Where your treasure is, there you heart will be also…

By Caroline Johnson, FC 17 Costa RicaManos 1

Both the gospels of Luke and Matthew say, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34, Matthew 6:21).  The four of us here in Costa Rica were recently praying on this particular passage, and I’ll be honest, it brought me to tears.

As we wind down our time here in Costa Rica, I daily fluctuate between tears of joy over the indescribable year we have had and tears of sadness at the heartbreak of leaving behind so many people I have come to deeply love. On the days where sadness overcomes my heart, this passage from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew has been a true lifesaver as I’ve realized just how many treasures I have been blessed with both here in Costa Rica and in the United States.

It is a treasure to have loved and been loved so fiercely that I find it nearly impossible to leave this new home of mine. I have met some of the most loving and giving people who have welcomed me into their homes as family and who have maintained the patience of saints as I have learned, practiced, butchered and persevered with this beautiful Spanish language. My volunteer site has showered me with gifts every single day from the innocent, unadulterated love of the children I get to work with to the small acts of kindness my coworkers show me every day.  The three women I am lucky to have as community members have taught me countless lessons about faith, fun, and femininity in this crazy world we get to live in.

I am also blessed to have incredible adventures awaiting me upon my arrival back to the States. I get to move to a vibrant new city to pursue a master’s degree in a field I have been infatuated with since my junior year of undergrad, and I get to live in the same city as one of my dear community members, Erin!

The verse from Luke and Matthew reminds me that, unlike my mortal self, my heart can be in two places at once so long as I recognize the treasures in those places that keep my heart grounded there. When I first came to Costa Rica I knew that it would be my home for the next year, but I never considered the depth of the definition of home. Home really is where the heart is, no matter if you yourself are there or not. As each day brings me closer to returning to my first home in the States, I am overwhelmed with joy, love, sadness, and gratefulness for the privilege to have another place to truly call my home here in Costa Rica. A large piece of my heart will forever stay here in Costa Rica, and I think that’s the beauty of a life lived in search of God’s treasures – that the more we open our hearts to the path God leads us on, the more our treasures accumulate and multiply.

Red Jell-O…

By Ana Thesing, FC 17 SyracusePantry 1

A couple of weeks ago we were on retreat in Toronto and were all sitting around listening to Friar Rick.  While he was talking I noticed I was being distracted by my Tao Cross that was hanging around my neck. This necklace was given to the FrancisCorps volunteers during our commissioning mass when we first arrived in Syracuse to start our year. So naturally, I thought this necklace was kind of a special necklace that I should only wear during special occasions. I maintained this mentality until recently when I started wearing my Tao Cross on a regular basis because I simply just wanted to. Little did I know when I started wearing it daily, that Tao Cross would be a constant reminder of all of the things I am learning here with FrancisCorps.

As I was fiddling with the necklace in my hands I took a closer look and realized that there was something red and sticky on the wooden cross. What was it you ask?? Well, my friends it was Jell-O because we serve Jell-O every night at the soup kitchen and I sometimes help prepare that Jell-O. I usually come home with dirty shirts or dirty pants because I still have the bad habit of wiping my hands on my pants regardless of the countless times my mom has told me to use a towel or wash my hands. It was a little surprising to me that it wasn’t my shirt or my pants that were dirty that day, but rather my necklace.

I almost started to feel embarrassed when I first learned what the red sticky stuff sitting on my Tao Cross was. My initial thought was This is why you can’t have nice things Ana! You should only being wearing this for nice occasions. It quickly dawned on me that there was a reason that I had started wearing the necklace regularly. The Tao Cross is a daily reminder that Jesus is with me at all times in life, not just the times I’m at church, with other Christians, or doing things with other parishioners. He is with me while I’m helping clients get food from our food pantry. He is with me while I’m sitting around the dinner table with my community. He is with me while I’m playing softball with the Sisters. And yes, He is even with me when I’m making Jell-O for the hungry people on the Northside of Syracuse.

As I continued to look at the cross, I thought about the lesson that Jesus was teaching me in that moment. The Jell-O on the cross was red. Jesus’s blood on the cross was red. The color is only the beginning of the similarities that started flowing through my brain at that moment.  Jesus suffered for all of us as a sign of His unconditional love for us on that cross. This year I have become friends with so many people that are “suffering” in their world and have turned it into a personal fight to try and succeed. They are fighting, living month to month searching for ways to have an adequate amount of food in their homes for their families. They are fighting to find work that they are capable of doing. They are fighting to make that school bus on time because their mom or dad may not have woken them up for school. There are so many things my friends I’ve met here in Syracuse are fighting for and who would have thought that this sticky, red Jell-O would show me that. It doesn’t matter if we are rich or if we are poor, we are always fighting for something while sharing the love Jesus has shown us as He suffered on the cross. It just so happens that we are all a little more alike than we might think because Proverbs reminds us that The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all (Prov 2:22).

I certainly don’t think before doing a year of service with FrancisCorps I would have looked at that necklace and thought twice about it being a little dirty. Today, I can say that I am not surprised that I learned a couple different lessons in those moments of distraction. One of the most frequent reminders for myself this year has been that God chooses when and where He is going to teach me a lesson and I can’t ever predict when it happens!

“Gracias, muchas gracias…”

By Johanna Cajina, FC 17 Costa Rica20151020_100712_001

A little over three years ago, I visited Al Niño con Cariño for the first time during a Catholic University mission trip, unaware that it would become my volunteer site after joining FrancisCorps. One of the most memorable experiences during this week-long trip was on our last day when all the girls gathered and sang to the volunteers, “Gracias, muchas gracias.” After becoming more familiar with Niño, I soon realized that this song is only sung on special occasions, such as farewells for long-term volunteers.

Then a few months ago, in February, I heard the girls sing again. This time, however, the setting was different but they sang louder and more joyfully than I had ever heard them before. We were saying our final farewell to our driver, my co-worker, Don Gerardo. “Gracias, muchas gracias con todo el corazón…” [Thank you, thank you so much with all our hearts], they sang before placing homemade letters expressing their gratitude and love on top of his coffin.

Throughout my time in FrancisCorps, I have been taught that inspiration can be found in nature as a reflection of the Divine whether it be in times of joy or sorrow. St. Francis, himself, praises God for ALL creatures and creation, going as far as calling death his “sister,” in The Canticle of Brother Sun. Yet, for the longest time, I felt like the least Franciscan person. How could I praise, much less call, death “sister” when it was causing me so much pain? Surely, I thought, St. Francis was mistaken when he included her in the Canticle. It took a lot of personal prayer and community support for me to accept that if everything is a gift from God, I have to appreciate and value everything, including those things that cause suffering.

At your volunteer site, you will find that certain people make your path brighter and more joyous. They will fill you with happiness through their interactions with the people you serve, or in their small gestures such as joining you for lunch, or even just lending a listening ear. This is the value of my time with Don Gerardo that I initially failed to see– I mourned for all the moments he and I would no longer have together, without appreciating all the small moments that God gifted us with. I could not even possibly imagine that in my time of service, it was indeed God who was serving me by placing Don Gerardo in my life as my year of service would not have been the same without him. As our year draws to end, I will remember to thank God for all those gifts He has put in my life.