Rene Howard-Paez is a 2013 alum of Dominican University and Cristo Rey Volunteer in Boston. Here he shares some of his thoughts on how he discerned post-graduate life and what his experience has been like up to this point. Juniors and seniors considering next steps can truly benefit from Rene’s thoughtful reflection.
If you are a senior reading this I wish you luck in your next endeavor. Around this time last year I was in your same shoes, deciding what to do next year. I’m sure you’re asking yourself a series of questions like: Should I pursue a job in my major field? Should I go to graduate school? Should I move home and figure it out? Should I volunteer?
This type of decision is one best made using those around you. When I was deciding what to do for the next year I began to ask everyone around me if they would discuss it with me. I spoke with Claire Noonan, who is a former volunteer. Sr. Melissa Waters and Sr. Diane Kennedy both gave me some time to bounce ideas off their heads. I ran over some possible placements with my former professor and advisor, John Jenks. Shannon Green gave me the best resources to research programs. I talked about it with my friends, my family, anyone that I had a relationship with over the last four years. Ultimately, I decided to do something different for myself. I wanted to try something completely new and put myself in a situation that might make me uncomfortable. I wanted to give myself to a cause that was larger than myself, and immerse myself in the lives of these students.
To tell you a little bit about my experience, I live in community with 5 other people in an old rectory that is actually quite big. My community mates come from all over the place – Portland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and I represent the good ol’ Midwest. Our house is about a mile from the school where I work, Cristo Rey. The school is a great place but one that is still finding its identity. The role of the volunteers in the school is a very strong and involved one. The volunteers are treated just like any other faculty or staff member, which creates an amazing culture for us to be in. Our opinion is never disregarded and responsibility is placed on us just as it is with any other working member of the school.
Officially I work in the office of admissions, but I get to wear many different hats during the day.To give you a snapshot on what a “typical” day might look like, on one of my first days I helped teach an excel class to freshman, served lunch for three periods, got asked to be the assistant coach of the women’s basketball team and did some admissions work.
Committing to a year of service can be an amazing thing, but not always easy. There have been moments in my service where I have struggled, wondered if I committed to the right thing and stressed out a bit. These are natural emotions to experience, as this is not a typical path for a post-graduate student.
A year of ago if you would have told me I would be volunteering and living in the inner city of Boston I would have chuckled. This journey has been a peculiar and fast one, but I have not once regretted it. To be able to give yourself completely to a cause, to a school, to a group of students is beyond fulfilling. To be engulfed in social justice and to make a difference in the lives of these students is invaluable.
The 5th Dominican Kairos Retreat was held at the Cabrini Retreat Center February 7-9th. At the closing of the retreat, University Minister Ann Hillman challenged the retreatants to share their experience with others. The following individuals are sharing the fruits of their contemplation with us. Thank you to each of you for allowing us to walk the Kairos journey with you.
What did you gain from your Kairos experience?
“Live the fourth” is a phrase often used to remind Kairos retreatants to continuously renew within themselves the experiences they had at Kairos. For me, “live the fourth” means remembering that Kairos wasn’t just a weekend in February, it was the beginning of something new, a refreshing in my life. I learned what it truly meant to love, be loved and that love has various shapes and doesn’t have to have barriers. I was reminded that everyone has a story of struggles and triumphs and that you don’t need a deep relationship with each individual to understand that. Supporting one another through life and life’s various struggles by talking, listening, forgiving and accepting – or just hugging and smiling – and celebrating the triumphs, regardless of how seemingly trivial, is one way to keep Kairos alive and to share it with those around me. For me, living the fourth means living a life full of love by showing this love first to myself then to others.
– Ammie Egwu, Class of 2014
What was your favorite part about Kairos?
In our normal everyday lives, individuals are so quick to judge others because they think someone acts “weird” or doesn’t fit in with what they view as “normal”. At Kairos, that judgment doesn’t exist. Students, some of which are complete strangers to each other, come together, putting their pre-conceived notions about others aside which allows them to get to know others for who they truly are. Everyone comes together and forms a close-knit, judgment free, and supportive family, not just for the short, fast-paced weekend, but even when the retreat is over and we return back to our hectic lives. That is what is so amazing about Kairos- people come together and love each other for who they truly are.
– Kaitlyn Kanakes, Class of 2016
What did you learn about yourself at Kairos?
When I first walked into Kairos I really wasn’t expecting much. I only knew two things 1). I was going to cry 2). I was going to leave. The ride to the retreat seemed like a movie that you would catch in the middle of summer. People in the front were singing popular songs from movies and television, and the people in the back made side chatter. When we finally got to the retreat center I felt like I was in an entirely different world. There was a big statue of Jesus Christ that seemed to watch us all as we walked into the main room. There was a brief introduction that was followed by ice breakers, when we did the ice breakers I thought to myself “What have I gotten myself into?” As the days rolled on I began to understand things about myself and others that changed my perspective. What I learned from Kairos is that I am truly loved and I should love myself more. When I came back to school I was still on a “Kai high” and I am still on a “Kai high” now, but even when this fades what I discovered will remain. I learned that I have a mission on this earth that I must achieve because it is something that my heart and soul tells me to do. The gift of Kairos is that I was given time to think about this calling and share it with others.
– Eric Smith, Class of 2017
How do you plan to “live the fourth”?
After coming back from the peaceful and reflective K-5 Retreat, I wanted to take my knowledge and gifts received from my experience and share them among my peers. Kairos has taught me that everyone has a story to tell. We’re all different but it’s our uniqueness that makes this world so great. Even though many of us have come from different backgrounds and cultures, we need to try our best to not argue our case, but rather appreciate a variety of beliefs and values. Once we do this as a global community, we will be taking the first step towards acceptance of others – creating a more just world. In the past, I would catch myself always trying to fix people; however, they don’t need to be changed. Rather than striving to change someone for who they are, I realized it’s my responsibility to help show respect and embrace other peoples’ perspectives. This is something that I will take with me as I continue to “live the fourth”.
– Sean Korbes, Class of 2017
Thanks to Diana Hernandez, a freshman SLAMer for her contribution to our advent blog.
Are you grateful for the way that God has been present with you?
Once when I was younger, a nun asked if I was grateful for the ways that God had been present in my life. My immediate response was ‘No’ I was going through rough times as a child, and how I could be grateful?
Upon joining SLAM and listening to myself deeply through self-reflections, I heard God’s call reaching out to me and realized that I was never alone, God’s presence was always within me, guiding me, providing me and my family with shelter, food, clothing, and education.
Recently, I attended a service trip to feed ‘Homeless’ that live in areas of Chicago, IL. As we were walking in search for ‘Homeless’ to feed, we not only gave them food but we made connections with them. When approaching one man, I noticed how ill and cold he was. He asked if we could say a prayer with him, and we held hands in the cold as people walked by and looked over at us. At that moment I realized this man was not ‘homeless’, he was a human being like myself, and everyone else. At that moment I was grateful, seeing how he still had faith in God even if he had nothing but the ripped clothes on his back. I am thankful for all that was given to me as a child and for having the opportunity to meet this man that assured me God is always present within us.
He asked for a writing tablet, and to everyone’s astonishment he wrote, “His name is John.” Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue set free, and he began to speak, praising God. All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. (Luke 1:63-66)
Zechariah believed in God’s presence and he was able to speak when naming his child and his neighbors spread the word of the miracle that had happened because they too had faith in God. I hope to continue to help my neighbors, those who are hungry without homes and live on the streets and show our community how God is present within me and within us.
Thanks to Stephanie Zavala for her reflection on the Christmas’ approach!
As Christmas quickly approaches, so does the excitement and joy of spending time with our loved ones, sharing precious smiles and great food. Parents are hard at work in the kitchen, children chase each other up and down the stairs, while the rest of the family gathers around the table ready to celebrate the holiday spirit. For me, Christmas Eve is always filled with anticipation, waiting for my aunts, uncles, and cousins to come to our house with presents and food. Most of the day, I look forward to my family’s company and the little kid in me looks forward to the clock striking 12 so I can open my presents. However, I realize that when I think of Christmas, I don’t only think of it as good food and good company, I think of it as the final holiday of the season, as a way of saying goodbye to the year and finding relief that a stressful year has ended. The minute that the clock strikes 12 is the minute that that the stress ends. The running around that comes with cooking food for everyone and buying last minute presents is finally over, and we can sit and relax as the year comes to a close. This year however, I am challenging myself to think of this holiday differently. After reading about Jesus’ birth, I am challenging myself to think of this season as an opportunity to celebrate life and the opportunity to reinvent myself. I am challenging myself to use the holiday spirit as a guiding tool to remember that each and every day presents to us the chance to better ourselves and give birth to a new life filled with joy, courage, and an enthusiasm to be alive. Christmas is no longer the day to say goodbye to the past, Christmas is the day to say hello to the future.
The following reflection was shared by Margret Rozko, a senior in the Student Leadership and Ministry program.
Song of Songs 2:8-14
What a great first reading to reflect upon during the Advent season! “My lover speaks and says to me “Arise, my friend, my beautiful one, and come!” Everyone knows that Advent is a time of waiting and patience. But what if we were to see the opposite side of the spectrum? What if we were to arise, be beautiful, and come?
Personally, I find Advent to be a time of serene reflection , patience, and silence. I am challenging myself to go wherever I am called, in an radiant way. My goal is not only to reflect, but to do. I may be called to serve others on the streets during the cold Advent season. Instead of making this season about myself, I can come to those and reach out with a meal, simply through my car window. I am planning on “coming” and reaching out to the underprivileged by volunteering my time on Christmas Eve. My Polish folklore dance group will perform for the homeless during a Christmas Eve meal.
“See! He is standing behind our wall, gazing through the windows, peering through the lattices.” God is watching us at all times and shares in our joy. Let us be excited for the birth of our Lord and share our exuberance not only with loved ones, but also with those who need us to reach out and come to them in a beautiful, but quiet way.
Thanks to Maggie Angel, one of our great SLAMers, for her witty and thought-provoking blog about the messenger’s of God’s love – the reminder to be those messengers is always important.
Jeremiah 23:5-8 & Matthew 1:18-25
With Christmas so near, we are all caught up in making sure we have the right gifts for family and friends, trying to find a parking spot at the mall, decorating the house, baking cookies, and the list goes on. It’s super easy to get lost in these little details that ironically we can end up being stressed over the happiest and most peaceful time of the year. As cliché as it is, we should remember who is the reason for the season.
In Matthew, the passage is one of the Nativity narratives we hear towards Advents end. The Angel comes to Joseph in a dream, telling him that Mary is the mother of the Messiah. But the main point that stayed with me was when the angel says “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”
In the hustle and bustle of prepping for the holidays, let’s take a minute to remember something so powerful that can really comfort us – God is with us. God is with us in many different ways, as Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or through an angel such as in the passage in Matthew.
Angels have always played an important role in my life, and I’m not just talking about my last name. I remember in grade school everyone thought it was the coolest thing ever that angels play a big role in the nativity narrative and my last name was angel. My teachers also thought it was cute to cast me an angel in our Christmas play. My mom has angel statues all over our house. My high school AP Biology teacher always started prayer before class out of her prayer book about angels. For me, they are reminders/messengers of God’s love and comfort. Angels can be all around us, a friend, a family member, that guy who let you go in front of him at the checkout register.
You don’t have to be related to me to be an angel! Just feel that God is with us, not just during Advent and Christmas, but every day and spread that love to others. Because isn’t that the Christmas spirit? Spreading love and cheer? And we all know that the “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
The following reflection was written by Jessie McDaniel, a senior in SLAM. Thanks for your thoughts, Jessie!
Today’s scriptures are the kind that I would skip entirely when I was a kid. My eyes would come to the long lists of names that I couldn’t pronounce for pages and pages and I would pretend like these names didn’t exist or matter. Whenever these names came up during sermons when I was older, I would once again tune them out. I now realize that I felt so disconnected from this part of scripture because I never got an explanation as to why these particular people were important.
Finally, my own belief system gave me an answer. As a believer that God put intention into everything that is and everything that will be, I know these names serve a purpose. The importance of these names is now clear to me. It may not be about the people, but what these people represent. They are the living place of God in the lives of a people displaced and without a home.
The list of ancestors leading up to Jesus is a way to connect our history to our present. When we name our predecessors and acknowledge their trials and triumphs, we also name ourselves as inheritors of that legacy. When we understand more deeply our past, we are better able to give life to the future. Jesus’ lineage is one of struggle and empowerment. It is filled with strong women and men and some women and men who may not have been so great as well. The first part of the reading is a preamble. These names are a window into the lived history of Israel and the kingdom of the Jews of those times. I once heard that the kingdom of god is not elsewhere, but here with all of us. It struck me to think that God’s kingdom is not some untouchable existence. It is right here in the lives we choose to lead.
In Advent we are welcomed to the idea of preparing for God’s arrival in our lives. Every 14 generations God breathed new life into this people who endured despite the odds. I now ask, what are the times that God can breathe new life into us all? And more importantly, are we prepared?