by Koby Buth, Precious Blood Volunteer at KC CARE Heath Center
Growing up, I regularly attended youth ministry events titled something along the lines of, “Be a Hero for Jesus!” The message I heard at those events usually went something like this: “Jesus calls us to be moral exemplars in society. We need to stand out from our peers in a way that points to Christ and brings others to Him. By performing extraordinary acts with extraordinary courage, we will gather attention from society that we will then be able to redirect to Jesus.”
Part of the use of the word “Hero” was, of course, a means of appealing to our ten-year-old imagination: we could be Superman or Wonder Woman. I did not consider, however, how this appeals to our modern obsession with individualism, until I first heard the song “Helplessness Blues” by the band Fleet Foxes. As I contemplated the lyrics over time, the first verse has always been the most striking to me:
I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,
unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I’d say I’d rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery
serving something beyond me
While that verse could be interpreted as critiquing the Participation Trophy Phenomenon, I think it more clearly speaks to the desire to contribute in small, cooperative ways to a larger, more meaningful society. Those youth ministry events encourage great individual acts, not small, perhaps menial, acts that add up to something greater than we could do individually. I think that our youth ministers did not want to encourage those particular acts, primarily because they can feel menial. An accountant for a homeless shelter may not feel like she’s contributing much to the world, but that shelter would not exist for very long without her, leading to fewer people getting the services they need.
This volunteer year, I have often felt like a “cog in some great machinery,” which has in some ways left me a little unsatisfied. I have felt the need to begin some great project which will overhaul the way the clinic works and drastically improve the care for our patients. I would love to say that desire comes solely from the care I feel for our patients, but I think some of it comes from a desire to stand out from the crowd—to be a Hero for Jesus. In college, we often had speakers from small organizations come and speak about what caused them to start a nonprofit that helps with human trafficking or world hunger. I often wondered if, instead of having many small organizations dedicated to eradicating a huge social issue like human trafficking, having a few large ones would be able to mobilize more people and more resources. I wondered if people’s desire to be a Hero for Jesus by starting their own organization was a less efficient way of decreasing hunger and slavery in our world than joining a pre- existing one and adding their skills and talents to an already established nonprofit.
People will often say that the desire to be a cog in a machine is fueled by complacency. But I am learning to see the benefits to it. It allows good, helpful organiations to function smoothly. It helps you make significant changes in the world without burning yourself out hunting for the next great idea.
A few months ago, some street evangelists stopped Brooke (my wife, also a Precious Blood Volunteer) and I on our walk home and asked when we were saved. I thought, I don’t think salvation is a one-time thing, I think it’s a process, which is why Paul tells us “work out your salvation.” But, because I knew I would make my wife uncomfortable confronting street evange- lists, I said, “When I was around six.” He then asked, “Does your salvation make you want to go out and evangelize?” My answer was something along the lines of, “Actually, I feel like I usually want to show people what Christ is like rather than telling them.” We then told each other to have a good day and parted ways. These people were looking for big ways to serve Christ, which is good, but I’m trying to find consolation in doing small things, routine things to serve Christ, other people, and the broader creation.
Koby is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at KC CARE Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
Koby Buth with a patient at KC CARE Health Center
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.
by Steven Dougherty, Precious Blood Volunteer
Steven Dougherty is a Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois. In the three reflections below, Steven paints pictures of hope he has encountered while working there.
My second week in Chicago was one of the most violent in recent history. Waiting for the bus, I saw a man and a woman talking. They spoke slowly. The air was thick and hot. As she was leaving, the woman leaned in and hugged the man. Then she held him for a moment at arm’s length. She looked him in the eyes, and with worry in her throat she said, “Be safe.” Her words, thick in the hot air. They were desperate wounded words, heavy with fear. This was a command, a salutation, a wish—something impossible, or at least it seemed so at the time. So many people had died. Then she let the man go, freeing him from her temporary protection, hoping her wish would be enough. I thought it was beautiful how much she cared for this man, how well they must have known each other. Then the woman came to me and did the same!
In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have witnessed struggle, I have witnessed pain, and I have witnessed loss. I have been asked many times about hope. How can I stay hopeful doing the work I do at PBMR? I struggle with this, because finding hope feels like a privilege. If I say that I have hope that this community I work in will be revitalized and not gentrified, if I say that I hope the people we help can get jobs and will be treated fairly, or if I say that I hope people will stop dying so young, I am doing so only for myself. I think these things because at the end of the day I am tired. I have done what I know I can do, and the rest seems impossible, so I hope. I am not saying this is a bad thing, only that is not the thing I want it to be. Access to hope has become a privilege. It has become a way of distancing ourselves from the responsibility of the world’s problems. Hope for things to get better keeps things the way they are.
But there is another side to all of this, because hope does not have to be something that is stagnant. Hope can move through us and into others. When this happens, when hope draws us together, there is power—power for real change in the world. When people work together with a united vision of hope, when they know exactly what they want to accomplish, hope can be actualized. We can reach out with hope and work together to make sure that everything will be okay, and although it is hard, we do this work anyway.
In my months of volunteering at PBMR I have also witnessed this: a new kind of hope—a hope that does things in the world. It is a hope that people share with strangers. It is mixed with fear and pain, but it is strong enough to overcome them both. Since it was given to me by the woman at the bus stop, I have seen it all over Chicago, I have even used it myself: “Be safe.” There is so much behind these words. They carry a message that you are cared for, and they carry a promise that although there is so much danger that I cannot solve, you have my protection. Anytime someone leaves the Center you hear all of this. Everyone is not always safe. In fact, our participants are rarely safe—but will still hope. We believe the impossible and together we make it a little more possible.
The man in front of you seems old but you know that time does not pass here as it does elsewhere, so in the letter to your friend you will call him worn. He is asleep. He has been asleep since you got on the bus, and since you got on the bus, the bus has filled with heat and pressure.
In the letter to your friend you will compare it to the sun—the bus—and now it grows loud. A child begins to scream. The heat and the pressure move through your spine and you feel beyond heavy—you feel worn.
You cannot make out the words of the child. In the letter to your friend the back of the bus will be another world, one that is burning in its closeness to the sun. All you hear is longing. Longing that makes you think to write a letter to your friend. Longing to be heard: the painful pulling apart of a body from its limbs. In the letter, you will call it gun violence in Chicago. The man in front of you who you will call worn, but who you know is old for this bus and the violence, whispers with his eyes still closed, “Hey now, it’s gonna be okay.” You are not sure who he means to say it to, the child or himself. In the letter to your friend he will say it to everyone because “it” is a delicate thing: the bus and the child and your spine and Chicago, but you believe him anyway.
Steven is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org
This article originally appeared in the May 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.
Brooke Buth praying with students and staff at Cristo Rey KC High School
by Brooke Buth, current Precious Blood Volunteer
When my husband Koby and I first applied to be Precious Blood Volunteers, we knew that the year would be hard. I wanted to work at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School, which provides a college preparatory education to low-income and minority students from Kansas City at little to no cost. Growing up in the wealthy suburbs of Chicago and going to college in the middle of nowhere Indiana, I knew the culture change would be a difficult adjustment. And it is.
I wanted to do a double placement to get a wider range of experiences here, so I also work at Bishop Sullivan Center, a social services organization that offers a food pantry, free dinners, and rent and utility assistance. Having almost no long-term experience working in social services, I knew learning and adapting to that work would be hard. And it is.
Don’t get me wrong – we were very excited about this year and have had a wonderful time. Koby works at KC CARE Health Center, where he loves interacting with patients and helping them learn more about their health. My Cristo Rey kids are wonderful, and I’ve been able to have some great conversations about faith and life with them. In addition, Bishop Sullivan Center just opened their newly renovated kitchen, which was designed to add dignity and choices to the dining experience. It’s a beautiful new location, and I am honored to be a part of their work.
But the year has been difficult – in that good way that means you’re growing. By far the hardest thing about my volunteer year was completely a surprise. I have found it incredibly hard to live eight hours from my family, even though I went to college four hours away and two of my siblings don’t live at home anymore. Because I work at a high school, I had almost two and a half weeks for break, which were spent with our families. It was a wonderful time to reconnect with them, do puzzles with my in-laws, watch cheesy movies with my little sisters, and play games. The time flew by, and then we were headed back to the second half of our year.
After driving back from Chicago to Kansas City on the Feast of the Epiphany, I arrived tired, hungry (when you’re on a small stipend, you pack snacks instead of stopping for fast food), and quite homesick. I expected to come into our large community house in the dark, put a frozen pizza in the oven, and scarf it down before running to make 5:00 pm Mass. Maybe later Koby and I would watch Netflix and procrastinate on unpacking.
Instead, we pulled up to cars filling the driveway, all the lights of the house on, and a bright party in our living room. Food filled the dining table, which is large, seating 10 people easily, and drinks were moved to the kitchen to make space for even more food, which kept arriving. We had forgotten about the annual Gaspar House Epiphany party, held by our community priests and Companions of the Precious Blood. There were tamales, macarons, a King Cake, beer, queso, turkey roll ups, and more kinds of cookies than I could count.
All these people, most of whom I had met before, greeted me warmly, asked about the break and Christmas season, and expressed genuine joy to have us there at the party. Some I hadn’t even met before – they had just heard about us through the Precious Blood grapevine. I quickly texted a local friend, who told me about the 8pm Mass at the Cathedral – there was time to spare for the party! And at Mass I ran into another new friend I haven’t seen in some time, reminding me that even though Kansas City can feel lonely, I have many more connections than I often realize.
On the Feast of the Epiphany we celebrate the Magi, who traveled from “the east,” following the light of a star to find the baby Jesus. As it would go, Koby and I also came from “the east” (just Chicago and Michigan, but still, east) here to Kansas City. Even now it’s hard to say what light we were following – service, Catholic community, a new experience, a chance to break out on our own, the voice of God calling us to take a risk and trust him, delicious Kansas City BBQ, or maybe all of the above. We were definitely inspired by the work that we would be able to do here, each in our own fields but in a new experience. Even though we had hoped that Koby would go right from college to Medical School, something about this service year just seemed like the right decision.
Brooke Buth working at Bishop Sullivan Center’s food pantry
In a way, we followed that light and we came upon Christ incarnate. We had both experienced the presence of Christ here before that – in Koby’s patients, Mass at St. Francis Xavier, prayer with my students, and the people who work at Bishop Sullivan Center– but, for me, I had never experienced that arriving, coming home, being surprised by the presence of Christ here in Kansas City as I experienced it the night of the party. Those who saw us at the party may be surprised to hear this – I was so tired and hungry that I don’t think I was a very merry dinner guest, and we retreated early to unpack – but the feeling that stuck with me all night was one of welcome, love, and community.
I imagine it was a little like the Magi felt – traveling so far away from home, away from all their comforts (and a side note: how many snacks can a camel actually carry?). They traveled all that way looking for a new king, and I am quite sure they were surprised by the baby they found, in humble conditions. Did they feel that sense of “Ah, yes, now we have made it”? Were they surprised by Mary’s generosity and hospitality? Did they feel like the journey was worthwhile, and more importantly, that their discovery was worth the journey home, along the back roads to avoid Herod?
We can’t answer those questions about them, but for me, the Epiphany Party reminded me of why I originally chose to come out to Kansas City, and showed me that my journey here, and the next six months, would be worthwhile. This Feast of Epiphany, I was surprised by the great light of community surrounding me here, for this time, supporting me, praying for me, and feeding me with Christmas cookies.
Brooke is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School and Bishop Sullivan Center.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
by Lina Guerrero, Precious Blood Volunteer
It was around 7 o’clock in the morning on October 10th, 2011 in Austin, Texas. I was seventeen years old and sitting outside on the porch of my house with our pastor Fr. Bill Wack, C.S.C. (now known as Bishop Bill, but I still can’t help but call him Fr. Bill). It was a Monday morning, the usual day when the trash collectors come. I remember sitting there in silence with Fr. Bill watching the world go by and workers going about their day trying to make their living. The collectors reach my house and just passed by, because we hadn’t put the trash bins out. They go along, but we stayed there, sitting still. I turn to Fr. Bill and say to him, “It’s weird how they just go about their day, and they have no idea what’s going on in this house or why our trash bins aren’t on the curb.” He just looks up, smiles, and says to me, “Yeah, it’s almost like an ignorant bliss.”
About an hour before this scene my aunt—affectionately known as Tia Mari—had died after a long five-month stint in hospice care in my home. She had been battling breast cancer for a long time, and that moment on the porch after her painfully long death was filled with a crippling sense of anger, sadness, relief, and confusion. How can people like those trash collectors go about their day when we’re sitting here with our world rocked by the death of our loved one? How can the world go on when we’re sitting here still, feeling like we can’t move, or even breathe? I remember feeling angry about this realization, specifically because the world and the people in it move everyday in the “ignorant bliss” of so much death and suffering.
Fast forward to December 5th, 2018. I’m sitting in the large gathering room at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois. There is a heaviness and stillness in the place, much like that morning on the porch, and I’m feeling that same sense of anger all over again except this time it is for a very different reason. That morning we woke up to the news that one of our young men in our programs was killed during the night. He was 21 years old, and appeared rather frequently at the center. I interacted with him occasionally, but not enough to know him on a personal level. However, many people at the center knew him very well for many years. This young man is the latest PBMR family member to die, and unfortunately death is known very well here. The reality of death is with us everyday, almost as if we are constantly waiting for it to happen, but hoping and praying that it doesn’t.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a weird relationship with death. During my year as a Jesuit Volunteer in Kansas City, I remember crying in the middle of a bar with my spiritual director while talking about the spirituality of death. Everytime I hear that someone has died, I sort of get a sense of numbness. And if I’m being honest, I don’t know if this numbness comes from me having multiple experiences of people close to me dying, or if the concept of death just scares the hell out of me.
2018 Day of the Dead altar at PBMR
So why do I currently volunteer/work at a place where death is a common occurrence? Hell, I ask myself that question everyday. But if there’s anything I can say, I think it comes from the fact that it’s one thing to die from an illness, a car accident, or natural causes- things that we have no control over-but a completely different thing for someone to die from violence, a cause that can, should, and could have been prevented by various measures. The deaths we encounter most at PBMR are deaths of the latter kind- deaths that because our society is structured and conditioned to value some lives more than others, rock communities and individuals to their very core.
But like that morning on the porch and that morning at the Center, the anger at the ignorance of death–whether it is intentional or not–makes me feel some kind of way. I think of the way people are killed in the streets everyday, and people go about their lives as if it doesn’t matter. Jesuit Father Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries has said that, “The wrong idea has taken root in the world. And the idea is this: there just might be lives out there that matter less than other lives.” How many people in our society would ask whether the young man who died was a gang member? A Black man? Someone who lived on the south side of Chicago? Why was he walking late at night? Did he deserve to die even if all of those things were true? These are the questions that I’ve been asking myself since that morning. And I can definitely tell you that according to the many people who knew this young man here at PBMR, he didn’t deserve to die. His life mattered, even if the ignorance of others says otherwise.
I’m going to be straight up and say that I don’t have any answers to what I speak of here. But what I do know is that I’m tired of living in a world where we have to convince people to care about others, to pay attention to their own privilege, to not be in their own “ignorant bliss” about the lives of others due to the perception that some lives matter more than others. I get angry a lot about these things now-a-days, and I think that’s okay. Jesus got angry and flipped tables too. But also like Jesus with Lazarus, He made space to honor the anger of Martha, to weep and mourn the death of His friend. And even though we know that death doesn’t have the final word, the anger, the weeping, and lamentation are holy too. And that’s where I want to be.
Lina is a current Precious Blood Volunteer serving at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation in Chicago.
To learn more about becoming a Precious Blood Volunteer go to www.preciousbloodvolunteers.org.
This article originally appeared in the January 2019 edition of the New Wine Press.
2018-2019 Precious Blood Volunteer Lina Guerrero
Lina will serve at Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation (PBMR) in Chicago, Illinois and will live with Dayton Precious Blood Sisters in the Bridgeport neighborhood. She was born and raised in Austin, Texas then graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland with degrees in international studies and Spanish. She spent the last year serving as part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in western Missouri with the Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund. She has committed to serving as a Precious Blood Volunteer for a full year.
- Why do you want to volunteer?
“After being a Jesuit Volunteer this past year, I felt a call to do another year of service because I felt like I wasn’t ‘done’ yet. There is still so much work to be done, systems to tackle, and things to learn about people for me to not try to volunteer again.”
- Why do you want to volunteer with Precious Blood Volunteers?
“After meeting, living with, and attending a parish with Precious Blood priests, I truly enjoyed and was spiritually nourished by their examples, ministries, and spirituality. I also have had a Precious Blood priest as my spiritual director this past year, which also allowed me to discern my desire to continue volunteering as well as working with the Precious Blood Community. Also, us Jesuit Volunteers spent a lot of time with the Kansas City Precious Blood volunteers over the past year, with some of our placements overlapping with theirs. So in short, all things Precious Blood were of great support to me and my fellow Jesuit Volunteers during our JV year in Kansas City. ”
- What are you looking forward to about your volunteer experience?
“Being able to continue serving in many ways that I did as a Jesuit Volunteer, but also have the ability to learn, serve, and grow in ways that I didn’t during my JV year. Just the fact that this experience will be very different from my previous volunteer experience is exciting for me.”