Thursday, December 18, 2008

Advent Day 2008: A Gift, and Opportunity

Advent Day with Sarah and Paul Jarzembowski was truly a (pre-Christmas) gift. While I don’t claim to know much about movies (and as anyone who knows me will attest – my list of ‘movies to see’ far surpasses my list of movies ‘seen’), I do know that I LIKE movies – and Sarah and Paul’s words and insight reminded me why. Movies – like the beloved Christmas movies that the Jarzembowski’s highlighted – really help us to take a step back and get a look at the beauty, the messy-ness, and the complexities of life … as well as the simple truths that still resound in humanity.

Sarah and Paul did such a great job drawing out the themes, ideas, and invitations that these movies had to offer, all while their natural charm and humor helped us all enter into a day of ‘retreat’ from the stresses we put on ourselves this time of year. My favorite part of the day, though, had to have been the final prayer service as the words, themes and images of movies like “A Christmas Carol” and “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” were woven together with words from Scripture which invited us all into an experience of transformation … in the midst of the counter-cultural “waiting in joyful hope” we undertake during Advent and throughout our spiritual lives.

- Keara C.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So, what do mainstream movies have to do with our faith?

I hear this question on a regular basis when I tell people that my husband and I talk on Spiritual Popcorn: Finding Jesus in your favorite movies. Frequently as a teen I was hearing the Lord speak to me through TV shows, music, and movies. It wasn’t until I met my husband Paul that I realized that this was real communication directed to me from our Lord to guide me and help me along my journey through life. He, the Lord, talks to us so clearly through Christmas Movies, from the Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, to Miracle on 34th street, and the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We have been journeying through Advent for the past couple of months preparing for this wonderful Advent Day of Reflection and I am looking forward to walking with you through this day of slowing down to reflect. To reflect on what the Lord has been telling us throughout our life through the movies and images around us. He loves us and is finding every avenue to talk to us and show us that love. Join us as we wait and reflect on our favorite Christmas movies.

-Sarah J.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Once, on a silent directed retreat, I was struggling with questions related to an ended relationship and my future after college. After three days of gloomy weather and arguments with God, I witnessed 5 minutes of sunlight on the trees across the lake before the sun set. A sudden spirit of peace and happiness wove through me and settled inside me. It made me realize that during the times when I face transitions and change and may not know what God’s doing or where he’s leading me, if I wait patiently, his Light will give birth and shine again.

Advent is a season of light, goodness, comfort, peace, and joy. It's fitting that the American holiday of Thanksgiving comes at the end of the liturgical year and the beginning of the season of Advent. Our practice of "giving thanks" for the blessings we've received over the past year opens our hearts to receiving the love of Christ born during this time of waiting and hopeful anticipation. Thanksgiving helps us enter Advent with an "attitude of gratitude" - a thankfulness that comes from being loved by God and witnessing his presence working in our lives. We're thankful for our families, who support and encourage us through life's big ups and downs; our friends, who make us laugh and help us relax and have fun; our significant others, who teach us about love and selfless giving; our jobs which provide financial security and hopefully allow us to do good in the world; our health, especially in a time of high health care costs; our safety and security, when much of the world experiences extreme poverty or violence. Whether it's big or little things, we have a lot to be thankful for this year and every year.

Last night I heard a talk by Claire Noonan, who runs the Siena Center at Dominican University in Chicago. The topic was "being called by our baptism." She and other responders shared about God's love being enough. Our baptism calls us to accept that love within ourselves and to share it with others; that is our mission, and that is enough. As we enter Advent, we begin reflecting on Mary's choice to accept and share God's love. She was grateful for the blessings of her faith, and she chose to follow God's call by being mother to Jesus. In turn, Jesus accepted God's love and shared it with others during his public ministry, to the point of death on the cross, which we celebrate in Lent/Easter.

It's fitting that the liturgical season starts after Thanksgiving, and that it follows a circle between Christ's birth and Jesus' death. During Advent, we are called to reflect on the light of Christ, the love of God, and the call of our birth and baptism - let us do so with open and grateful hearts.

-Briana C.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

It was a cold, gray day in Chicago... Just kidding.

I had the pleasure of being able to set-aside a November Saturday and attend the Men's Retreat at a rather "secluded" location: the North Village Nature Center. Simply driving the road into the location, I knew that I'd be "tucked away" spending the day with God as well as "new friends,” and the day did not disappoint!

Fr. Michael Sparough, SJ was the presider, and upon my arrival, he and his team greeted each of us with warm handshakes, smiles and a table-full of goodies (coffee, Danishes, snacks) as well as a crackling fireplace! It was a very warm and relaxing setting from the start.

What followed was a morning and afternoon of talks and reflections (both group and individual), as well as prayerful meditations. Who could NOT use a day like this in today's troubled-times? It was soooo relaxing, and there was ample time for breaks as well as individual reflection in which, despite being a chilly-day, we were invited to walk the nature-trail along the grounds of the nature center (even spotted a few deer). I cannot WAIT to go back to the nature-center on my own time and take in more of the nature-setting. A delicious lunch was served as well.

Listening to the speakers throughout the day, I was reminded of how we all share the same "struggles" in our daily-lives, and that God truly is our common ground, though we all tend to "stray" in the business of our day-to-day lives. This day served as a quiet reminder that it's alright to "come back" and re-focus. At the day's conclusion, Fr. Michael presided over a simple mass.

Again, who could NOT use a day like this? Did I mention the taffy apples?
:) -Patrick H.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

They call me the seeker...(insert song here)

On Saturday, a group of wonderful young women gathered in the Stella Maris Chapel for the Seekers' Retreat Day for Women. The team gave excellent presentations. Sara's talk "Knowing Myself: Who Am I?" invited us to look back at our lives over the past few years and take a look at the bigger picture. Tina spoke about "Wanting It All Without Losing Everything: Naming What's Important" and how we can reevaluate our priorities in life. Emily shared a time of struggle in her own life as she helped us to look at "Suffering, Healing, and Hope" and how difficult times shape us into the women we are today.

Want more pictures from the day? Check out the Charis Ministries group on Facebook.

Guys, feel like you missed out? You didn't! Check out the Seekers' Retreat Day for Men coming up on Saturday.

-Lauren G

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Almost There

I rarely spend a day relaxing and reflecting. Many times the week goes by in a blur and all I can remember is work, eat, sleep, play, work, eat, sleep, etc. It can be hard for me to find time for deeper prayer, reflecting on everything that goes on in the day, or even to have a conversation and share my more reflective thoughts with others. That is why I am looking forward to the Seekers' Retreat. I am excited to feel like I am a million miles away from all my to-dos and have a chance to pray. I am also excited to share that experience with other young women who are longing for the same thing. I probably don't give myself enough days like this but I am definitely taking advantage of the Seekers' Retreat and looking forward to Saturday.

- Tina F.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Room to Breathe

Emily B. is a team leader on the upcoming Seekers' Retreat Day for Women this Saturday. Call the office (773.508.3237) now to register for this event and spend the day with Emily.

Spending a day with other ladies in their twenties and thirties, searching ourselves & sharing in fellowship, while in the presence of God? Sounds like a much needed breather in this crazy life! I am looking forward to sharing the day with other women who feel a bit overwhelmed by the day to day bustle, and yet a bit bored with the same routine. It is a big old world out there, and I hope to learn I'm not the only one who feels as though she’s constantly searching for my place in it!

- Emily B.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Food for All, Food for the Soul

St. Columbanus was an Irish missionary monk who left home and crossed the Irish Sea to do the work of Christ. Mid-morning Saturday, on the Feast of All Saints, I left home and crossed Chicago on CTA to join about a dozen individuals from Charis Ministries and Amate House for a Service Day at the food pantry at St. Columbanus Parish. This was part of Amate House’s 25 Ton Food Drive to collect food for the food pantry. While I cannot compare my travels from the Rogers Park neighborhood to the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on CTA with St. Columbanus’ adventurous travels over the Irish Sea in the early Middle Ages (although CTA does have its moments), I have no doubt that the work being done weekly at the food pantry done under St. Columbanus’ patronage is the work of Christ.

The food pantry distributes food to over 350 families every Wednesday. As part of our service, we unloaded food from cars and trucks, and weighed and sorted the contributions. While we were collecting over four and a half tons of food for the poor over the late morning and early afternoon, there was fellowship, fun, and food. (Can you really imagine a Charis event without these elements?)

One could sense the Spirit actively at work at St. Columbanus and in our endeavor. I was immediately struck about how catholic this experience was. It was truly universal and multicultural. There were Northsiders, Southsiders, African-American, Caucasian, Latino, Asian, straight, gay, young and old coming together to “feed the hungry.” In addition to those of us from Charis Ministries, we met high school students from Mt. Carmel High School, volunteers from Amate House and Calvert House, and of course parishioners from St. Columbanus. I was part of something larger than myself to make a real impact on the lives of 350 families – at least, temporarily.

The hospitality of the parishioners, especially LaVerne and Debbie, and the pastor, Father Matt Eyerman, was extraordinary. The parishioners welcomed us with graciousness. In between deliveries, a client of the food pantry stopped by to express her gratitude with a hug to the director of the pantry, LaVerne, for the work of the pantry and then gave what little money she had as a contribution. Talk about a gospel story coming to life in a very real and concrete way.

I left home, in a small way, to help feed the hungry with food. I, in turn, was fed spiritually. And I did not even have to cross the Irish Sea to participate in God’s work…

- Tim S.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Invitation to the Quiet

At first, I was not looking forward to a weekend retreat. I had experienced a hectic and long week, and I had so many things on my to-do-list to be completed. Despite my anxiety about the week ahead, I found myself at ease throughout the retreat. The leaders of the retreat gave us an invitation to participate in various spiritual exercises, reflections, and conversations. I appreciated that these were invitations and not expectations. These invitations gave me the opportunity to participate in various retreat activities, but to also take time needed for personal reflection and rest. As a person who enjoys talking with others about spirituality, I appreciated one-on-one time with a spiritual director throughout the course of the retreat.

Overall, I am so thankful for this experience because it gave me the time and space to grow closer in my relationship with God. I walked away from the retreat with a sense of hope, renewal, and peace.

Beth C.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Warm Fuzzies

While we think Charis Ministries is pretty cool, there are other fantastic ministry groups doing God’s work here in Chicago. On Saturday, Old St. Pat’s Young Adult Ministry hosted a blanket-making service project, led by Keara Coughlin.

Three Charis Ministries staff members were enticed by the promise of hot coffee and a craft project, so Lauren G, Briana C and I set off to Old St. Pat’s. Keara Coughlin greeted us with a big smile and hot coffee, and told us why we were really there. Keara’s colleague, Padre Orozco, works with prisoners and detainees on the Mexican border who are in need of warm blankets as winter closes in. We became our own community as we learned how to make fleece tie blankets, shared scissors and argued over college football. At the same time, Keara made sure we knew why we were there. She related to us Padre Orozco’s firm belief that as Catholics, it is necessary have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other; we need to be aware of our faith and conscious of the world around us.

All in all, a great way to spend a gray Saturday morning and meet new friends. Old St. Pat’s and Charis Ministries have plenty more service opportunities to come.

Lauren B.

Finding God in the Everyday

On Thursday night I MC'd the Living Ignatian speaker event with Claire Noonan. She was great and the audience seemed very engaged. Most exciting, it seemed like we got a large number of participants who were new to Charis events. I hope that they come back to more events and maybe try a retreat or two.

Claire talked about the Examen, a method of prayer that is about reviewing one's day in order to find the movements of God in one's life. As a particularly insightful Loyola student noted in the audience, it is a very practical prayer that puts her in touch with God much more than many devotional prayer practices that involve reciting memorized prayers. As a Jesuit, I can certainly attest the value of the Examen in my life--it only takes 10 minutes!--and I am thrilled that Charis brought this 400-year old spiritual practice the some of Chicago's young adults.

Philip S.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

19th Annotation

Those of you who have participated in Charis retreats, days of prayers, service trips, etc. probably know that St. Ignatius not only founded the Society of Jesus (commonly known as the Jesuits), but also handed down to us the Spiritual Exercises as a guide for enriching our lives and strengthening our relationships with God. While the Spiritual Exercises are intended to be given in a retreat format over a 30-day silent period, not everyone is able to participate in a retreat of that length. So in his 19th Annotation about the retreat, St. Ignatius wisely said that the retreat could also be given in the context of daily life.

Currently 4 young adults (myself and 3 men who have been active in Charis activities, retreats, and/or spiritual direction) have discerned and committed to a 3-month retreat of the Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life which may be extended to a 6-month period. Each of us has committed to praying an hour per day as we follow through the days and weeks of the Exercises as prescribed by St. Ignatius within the context of our own daily lives. Each of us will not make this journey alone, but will have the companionship of a spiritual director with whom we will meet on the weekly basis. Additionally, we will meet as a community of retreatants every other week to discuss, pray, and delve deeper into the Exercises under the guidance of Fr. Bill Creed, S.J.

For each of this will be a deeply personal and individual journey. We will proceed through the retreat and retreat materials at our own paces and within our own levels of comfort. The journey begins for each of us with a reflection on our lives through writing about and reflecting upon the events which define who we are. And so as we write our own autobiographies and enter into the Exercises, I invite you to also reflect upon your lives and the defining events that have made up your journey.

- Leigh H.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mixin' and Minglin'--St. Ignatius Style

On Sunday night several Catholic organizations joined Charis Ministries in sponsoring a rendezvous in the tradition of St. Ignatius – back when he liked to party. During the Catholic Open House, nearly 80 people gathered to socialize and find out about young adult opportunities in Chicago.

The Ark Café, a hip new restaurant in Wicker Park, graciously hosted the event in their beautiful and homey dining room and coffee bar. Representatives from 13 Chicago organizations shared conversation and refreshments with both long-time Chicagoans and those new to the Chicago Catholic young-adult scene.

It was terrific to see so many people excited about getting involved in the Church in some way – whether through spiritual opportunities, volunteering, social events, or a combination of all three. It’s energizing to see young adults seeking communities where they can fulfill Christ’s discipleship in our world today. According to many, the Open House was a great way to get them in touch with these communities. As our Program Coordinator, Lauren Gaffey, said on Sunday, “This is like Google…but in person!”

Thanks to all those who joined us for the event – we hope to see you at future Charis and other young-adult events in Chicago soon!

And a special thanks to the following sponsors: Old St. Patrick's, Respect Life Office Junior Board, St. Alphonsus, Catholics on Call, Diocese of Joliet Young Adult Ministry, Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, and Chicago Catholic Coed Softball League. Representatives of Holy Name Cathedral, ReCiL, St. Nicholas, and the Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy were also on hand.

-Mary Ellen M

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Stepping out of our comfort zones

When I first got the email about Charis’ Service Day on September 20th, I thought to myself “give up a Saturday at the end of summer to do some community service project, forget about it!” As I thought more about it, I reflected on how my parents were married at Our Lady of the Angels Parish in 1970. It might not be a bad idea to go back to the neighborhood where my mom and grandparents first immigrated to America. No longer a parish but now a rejuvenated mission, the Mission of Our Lady of the Angels is dedicated to doing good works to the neighbors of that west side neighborhood.

I had heard so much about Fr. Bob Lombardo, CFR and his progress at the Mission. I freed up my schedule and decided to participate. About four miles west of my house, I have not ventured out to this part of the west side. One hears about the theft and the drugs and the gangs and forgets about the real need of the good people that live in these poverty stricken neighborhoods.

I was asked to help sort and fold children’s clothes that were donated. I can’t say that I ever folded clothes sized newborn to 2T. What does 2T stand for anyway? I always think the interesting part about volunteering your time is that you never now what you will be asked to do. Although I will not get to meet the children or parents that would benefit from my service, I imagine the smiles on the mother’s faces knowing that their children have warm clothes this winter.

God calls us to perform acts of charity, through pure love for Christ. From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1822: Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. 1826: Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: "So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity."

I am glad I was able to volunteer at the Mission. I got an understanding of how they are trying make a difference in the neighborhood by having an active Catholic presence. Reflecting on my time there begs me to question: “How can I perform acts of charity on a regular basis, daily basis, continuous basis?”

-Lou S.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Service Trips--Looking Back and Looking Forward

This past Sunday a group of us gathered to remember our experiences from past Charis Ministries service trips. It was a great opportunity to share pictures and memories from the trips and catch up with people whom I haven’t seen in a while. Those of us who went on one or more of the service trips formed a great sense of community with each other over the course of the week-long trips, and it was great to renew that sense of community. We shared a lot of stories about our experiences from the trips, and there was plenty of laughter exchanged. It was fun to relive memories from the service trip to Idabel, Oklahoma that I was part of in 2004 and to hear stories from other service trips that I was not part of.

Several of us commented that sharing our memories from the service trips has inspired us to renew our commitment to volunteering. It’s easy to get burnt out on volunteering or to let a busy schedule get in the way, but getting together with other volunteers to have fun and reflect on your collective accomplishments is a great way to renew your enthusiasm and commitment to volunteering. This gathering was a fun opportunity to reflect on past service trips and to look forward to future trips.

-Jared W.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Charis gets a shout out

Charis Ministries was recognized in an article in America Magazine as one of the "most successful" programs available "to help young adults cultivate a spiritual life within the church." Tim Muldoon's article "Sowing the Seeds for Ministry" gives five ways to reach Catholics in their 20s and 30s.

The 5 C's of young adult ministry are:
Community-how do we bring young people together?
Cooperation-how do we work with other organizations to meet the needs?
Communication-what is the Catholic presence on the internet?
Consultation-how do we form leaders for the Church?
Catechesis-how do we foster growth in faith? Including a shout out to Fr. Michael and Charis!

If you get a chance to check out the rest of the July 21, 2008 issue of America, there are quite a few other articles about young adult ministry that are worth a read. It's great to see it being recognized on a national level.

-Lauren G

Friday, August 15, 2008

Service Trip Scrapbook

Now that we've had time to gather our thoughts, our notes, our photos and videos of our July Service Trip to Pontotoc, I thought I'd share our Quote Board and some video.

Clete compiled all our quotes, so I give him all the credit; and am happy to post this video of him entertaining us from the roof. Turn up the volume.

To prove that we did actual work, I present to you my short documentary "A Day in the Life of a Roof Truss." In our down time, we got to play ball in the gym with our new friends.

Quote Board 2008:

Dania to Keith: "What is that?"
Keith Dania: "Well, this is called a wall."

"You do good work, you just don't do much of it."
Bill's advice to all Charis Ministry volunteers at the job site Monday

Bill to Dave: "Grab a hammer over yonder."
Dave: "Where is it, here?
Bill: "No. YONDER."

"Hit it like you live it ... hard."
Brother Ken, an estimated 4,362 times, delivering the theme of Charis Ministries' 2008 Pontotoc Service Trip

"Read 'em and laugh, guys!"
Clete, revealing a particularly bad hand in the game Phase 10

"Do you know you have paint in your hair?"
About 12 people to Karen in one day

"I want to be called Paris (Hilton)."
Brian, requesting a new name, on the off day ride to Clarksdale

"A perfect symbol of our ineptitude."
Chris, describing a picture of a locked gate at a Delta Mississippi River Park that was closed by flooding

"All of the sudden I'm driving behind (Mario) Andretti!"
Chris, describing his efforts to keep up with Lead Foot Lindsey

"Ah man, I don't want to grease up."
Lindsey, lamenting having to apply sunscreen before work on Tuesday

"You can say anything about anybody as long as you punctuate it with 'Bless their heart.'"
Brother Ken

"We have this game at home."
Lauren, calling in Brian and Clete from shooting hoops at a visiting church

"Thanks, guys, appreciate it. ... (10 seconds later) FLY!"
Lauren, dismissing the group from our daily reflection

"It's so hot, I saw a dog chasing a rabbit. They were both walking."
Bill, describing Thursday's 100-degree heat index humidity

Dave to Keith: "I'm slow."
Keith to Dave: "You're slow, but you're dependable."

Lauren: "I don't know why, but everywhere I went people knew I was from out of town."
Keith: "I don't know what gave it away."

Glenda to Susan: "Go straight home."
Susan: "Where else is there to go in Pontotoc?"

"There is still hope for humanity, and it's every day people -- that's you guys."
Patrick, saying thanks and goodbye to the Charis Ministries group

- Lauren B. & Clete C.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Come to the Quiet: Very Productive…wait…productive?

A few weeks before I attended the Charis Come to the Quiet retreat at Bellarmine Retreat House in Barrington, Illinois, I was asking my spiritual director if she had any guidance for me before I entered into the two and a half days of silence. She started out by asking me how I dealt with silent retreats, (how did I function on them, did I like them), to which I replied matter-of-factly, “They’re very productive for me.”

After the session ended I had to stop and think about my choice of words. Productive? Was I expecting an end result? Was some internal button going to click “ON” and all of a sudden I would understand my role in the cosmic order of things? I entered into the retreat with a spirit of curiosity provoked by my own language.

Too often I struggle with projecting my own expectations onto life:

  • I want to finish graduate school by a certain time
  • I want to be so far along with a career by another time
  • I want to be engaged, then married and on the path for having children by a certain age
  • I should gain a spiritual peak/awareness from a certain experience or retreat.

The idea of leaving my intentions of productive silence behind was both appealing and liberating. By dropping my expectations of productivity the time and space instantly felt lighter, more interesting, and more inviting. Over the course of the retreat I tried to be present to the moment, to the space around me, and most importantly I was present to my own feelings. This was the most “productive” part of the weekend. I was finally able to be present to what was happening around me and within me, not for any conclusive purpose but because my busy life does not often permit such a privileged space of carved out silence for prayer and reflection.

- Katie V.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Drink in the Summer Graces

This summer, I had the privilege of visiting 10 local hot spots to talk about “Friendship in Fast-Paced World” as part of Theology-on-Tap, a 4-week speaker and discussion series aimed at young adults interested in discussing topics related to where they’re at in life.

My presentation was inspired by the students I work with at the Sheil Catholic Center at Northwestern University, my experiences of friendship through Charis Ministries, and my personal life.

I spoke at a number of locations including North Central College (Naperville), St. Sylvester (Chicago), and St. James (Highwood). Some of the main themes that came up were:

  • What are the advantages and challenges to electronic communication, especially Facebook? The local college students home for the summer asked, “How do we stay connected with others, and is there a difference between our “Facebook friends” and our “face-to-face” friends?”
  • Friendship requires honesty, acceptance, and a sense of humor. During the recent thunderstorm that swept through the city, the young adults of St. Sylvester agreed friends who have seen us at our best and worst, and still like us anyway are the truest of friends.
  • The type of friendship Jesus seeks with us is a face-to-face relationship. The community at St. James traveled from near and far to share an abundance of food and drink and generous conversation. W talked about how Jesus feeds our hunger for faith and friendship. Like the multiplication of loaves and fishes, Jesus promises that there will always be enough.

This experience was such a blessing, and I truly appreciate the friends, new and old, who participated in this year’s Theology-on-Tap.

- Beth K.

Friday, August 8, 2008

God, Dating, and Beer...what more could you want to talk about?

Last week, a mere 4 days after returning from Australia, I had the privilege of speaking at four Theology on Tap sites for the Diocese of Joliet. I credit the topic, “Between and the Altar: A Catholic’s Guide to Dating,” with being the draw that brought people out. Never having spoken at a TOT before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but talking to a bar full of 20-and 30-somethings while dodging waitresses bringing fish and chips was a pretty funny experience.

In the talk, and in the conversations that followed, we talked about four themes that, at least in my mind, come up in most serious dating relationships:

1. Discernment—How do I know if this person is the person I should marry?
2. Conscience Formation—How do I make moral decisions, especially regarding sex?
3. Relationships—How do other relationships change when dating someone new? How should my dating relationship grow?
4. Intimacy—Where do I find intimacy and what does that look like?

Thanks to everyone who came out to Quigley’s Irish Pub (Naperville), Pilot Pete’s (Schaumburg), Auld Dubliner Irish Pub (Bolingbrook) and Champp's Americana (Lombard). It was great to spend the evening with you!

-Lauren G.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Grace for Today

It's been two weeks since I got back from Australia and the World Youth Day adventures. I'd like to say that the "I've just experienced something intensely moving and I want to go change the world!" feeling has not died down. But you know how it goes - you get back into the busyness of work, catching up with friends, visiting family members, going on road trips, restocking the pantry, going out to eat or grabbing an ice cream cone... Where does one have time to reflect a pilgrimage experience, or the ways in which your life has been graced by God and the Holy Spirit?

Well God works in mysterious ways. During these past two weeks, I've attended a Theology on Tap presentation by past Charis Apostolic Board member Beth Knobbe called "Friendship in a Fast-Paced World" and I've signed up to be a volunteer for St. Vincent DePaul Church's chapter of SPRED (helping developmentally and physically disabled children from 6-10 years old explore their spirituality). One thing I learned in Australia is that giving and being present to others in an unconditional and unselfish way is important to me, and something I had lost since moving to the fast-paced, materialistic, and egocentric city of Chicago. It's time to focus on me, my relationship with God, my friendships, and the ways I can give back to the community in a way that is meaningful and uplifting. It won't be easy, but I'm ready to start!


Friday, July 25, 2008

A Community of Faith

With all the activities that surrounded the last few days of our time in Sydney, we've been a little lax in getting things posted on the blog. Like the folks in Mississippi, we're back safely as well, and here's the rundown of our week (also in 200 words or less).

Saturday morning: Mass with all the U.S. pilgrims said by Cardinal George
Saturday afternoon: pilgrimage walk to Randwick Racecourse (about 3 miles)
Saturday evening: Candlelight Evening Vigil with Pope Benedict. Imagine 350,000 candles in an enormous field. Very cool. Check out what the Pope had to say.
Saturday night: slept outside at Randwick (and I use the term "sleep" very loosely)
Sunday morning: The Pope said Mass for 400,000 and we were about as close to him as we could get without wearing a bishop's hat. He gave a great homily (although a bit long for the sleep deprived).

Mass concluded World Youth Day and we spent the rest of the week sightseeing in the Blue Mountains.

Mike Hayes spent WYD recording video of our trip. Check out the videos and his reflections at and keep an ear out for a podcast live from Sydney.

At Charis, we conclude our retreats by asking people to share a grace that they received during the weekend. Looking back at this trip, I can name lots of graces that I experienced (which I will spare you from reading here), but the biggest one was the strength, diversity and blessing of the community I was there with. Thank you Mike, Melissa, Lexy, Briana, Lori, Chrissy, Amina, Zulma, Jessica and Ana for sharing this experience with me.

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Things We Carry

Sunday, July 20, 2008
I know it's a few days past Sunday, and a little late in the game to let you know that we all returned home safely on Saturday night. I never understood what a powerful experience a service trip like this can be, until I tried to say it in less than 200 words.

It was a joyful and tearful good-bye as we left our old and new friends in Pontotoc. We accomplished a tremendous amount of work with a fantastic amount of energy and humor. Our final dinner together was blessed with much food and many t-shirts, and graced with the presence of all our partners and the family that will soon be living in the house we worked on.

I am grateful for Paul, Dave, Blair, Karen, Clete, Chris, Dania, Lindsey, Jay, Tim and Brian, and will carry them in my heart. I will always be thankful for Barbara, Wayne, Keith, Linda, Rachel, Brother Ken, Patrick, Bill, Jerry, Pastor Ken, Glenda, Diane, Fairy, Rosa, Richard & Ruth, Dr. Terry, Susan and everyone else who gave of themselves all week.

Earlier in the week, we prayed together with the pastor of West Heights Church, who thanked the Lord for the sacrifice the 12 of us made. That stuck with me all week, as I never once felt that I sacrificed anything. I was surrounded by kind, generous people (from Pontotoc AND from the Midwest), I was fed more good food than I've ever seen, and I had the time of my life. I will carry this experiece with me forever - not as a sacrifice, but as a gift.

Lauren B.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Mass at the Sydney Opera House

I'm not going to lie, going to Adoration and Mass at the Sydney Opera House today was by far one of the highlights of this trip! Lori and I took an adventure this morning to the SOH for Adoration provided by the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's nuns!) The sisters sang such beautiful music, and it was really amazing to be with around 200 other people (religious, locals, and pilgrims alike) to share in the divine mystery of the Eucharist in the middle of a small "black box" theater layout.

It has been an interesting week of prayer, chaos, crowds, and blessings in the ordinary. While it feels very much like walking through the streets of Chicago or another large American city (where's the culture shock? It doesn't exist!), it's still amazing to walk by random groups of people chanting "Benedetto" or "Oy Oy Oy!" or one of their national songs. Lots of free hugs, high fives, and general merriment have occurred throughout the week.

Tomorrow we head to Randwick for the big overnight. It will be challenging in many ways - one, it's a LONG walk! Secondly, as we've already experienced at the Opening Mass, the Papal Arrival, and today's Stations of the Cross, it can be hard to find a spirit of reverence and prayer in the midst of so many people. However, as I discovered in St. Mary's Cathedral last night (after going through massive security!), the peace and knowledge of Christ's passion and his presence in this crowd can be felt if one stops to listen, and to let it come inside.

I pray Our Lady of the Southern Cross keeps all of us, our fellow pilgrims, the Mississippi folks, and everyone back home safe during the next few days!

Briana C.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mississippi Inspiration

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Five days ago, most of us were strangers who knew each other as well as Antartica knows a 70-degree day. Five days later, we've grown into a family called together to serve other people in God's name. I came to Pontotoc this week to serve and be inspired and the 11 people I'm with inspire me every day to live that calling.

Wednesday was our off day: A day of rest and adventure as we explored the undiscovered Mississippi country. One group set out in search of Clarksdale, the mystical home of Tennessee Williams, the beauty of the Mississippi Delta and a good barbecue joint. The group was detoured by a flooded Missississippi River and a couple wrong turns. What could have been a wild goose chase and a very frustrating day turned into a bonding experience complete with a marathon game of 20 questions, some soulful kaoroke and many laughs.

Another group set out in search of a water park in a land far, far away. We found it in the form of our human GPS system, Dania, and rediscovered the kids in ourselves by conquering our fear of heights on Mt. Everwet.

The theme of the day was Christian friendship, which we've experienced from everyone we've met this week and everywhere we've gone. "Love thy neighbor" has always been my favorite Christian law. The people of Pontotoc and my friends on this trip have been inspirational examples for me and powerful examples of God's love.

Clete C.


We saw the Pope today! And thanks to Lexy's planning and some standing of our ground on all of our parts, we were 5 feet from the Popemobile when it passed by us. Granted, it was going about 40 mph at the time, but that's beside the point. There was a lot of excitement throughout the day as we were waiting for the Pope to officially arrive at WYD (obviously). He traveled by boat along Sydney Harbor before disembarking to speak to us in 7 languages, talking about the challenges that we face as young people living in such a secular society while still trying to live out our faith each day. Throughout WYD so far, different people have talked about how "easy" it is to be a faithful Christian during a pilgrimage experience such as this, but how much more difficult it is in our daily lives. Today we were again reminded that there is a universal Church that connects us all to one another.

On a separate note, and on behalf of the Laurens and Briana, I would like to thank Chris for holding down the fort at the Charis office. We will be praying for those on the Come to the Quiet retreat throughout the weekend from down here in the "Great Southland of the Holy Spirit."

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sequestered in Chicago…Charis Somehow Continues without the Laurens and Briana

I know shocking right?

Somehow in the midst of globetrotting down under and melting in Mississippi heat, Charis is gearing up for our summer Come to the Quiet retreat and closing the books on another fiscal year. Jealous? Maybe a little?

Let me say that there is a lot of glamour and grace in the behind-the-scenes work. Prepping a retreat, cleaning up mailing lists, writing transition plans, and balancing the books may not seem like grace-filled work but it is. This work is the like liver to body, the mirepoix* to the soup…wait…better yet, the bass player in the band. It’s vital. There is such joy in creating the foundation of a successful retreat and organization. So remember friends, the girls may have the cool passport stamp and soaked in southern accents but I have the joy of the Green room (and I am blasting ChrisPod**…you better believe it!)

Stay Positive

*for the non-foodies out there – a mirepoix is a traditional base of a stock that consists of chopped onions, carrot and celery. The trinity if you will…in fact the Cajuns replace carrots with green peppers for base of many dishes and they call that the trinity.

**for the non-music snobs out there – the ChrisPod is filled with many different musical gems that simultaneously keeps the Green room at Charis rocking and annoying Lauren G and Briana C throughout the day!

Tuesday - Ritual and Building Community

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Someone yesterday asked me “Is this typical, what we were able to accomplish on the first day?” I didn’t really know how to respond to the question because I never had really quantified the amount of work done on these service trips. As the only person who has attended all the Charis service trips, I sometimes am looked to as someone with knowledge of the past and of the trade. As a teacher in the classroom during my daily life, I am used to that ritual, people new to an experience asking for guidance from those who have been there before.

If one watches Keith, our construction supervisor, work over the last couple days, one will notice he does not say much, an occasional instruction or a laugh at someone else’s joke, but that is about it. But as a man with forty years or more of carpentry experience, it is easy to see how ritualistic his work-style is, how rhythmic it is. And if one was to watch us today, one could see similar rhythms. Whether it was nailing up wall boards or putting the trusses of the roof into place, each person took up the job that best fit them: stud-finder, nail-gunner, pivoter. We have developed a rhythm where the whole works better the sum of our parts. Catholicism is religion steeped heavily in ritual. We thrive on the communal experience of prayer, song and Eucharist. Maybe there is something to this Jesus was a carpenter thing. And as we build the home for a Habitat family, we build our own community among ourselves.

Dave W.

Holiness in a parking lot

World Youth Day has officially begun and we are joined by Mike, Amina, Zulma, Jessica and Ana! Yesterday was the Opening Mass with Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, and 150,000 of our fellow pilgrims. Today was the first of our catechetical sessions and Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, SJ (the first Jesuit Archbishop) spoke about our call to follow the Holy Spirit. When asked how we can try to be more holy in our daily lives--meaning after the WYD high fades and we return to "real life"--he said that we should strive for "sanctification in the midst of our world." This is very much the Ignatian idea of "finding God in all things" and looking for God in our daily lives, regardless of what we are doing at the time.

As I was thinking about this, I couldn't help but think back to yesterday's opening Mass. There we were--standing in what was, as far as I can tell, a giant parking lot surrounded by fences, people talking, laughing and singing, and a half dozen jumbo-trons--smack dab in the middle of a Mass with what seemed like a thousand priests, bishops and cardinals. On the one hand it seemed so ordinary and so secular (I was standing next to a big trash can). On the other hand it was amazing to see so many young people gathered together by a common faith and for the common purpose of worshiping God. It seemed like the perfect example of what Archbishop Prendergast was talking about when he said we should strive for holiness no matter where we are or what we are doing.

With all that has been going on so far, we can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
-Lauren G

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Jay's Pontotoc Perspective

Monday, July 14

Service. It is a word that connotes giving, yet somehow I receive so much more than I feel I give each time I undertake it. Today, twelve eager young Chicagoans set out into the Mississippi heat to understand how “service” works in the world of construction. We quickly learned that our respective job/leadership skills take a back seat to the superior knowledge of some gifted and dedicated “Pontotocans”, who demonstrated the virtues of perseverance, patience and understanding from sun up to sun down. They un-bent nails, sawed off edges, and gave countless instructions to us. The work was intense to be sure. But the dominant feelings in our muscles this evening is not fatigue (though present too), but instead one of accomplishment, community, and joy.

We turned an open cement plank into four complete walls, part of a roof, and several painted cabinets. But more importantly we laughed, we helped, we built, we encouraged, we listened, we prayed, and we loved. Some call this giving, but as I sit here tonight, I feel like a just opened a great big present. Thank You God for a wonderful day.

Jay M.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day of Gathering

Sunday, July 13

Good to hear from our friends in Sydney; what a powerful experience. As to the heat - it's only been in the lower 90s here. We'd gladly trade you for a chilly evening!

Sunday broke bright and early for us as we headed off to St. Christopher Church for 8:00am Mass. The 200 parishioners had heard we would be arriving this week - our brand new friend Carolyn even volunteered to take us all out to breakfast after Mass! So we had food for the soul and food for the journey from our friends at St. Christopher.

Fr. Tim Muphy helped us put our upcoming week into perspective. Today's Gospel shares the parable of the sower and seeds - but rather than focusing entirely on how the seed of the Word falls on different types of people, Fr. Tim shared with us that "not everything small is beautiful, but everything beautiful is small." That particulary resonated with us today as we talked about painting cabinets and putting up walls at our Habitat House; even though what we are doing is small, it is beautiful, and part of a larger beauty.
After breakfast, we headed of to Ole Miss to check out the campus, stadium and the home of William Faulkner. Later, our site manager Keith, his wife Linda, granddaughter Katie, and Barbara and Wayne hosted us for a fantastic home-cooked meal - complete with the best sweet tea. All of us are excited to get to the site tomorrow and put in our contribution to the beauty that is this project.

A side note to all you Pontotoc Veterans out there - the newest street in the subdivision has been named after Brother Joe!

More authors will share soon!

Lauren B.

Longest Commute Ever

Saturday, July 12
Neither rain, nor wind, nor heat nor state troopers could keep us from our destination! All 12 of us (finally) made it down to Pontotoc in 12 hours - which we think is the record for Longest Trip Ever.

Personally, I enjoyed the ride. After all the time put into planning and getting ready to leave (Did I pack the right clothes? Do I have the right directions? Will my cats be OK? Did I have the right keys? Do I have this, that, the other thing?) it was actually quite nice to have the time and space to think about what lies ahead of us for the week.
Immediately upon arrival, our friends Mickey, Patrick, Wayne and Barbara met us at First Baptist and welcomed us back like long lost friends. We were touched at how thankful they were that we had come; but what really struck me at the end of the day was that Mickey said he was thankful for the opportunity to pray with us. To be able to be thankful for the chance to honor God with someone else, whether someone you've known your whole life or met 5 minutes ago, seemed like a wonderful state of mind. As we reflected together in evening, to feel so wanted was a great way to start our time in Pontotoc.
Lauren B.

A Report from Down Under

At this point, hopefully LB and company are safely Down South in Mississippi. My guess is that they are INFINITELY warmer than we are since the Australians don't believe in heating their buildings in the winter. Despite the very cold nights, we've been having a wonderful time at the Ignatian Gathering here at Riverview reconnecting with our experiment group and with others.

Today was a day for networking and finding out what ministries are going on for people in their 20s and 30s all around the world. I was simultaneously amazed at how much similarity and how much diversity there is in young adult ministry internationally. We shared how important it is to build a community where people feel welcome and empowered to live out their faith. I also learned about the ways that different cultures view the term "young adult" and how that impacts the type of programs they offer. It also amazed me that people from other countries had already heard about Charis and the work that we are doing. We even got a shout out from Fr. Dave of the London Jesuits. I had over a dozen people ask me afterwards if they could talk more about Charis' ministries and how they could adapt them to their country. It was definitely inspirational as we prepare to leave the Ignatian Gathering and join with the rest of the group from the Archdiocese of Chicago tomorrow afternoon.

-Lauren G.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Finding God in Daily Life

Today was the first day of the Ignatian Gathering in Sydney, to celebrate the end of Magis and prepare for the start of World Youth Day on Tuesday. It has been brillant catching up with all of our friends from our Experiment group and seeing what other groups have been up to in other parts of Australia, Cambodia, Phillipines, and Indonesia.

This afternoon, the World Youth Day cross and icon arrived at St. Ignatius Riverview College, where we are staying. At first I wasn't sure what to expect, but this gorgeous piece of wood with its simple stain was very beautiful and powerful, especially during tonight's vigil. We had an opportunity to venerate the cross prior to dinner and the skits representing our Magis group's experience. After the evening of praise & worship music and the various exciting and entertaining presentations, all the pilgrims were invited to participate in a simple vigil service with the cross.

It was one of the first experiences on this trip to sit in silent meditation and be present to the Lord, and I found it very peaceful and healing. It is amazing, as others have shared this week and tonight, how easy it is to be distracted in our daily lives and to miss the glaringly obvious graces of God and signs of his love and mercy. We get focused on the logistics, the details, the plans - we get caught up in our own desires and our own needs and our own wants and our own ideas of how things are supposed to be and where our attention is supposed to be focused. But here it was, right in front of our face, and even in the early part of tonight it was difficult to focus on it. It was difficult to make God the center of our life and attention, even for a short period of time. I think for many of us, that will be the challenge we continue to pray on throughout the week and beyond World Youth Day.

I know this was a bit heavy for a blog, but the spirit of the moment called and asked me to write it down. Don't worry, we still had a variety of random laughter and singing once the rest of our group arrived today, including stories involving fast food, dreams with singing, and more.


Friday, July 11, 2008

Down Under vs Down South (LG vs LB)

Who needs a whole 'nother continent to have a good time? Sure, Lauren G, Briana & Crew are jetsetting around Australia as part of the Pope's peeps. But even better than that - Lauren B, Dave & Company are off on a good ol' fashioned ROAD TRIP. You guessed it, it's time for Charis' Annual Service Trip!

Dave and I are excited to hit the road with Paul, Blair, Karen, Clete, Chris, Dania, Lindsey, Jay, Tim and Brian. Dave is a seasoned veteran of Charis Service Trips, while this will be my inaugural visit to the fine state of Mississippi. We're off to Pontotoc, Mississippi to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Working with each other by day and staying with our friends at the First Baptist Church of Pontotoc by night, we hope our time away will give us space to reflect on our service, our faith and ourselves.

Aside from the physical and spiritual benefits of laboring for others, I'm hoping for some great food. Bet you can't get good grits in Sydney! Check back for more update and pics as we become "contemplatives in SERIOUS action."

Lauren B.

Safely in Sydney...

As Briana said, we're now safely in Sydney. We said a temporary goodbye to our Indian and Irish friends and hopped a plane from Melbourne to Sydney for the Ignatian Gathering of the Magis08 program at St. Ignatius College, Riverview. While they will arrive at 5am after a 10 hour overnight bus ride, we are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after our flight (thanks to David, our friendly flight attendant). They'll join 1200 other Magis participants from sites around the world for two days of reflection on the service experiences we've had.

Yesterday, some of us went back into the Melbourne city center to see some sights. After some shopping at the Queen Victoria Market and a picture in front of Super Mario, we walked around the town and chatted with pilgrims from France, Chile, Kenya and South Korea before heading back for our final evening with our larger group. The night ended much as the rest of our nights had, with us laughing hysterically while learning Irish expressions, breaking into both Indian and Irish song and dance, and talking with some of the coolest people I've had the opportunity to meet in quite a while.

We're looking forward to Ana, Zulma, Mike, Amina and Jessica joining us here on Monday for the start of World Youth Day!
-Lauren G.

Aboriginal Art and Spirituality

'Allo and good day... greetings from lovely Sydney, Australia! It's hard to believe we're finally here, home of the 2000 Olympics, the great Opera House, and the Harbour Bridge. We have yet to see any kangaroos or koalas outside of souvenir shops and postcards, but we've still managed to experience authentic Australian culture!

One of the best experiences I've had this week, besides sharing in a great love of SERVICE and ART, is to learn about the Aboriginal culture. There are many tribes throughout the nation of Australia, and we were lucky enough to be in Melbourne during NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC (National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee) was created to recognize the unjustice done to the Aboriginal people by the English/Australian government (very similar to the Native American situation in the United States) and to celebrate the culture of those indigenous people. During the week, we experienced this culture in a variety of ways. On Wednesday, Group B went to the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) and saw a variety of authentic Australia paintings, including a large collection of modern representations and reproductions of Aboriginal patterns, themes, and history. We also went to the Royal Botanic Gardens, where they held a 2-hour festivity celebrating Aboriginal heritage. We participated in a smoke circle, authentic music by Aboriginal artists and instruments, ate traditional food, got our faces painted with some of their symbols and signs, and painted pictures with ochre that we made ourselves with clay and water.

On Thursday, many of us also visited the Aboriginal Cultural Center downtown. They had traditional food, music, and dancing as well as a permanent exhibit that shared their long and tumultuous history and 2 separate art exhibits by modern indigenous artists.

All in all, the relationship with the earth and the connection between their spirituality and their art were very profound and inspirational to myself and many members of our group. So much so that our Experiment Group's banner (which will be on display at this weekend's Ignatian Gathering) has many elements of Aboriginal art.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Oh the Places you Go...

Yesterday some of us were on our day in city where we had the opportunity to be immersed in Australian culture, where you can stop on Collins Street, similar to Michigan Avenue, be able to find as many tacky Australian soveniers as you can possible imagine with kangeroos and koalas on them OR go and visit the art museum and St. Patrick's Cathedral. We opted for choice three.

As part of our experiment with Finding God in Art and Service we have the opportunity to experience some art at the NGV ( National Gallery of Victoria) where we saw some famous Australian paintings, and learned just a a little about Aboriginal art. One of the famous paintings we saw was called Shearing Rams and is represantative of a large part of Australian Culture.

Also in our adventures we had the opportunity to see St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne. It was a beautiful cathedral and there is a program going in on that is called Days in the Diocese and many pilgrims from others countries were there at the Cathedral. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many pilgrims, I can only imagine what World Youth Day will be like. There is even part of the Cathedral that is called Pilgrim's Path.

One never knows where your adventures will lead but as long as God is guiding your footsteps it should turn out alright.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Discernment Day

Discernment: Day of Prayer and Reflection

On June 21, 2008, a group of about 15 young adults met on the campus of Loyola University to pray and reflect. Led by Dr. John Neafsey, we had an opportunity to prayerfully examine the intimate relationship between personal calling and social conscience in our lives.

Throughout the day Dr. Neafsey offered us ideas to think about. We were sent off to the quiet to prayerfully reflect on the concepts and returned to share in group. The lakefront provided me, and many of the others gathered, the perfect opportunity to come to the quiet and reflect on the rich experiences of Christ in our life. To look at the 'coincidences' that St. Ignatius explains, that move our life forward. To judge whether these internal movements come from Christ's action. A discernment of spirits.

It was difficult for me to put aside a Saturday on my calendar to concentrate on prayer. I often find the time for many other things and think that I can just pray later. I have my entire life to do that. I am glad I put aside this Saturday for prayer. It opened my eyes to reflect daily on the whispers of the Spirit. Do you find time to come to the quiet and listen to the Holy Spirit coming from within? Try it and you will be glad you did!

Lou S.

Greetings from Melbourne!

G'day mates! After a VERY long flight complete and lack of sleep, we are now into our third "full" day in Melbourne and have begun our Magis experiment. There are 20 of us from Ireland, India, Croatia, Italy, Korea and Chicago. Today, half of us went to Sacred Heart Mission to serve lunch to the guests and spend time in the elderly hostel. Being on the lunch crew, it was quite amusing to hear people say "you've got a funny accent, where are you from?" The Mission is quite amazing in all the programs it offers and the gourmet 3 course meal it serves to a few hundred people every day.

After lunch, we joined in with some of the visitors for their art group. Some people got into it right away, others (including yours truly), found it a little tougher to get started. After a few failed attempts with pastels and crayons, I discovered that if you use watercolor paints, you can erase things you don't like just by adding more water! The mission now has the artwork of a few errant Americans hanging on its walls.

Tonight we'll take part in the Magis reflection component and have Mass and the chance to see how God was present with us during our activities throughout the day. Tomorrow we get up and start again!

-Lauren G

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Our bags are packed, we're ready to go...

We're almost ready! After months of planning, logistics and prayer, tomorrow is the day that Lori, Lexy, Briana, Melissa and I leave for the Magis'08 program in Melbourne, Australia. Assuming we don't go stir-crazy on our 18 hour plane ride, we are meeting up with Chrissy, who is already in Australia, to take part in an Ignatian "Experiment," or experience, called Finding God in Art and Service. At our site, we will be serving at the Sacred Heart Mission and spending time exploring the art and tradition of Melbourne with two other groups from India and Ireland (yay for fun accents!).

After our week in Melbourne, we'll head to Sydney to spend the weekend with over 1,000 other young adults who did experiments throughout Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines reflecting on our our experiences of having "a faith that does justice."

At the end of our time with the Magis'08 program, we'll be joined by Jessica, Ana, Amina, Zulma, Mike (of fame), and a few hundred thousand of our other closest friends to take part in World Youth Day. Check back over the next three weeks for more posts from the Land Down Under!

-Lauren G

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Looking through a Lens of Appreciation

It goes without saying that Charis Ministries offers many life-changing opportunities for young adults in the Chicagoland area in a given year. But this was clearly evident to me at the Charis Ministries Recognition Dinner held in downtown Chicago last Sunday night. While there, I heard about all the incredible projects that have happened over the course of the last twelve months, and even more importantly, the incredible people who made these programs come to life.

It struck me how many young adults had been impacted by Ignatian spirituality by the people in the room that night. Thanks to their efforts, I wondered just how many hearts were turned, how many lives were changed, and how many people felt the presence of God all around them. We may never know, but it took my breath away just knowing I was sharing a room with so many people who said "Here I am, Lord. Send me!"

To cap it off, we heard from Fr. Pat McGrath, SJ, on what makes the Ignatian spirituality that Charis spreads so special. He explained that it allows us to look at the world through the lens of appreciation, which was quite appropriate as we shared our own appreciation for the men and women who have made such a difference in this ministry effort. On a personal note, I thought it was moving that we were able to truly appreciate our friend and colleague Jenene Francis, who has done so much to propel Charis on a national stage. Using this very same Ignatian approach, I can truly thank God for the gift of Jenene over the past five years.

The Recognition Dinner was a perfect way to wrap up one year and look ahead, with the lens of appreciation already in hand, to the months and years that lie ahead.

-Paul J.
(Diocese of Joliet)

Friday, June 6, 2008

What's in your heart?

Last evening on the feast day of St. Boniface, around 35 young adults from around the Chicagoland area gathered at St. Teresa of Avila parish in Lincoln Park to celebrate Mass. As a closing to the 2007-08 Charis Ministries activities, young adults who attended other Charis events throughout the year came together to re-connect and share in a closing event before the flurry of summertime activities begins. With a focus on the theme "What's in your heart?", Fr. Michael Sparough, SJ (the director of Charis Ministries) invited us to reflect on the past year’s Living Ignatian Speaker Series, reminded us of the movement through St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, and encouraged us to focus on the spiritual heart that centers us.

A handful of years ago Charis Ministries first partnered with St. Teresa of Avila parish to co-host an evening vespers service for young adults. Eric Styles, SJ, who is currently a Jesuit scholastic at Loyola University, spearheaded the effort in hopes of offering young adults a different form of prayer by introducing a segment of the liturgy of hours. Over the past few years St. Teresa’s and Charis has continued to co-sponsor a variety of evenings of prayer including vespers, peace and justice speakers, and Masses for young people in their 20s and 30s. In 2007-08, as part of the Living Ignatian Speaker Series, young adults again had the opportunity to celebrate Mass together at St. Teresa’s. These evenings of worship provide an opportunity for young adults connected to Charis to celebrate the Eucharist, and share in informal conversation and fellowship in the Parish Center following the Mass.

Thanks to all who participated in the 2007-08 Living Ignatian Speaker Series, and we hope that you can join us on September 11, 2008 for our kickoff Mass for the next Living Ignatian programming year.

Enjoy the summer!
-Leigh H.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

For the Least 2008

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the weekend with 47 other young adults who are passionate about issues of peace and justice and how that impacts each of our lives. We had the time to pray and reflect on our own and heard about others’ experiences of living out the Gospel call to service.

Theresa shared the difference between a college service trip to Mexico and viewing the situation as a kind of "science experiment" to the experience she has now of simply being in solidarity the students she teaches. Luke told us a story about JFK and the Cuban missile crisis that influenced him in his commitment to non-violence.

Anita compared her year of service in South America and wanting to "help" people, to spending three years in Africa learning about hospitality, generosity and other virtues from the people there. David took us with him as he shared 3 stories of what he learned from people he met on his pilgrimage to 365 churches in 365 days to nearly 40 countries on 5 continents.

Keynote speaker Nick Lund-Molfese pointed out potential hurdles that those working for a more just world may encounter but gave us time to reflect on how we can overcome them in our own lives and works.

To see some pics from the weekend, go to the Charis Ministries Facebook page. If you were on the retreat, feel free to post some of your own thoughts here.

Be sure to save the date for next year’s retreat: May 1-3, 2009.
~Lauren G

Friday, May 30, 2008

Setting Our Hearts On Fire - One Day at a Time!

Thursday night was the last in this year's Living Ignatian speaker series. Living Ignatian was a way for us to develop a deeper understanding of some of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises and how we can incorporate them into our regular lives. Throughout the year we had speakers on Sin, the Life of Christ, the Passion of Christ, and the Resurrection. Fr. Paul Coutinho challenged us to think outside our current beliefs and understandings of our personal faith and theology and determine what it really is God is calling us to do. According to St. Ignatius, we are being called to love. John and Megan Kennedy offered insight on how to "Live to Forgive" as we reconcile social sin with responsible citizenship and imitate the life and love of Christ through social awareness and action. John Neafsay encouraged us in Lent to Live as Disciples by reflecting on our personal vocation and how we can raise the level of consciousness about God's call in our own lives, especially as it relates to serving others. Fr. Michael Sparough, the Executive Director of Charis, challenged us to look at death and suffering as something to be embraced as it helps us grow closer to Christ by uniting us with his Passion and death. Last night, Lorraine Snyder wrapped things up with a conversation about Living the Resurrection, and setting our hearts on fire with the rebirth of Christ in our lives post-Easter.

Each of these talks explored a piece of Ignatian spirituality and how it can be brought into our lives. (More details about the Living Ignatian Series are available!) Young adults get weary of being preached at and talked down to, especially in matters of religious faith and spiritual development. It seems to me that incorporating these ideas into a discussion versus a lecture is the best way for us as young adults to really delve into some of the more difficult theological concepts while discovering for ourselves what they really mean in our lives. I have loved attending every Living Ignatian talk this year, and feel that each one has helped me add a new layer of awareness that I did not have before.

These are just my thoughts - perhaps someone else will have further information or insight!
-Briana C.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Ta da! Welcome to Charis Ministries' first foray into the world of blogging. As we expand our programming, our staff, and our travels, we wanted to keep you posted on what we're up to.

Upcoming posts should include live updates from Lauren Gaffey while she's in Australia for World Youth Day, as well as Lauren Berke on the Service Trip in Pontotoc, Mississippi.

Check back soon!

- Lauren B