrance for a prolonged period of time. I desired mercy; just like St. Matthew. 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 come, and follow Him.  I felt an overwhelming sense in my heart that I was loved. Truly Loved.

In that moment, just like St. Matthew, I got up, and followed Him.

I was drawn into the mystery.

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I found Joy on that retreat. For the first time in a long time, I found joy in doing simple everyday things. I even found Joy in getting stuck in the mud of a small Long Island Harbor, after running after my friends onto what looked like solid ground. In case you were wondering, I did ruin my flip flops that day. I had no idea what this journey would entail or what my destination would be. To be completely honest with you, I still don’t know what the destination is. I can tell you, that since I decided to get up and follow Him, my life has truly been an adventure. I’ve gone places, done things, and encountered people that I wouldn’t have even thought possible in High School. But, I had to take that first step and climb that very high mountain. I had to leave my comfortable life behind, and like Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, I left the Shire.

I started to take my volunteer work seriously. I was a volunteer with the Middle School Youth Group at my Parish. I played silly games along the way with middle schoolers and enjoyed it. I even let a 12 year old do my hair with shaving cream for the “Edge Kids Take Over”. It took a few showers to get it all out.

I went on trips to places I had only dreamed about before. I walked the streets of Dublin and Paris with my Mom and sister.

I took in the beauty of one of the world’s oldest book of Gospels, The Book of Kells, in Dublin, and I stood in awe of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. I went on pilgrimage to Madrid, Spain for World Youth Day 2011. I walked along the same cobblestone streets as St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross. I sat in the same churches as a Doctor of the Church. As a group, we went to Mass with various English-Speaking Cardinals, and eventually with Pope Benedict XVI.

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We stood and humbly waited in the rain, which was described as a hurricane over the announcer. There was obviously a mistranslation there. And we waited for the Pope to arrive. We met young Catholics from all over the world: Colombia, France, Iraq, Australia, Nigeria, and Malaysia. I found I had a friend in Jesus’s mother after I realized that each church I went into had the image that my Parish is named after, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This still happens by the way.

In college, I continued to follow Him along a path that I couldn’t quite see, and had some incredible experiences. I trudged through Washington DC in 10 degree weather as a witness to the beauty that Human Life is at the March for Life.

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 I studied in Galway, Ireland, after working up the courage to follow the desires of my heart and change my major from something that would secure me a job after graduation, to something that I truly loved: English Literature and Irish Studies.

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 I sat in the middle of a country road in a town where there were more sheep than people, and appreciated the beauty of creation with a sunrise at 4am with some of my wonderful classmates.

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 I took a bus and visited relatives that I had never met and shared in faith and tea and ice cream with them. We drove all over my Grandfathers hometown.  I felt a little silly standing with that tomb stone in the rain, but I knew that these were the family members that gave me my Catholic faith, this was the church where my grandparents and great grandparents worshipped a God who is Love, and so I complied and smiled as a cousin I barely knew took my picture.

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I walked across the Peace Bridge in a city where violence was the norm for so long. I shared in the hurt that my cousins felt from the past, but also listened to their hope for their city and for their home. I quite literally crossed the River Foyle with them and was present as they shared their story and their heart with me.

I traveled in a minivan, and my campus minister was pulled over by cop in West Virginia for going 83 mph, to a place that I had never been. There were mountains there. I served the poor of Appalachia in Beauty, KY with some of the most kind-hearted, loving people I know.

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The Lord helped me break out of my comfort zone by working with power tools and to truly be present with the people of Beauty. I was reminded by a cook that I met from Georgia, just how beautiful my soul was, and how she could see it in my eyes. I spoke of my love for Mother Teresa and the Catholic Faith with a nurse from the next town after she confided in me just how beautiful she found the Catholic Church, even though she was a Baptist. She met me with love, not judgment, just as Jesus had.

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I built a deck and a ramp that week along with 8 of my classmates and mentors. That is something I would have never thought I could do, much less that I would want to. My Dad still doesn’t quite believe it.  Even in the mud that week, I found Joy.

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More recently, Jesus asked me to climb an even higher mountain. He asked me to serve in a way that I had never thought before. He asked me to move away from home to a place called Garrison, and to run retreats where students could encounter Him. I laughed, but after much prayer and a leap of faith, I went. And I could not be happier. Those words that JPII spoke are true, “Life with Christ is a wonderful adventure.”

Will you get up and follow him?

This presentation was given on the Sophomore Retreat: Faith Journey through CYFM. 

Life Lately (in pictures)

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The past few weeks have been pretty busy, but here are some pictures from the CYFM camera, and from my iphone. These pictures are mostly from Saints for Youth, our Young Adult Retreat, and Youth Group.

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My Saint for the Saints for Youth Retreat was St. Maria Goretti

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Amanda had Padre Pio and Fr. Tomas had St. Leopold (they’re both in the Vatican now!)

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I’m not the best with skits, so I was grateful to have a veteran CCV visit my group.

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Young Adults!

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Leaving room for the Holy Spirit

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Finding Therese’s roses all around CYFM

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Fr. Fred loves Therese!

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Last but not least, Youth Group.

Such fun. It’s been a good few weeks.

Mary

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.

Leadership 2015

Originally posted on the Cap Corp Volunteer Blog

Silly Leadership

When we arrived on Sunday, August 23rd the Leadership retreat felt like years away. Of course it was only next weekend, but we had so much time to prepare during the week.

It was a whirlwind.

We had our first retreat planning on Monday afternoon. I don’t think any of expected to have everything happen so fast. But we planned. And we prayed. And we hoped everything would work out.

I’m pretty sure we all felt worried about the retreat. But I was very worried. I was worried that I didn’t know my part well enough, that I would stumble and fall. I was worried that God wouldn’t use my story or me in the way we had talked during planning. I was worried that I couldn’t be used in this community.

I became so worried right before the retreat but was able to become calm as the team ate dinner together, and teens began to arrive.

My piece on how communication is important to being a leader was on the first night. As I walked up with my partner for the module, I said a quick prayer that I would be at ease, that I would be able to carry out his will.

And He was faithful. Tim and I were able to run through our module and explain why communication can be difficult and what we can do to be better communicators. Then came my witness talk. I felt confident. So I began confidently. Half way through I was overcome with emotion. I guess it had hit me. That moment when you realize how powerful God’s grace has been in your life. I was choked up and I knew if I tried to speak I would begin balling in front of this group of 35 people. So I took a moment, collected myself, and let the tears come, calmly. I finished my witness and felt as though I had shared a deep part of myself with the group. And I did do that. But I didn’t expect to receive affirmation and encouragement from my peers and the teens afterwards. They were grateful, and through that I began to see how He could use me in this community. Coming to CYFM on August 23rd, I didn’t expect to share a part of my story in such an intimate way so soon. But, it was His will and He was faithful.

Although the first night of the retreat was most powerful for me, I felt his grace throughout the weekend. I felt his grace through the mass, our Saturday night prayer service, and through a few teens that He used to touch my heart.

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This is an incredible ministry that I feel so blessed to be a part of. Thank you, CYFM for welcoming the CCVs into your community so lovingly. See you all on Friday!

With Love,
Mary

New Beginnings

The first day as a Cap Corp Volunteer at Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries

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Saying goodbye is hard.

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But, new beginnings are exciting. Especially when you’ve only ever lived in your bedroom at home.

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After 24 hours, things are starting to feel more complete. We now have keys to our home.

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And then I was finally able to fully make my bed,

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And eat cookie butter with pretzels,

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And successfully go grocery shopping. We even came in under budget.

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With some down time I was able to write a few good letters.

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Overall my first day was good. We received a lot of information at work, and I’m still processing that. That’s okay though. I have all year to adapt, and get better with the way things work here. My room is mostly unpacked. It feels kind of empty, but that’s probably because it’s much bigger than my room at home. Tomorrow we have mass at the Red House and some more orientation. So, Jesus will officially be moving into our house (he couldn’t make it yesterday).

Lots of love and prayers,
Mary

Capuchin Outreach and CYFM

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Being that I wasn’t able to visit CYFM during a retreat, I was invited to take part in their annual Capuchin Outreach Program. This is a service based retreat for high school aged students. I was asked to participate in the Vacation Bible School because this particular program had the most student volunteers and number of participants. There were about 40 kids, and 16 teens. Now, I had never been to VBS, or volunteered to help at one. And yet, I felt obligated to kind of know what was happening. After all, I was supposed to be the “Adult”, and at the same time I felt like I was to take a step back and really observe and try to understand CYFM as a whole. It was a bit conflicting.

We had survived the first day of VBS and successfully learned the choreography to “Stand Together” and “Stand Strong”. By the end of the day, I realized that the scripture sharing (which I was in charge of) would need to be altered for each age group. And I was exhausted. By the end of the day I had familiar feelings of loneliness and a sense of not being good enough set in. For as long as I can remember, these feelings follow a new day anywhere, even in Church settings.

But Tuesday was a new day. And it was better. And Wednesday came, and it was better. I had started to feel comfortable with the teens, and I had a better understanding of the needs of the kids at VBS. Water day was my favorite part of VBS, and I would say that this was my turning point, I had started to feel like myself again.

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Thursday came, and we played messy games and had a talent show. I wrote my prayer partner letter and spent time in the beautiful chapel. And then friday came. We finished scripture sharing strong and VBS was over. The closing ceremony after mass started, and I found out that the chaplain of CYFM had been assigned to pray for me. This was a big piece of assurance for me from the Big Guy. By the end of the week I had a better sense of why I was put there, and a better sense of the community as a whole. This year is going to be an adjustment for me, and that is something that I can’t ignore anymore. But when I got home Friday night, I had a spiritual high, and Chris gave me an anniversary present.

This present was super appropriate, and he knew that. It was a St. Therese of Lisieux medal, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the back. St. Therese, being the patron of missionaries, even though she never left her convent, and the Sacred Heart, the devotion of Saint Leonard, my saint of the year. Also, I totally just noticed this, but Saint Leonard was a Franciscan who gave Parish retreats and who was an ascetic writer. That’s almost too similar to what I’m going to be doing this year.

If you want to read about COP from the perspective of a current CCV, you can do that Here.

Before I leave you today, here are some lovely pictures from the two chapels at Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries, where I spent much of my alone time on the COP 2015 retreat.

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Love and prayers,
Mary

The Hudson Valley

Also posted on Dignitatem

Some of you know that I had an overnight visit and interview with Capuchin Youth and Family Ministries last week. This ministry is located in the beautiful Hudson Valley of New York.

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Although, I didn’t get the chance to take any pictures of my own, I’ll have plenty of time to do that in the upcoming year. Before I left, I asked a good friend about what was appropriate to wear to this interview. Because, to be honest, I had no idea. So I took her advice and kept it casual for the visit, and went business casual for the interview. Before I left the house, I took a good long look at a gift from my boyfriends Mom that she gave me for graduation. It has that famous verse from Jeremiah on it:

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11

I began my trip with Mass at my home parish. I packed an overnight bag, a towel, sleeping bag, and pillow. This is mainly because I forgot to ask about the sleeping arrangements before I left.

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I started my trip in Garrison, where the retreat house and offices are located. There I was given a tour, and introduced to the office staff at CYFM. The grounds were beautiful. They are right on the Hudson, but you can’t see the Hudson because of bamboo. I can’t wait to work here.

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After the initial tour, one of the current CCVs (Cap Corp Volunteers) took me to their place of residence. Before we actually went to the Red House, we stopped in Beacon, the little town that they live in. We parked, and walked over to a coffee house, which I am so excited to visit again. There was also a community garden in the town! Hollis (the CCV) told me that the garden is used by local restaurants. And then I fell in love.

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The rest of Tuesday was spent at the Red House, where the current CCVs made me feel at home. They also have access to an itty bitty Chapel, which is in their house.

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Wednesday began with Mass and breakfast. Then we went back to CYFM and I had my final interview. The CCVs, Fathers Marvin and Fred, and the rest of the CYFM staff saw me off and told me to get back to them with my decision. I celebrated with a caramel mocha latte from McDonalds.

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Many of you know how difficult this past year was for me in terms of figuring out what my next step would be. It’s funny how in hindsight one can see how God was leading them all along. I can’t wait to see how God is going to use me in the next year, and where he’ll lead me next. Please keep me in prayer!

Love and prayers,
Mary

Affirmations

IMG_1432Have you ever done an activity that makes you really, really happy? This past monday the Newman Club put on an activity to affirm one another. Here’s how to play:

– Have one person stand in front of a wipe board

– Have multiple dry-erase markers ready

– Other students write affirming phrases and words around the lone person standing in front of the board

– Everyone steps back after one minute of writing

– The lone person stays at the wipe board and a picture is taken

– After the meeting, the pictures are posted online

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It’s a nice little activity, and its the type of thing that one can go back and look at. If you help out with or run a youth ministry or campus ministry program you should try this activity out. It’s really, really wonderful.