Every day when I walk into work and turn on the lamp at my desk, I take a moment to look at one of the “decorations” on my corkboard, a note card that I received from a Sister of Mercy during my year in MVC. On the front of the card, inscribed in beautiful forest green calligraphy, is a quote from Catherine McAuley: “We should be as shining lamps, giving light to all.”
I keep this card pinned in a key spot, diagonal from the red “If you want peace, work for justice” bumper sticker that also hung above my desk at my service site – St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Baltimore – and close to the mug with an engraved Inner Harbor skyline that the St. Francis Social Justice Committee gave me as a farewell gift. These keepsakes always give my heart a little tug, a reminder to give thanks for the people I met in Baltimore and for my MVC experience as a whole. On a deeper level, these items inspire me to reflect on how I can keep living out the tenets of MVC and how I can bring light to all that I do.
The idea of learning to be a “shining lamp” captures the MVC experience so well. As a volunteer, you confront many difficult questions – How do I bring light to my service site and to the people I’m serving? How do I bring light to my fellow volunteers and help create a community where they feel empowered to do the same? How do I cultivate my spirituality so that my faith and actions reflect God’s light and love? Yet in the midst of the hardships and heartaches that you are bound to encounter through service, there’s a constant call to find hope, goodness, and light. Catherine McAuley’s words inspire me to keep confronting similar questions in my life today – How do I bring light to my job? How do I bring light to my relationships with my family, friends, and coworkers? How do I keep building my relationship with God and recognizing God’s light all around me?
I’m grateful that MVC taught me not only to ask these questions but also to be comfortable with not knowing the answers right away. If you asked me five years ago when I finished my year of service to describe the most meaningful parts of my MVC experience, I would have told you about working with the students and families at St. Francis, about the adventures my community members and I had as we got to know Baltimore, and about the insight I gained into what it means to live a life of faith in action. Today, I would tell you about all of those things and more. I would describe my visits back to Baltimore to reconnect with the people I grew so fond of during my time there. I would explain how my mentors at St. Francis encouraged me to look into grant writing and how I find so much meaning through my current work as a grant writer for Catholic Charities in DC. I would share stories from visiting my younger sister, Cara, when she served with MVC in Savannah last year. Finally, I would tell you that MVC helped me learn that the answers to questions like who you are and what your purpose is, do not always reveal themselves immediately. Instead, recognizing the blessings of an experience and how it continues to shape your life can be an ongoing process.
I was reminded of this once again when my mom and I attended the alumni, friends, and family gathering during the MVC Transition Retreat last June. I was so happy that the retreat was taking place in Baltimore because it gave me the chance to reconnect with friends from both MVC and St. Francis. Additionally, the gathering took place in the same retreat center where I spent a week with teens from St. Francis as we participated in the Archdiocese’s annual summer work camp, one of my favorite experiences during MVC. Most of all, it was a special evening because Cara was there as a retreatant and we were able to celebrate with her. On the drive home that night, I realized that the gathering was a perfect example of how “the Circle of Mercy is timeless.” To me, Mercy is the interconnectedness of people and places, the continuous call to bring light to everyone around us, and the love of God that gives meaning to our lives and guides us in finding answers to our questions. As Lent begins, I hope to keep reflecting on what it means to be a shining lamp and to be a part of the Circle of Mercy.
Catherine McCafferty: Baltimore 2012-2013