One of the many reasons I so eagerly look forward to all my meetings with my spiritual director is that we meet on the grounds of a local maternity home that she helped to found. Next door to the house where the moms live is a Daughters of the Mother of Mercy convent, and they kindly let my spiritual director and me use their chapel for our meetings.
There is a palpable sense peace that pervades the whole area, noticeable as soon as you step out of your car, that undoubtedly emanates from the selfless love that is woven throughout everything the moms and staff do there. To set the scene, let me offer a brief summary of what goes on at the maternity home, written by a friend who recently visited:
The maternity home is incredible. Young pregnant women, including teenagers, with no place to go and no one to help them are welcomed into the home, given schooling for their GED if they haven’t graduated from high school yet, live in community with one another learning life skills, caring for their babies, cooking, cleaning, etc., spend time with the Nigerian nuns who live on the premises and offer friendship, spiritual guidance and encouragement, and prayers for them, have their babies taken care of during the part day when they attend school, and can live in the home for up to 2 years after their baby is born so that they are ready to live independently in the world with their children. The cost to the girls: $0.
Undoubtedly one of the reasons they’re able to offer all of these services at no cost is that the nuns who make up part of the staff have taken vows of poverty and therefore receive little to no compensation for their labor. Before I ever met any of them I marveled at the beauty of their lives, thinking of how much it enriches the world to have people like that who vow to have nothing of their own and are therefore free to fully give themselves the community around them.
The first time I actually met one of the sisters, I was almost taken aback by her greeting. As soon as she saw me her face immediately softened with humble joy, and when I offered to shake her hand she gave me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek instead. She gently took my hand and welcomed me into the convent’s living room, asking me in broken English what she could get me to eat or drink, taking a great interest in me as if I were some kind of royalty.
Because I am an idiot and not used to accepting such kindness from people I don’t know, I jokingly thought to myself, “Does she owe me money or something?”
The warmth of her reaction to my presence was like nothing I’d ever encountered from a stranger. Even though I was just sitting in her living room waiting for my spiritual director to arrive, it was as if my presence on her couch was the exactly what she hoped would happen that day. I can’t put my finger on any one thing she did to make me feel so loved and special — was it the way she stopped what she’d been doing and gave me her undivided attention, even though she was busy? her fearlessness in reaching out to take my hand to lead me inside? the way she smiled warmly as if my self-conscious, stammering smalltalk was spoken with a golden tongue? — I’m not sure. All I know is that in that moment I knew exactly what it meant to show someone the love of Christ. I could feel it as if it were a physical element.
Since then I’ve met the other sisters in the little convent and, amazingly, they’re all like that. It is clear when you receive the soul-quenching love they exude that it comes from some deep, pure source that lies beyond this world; their actions are permeated with an unnaturally acute awareness that every single person they encounter has been hurt by the world more than they let on, that we all could really use some tender treatment and love.
I was so intrigued by these sisters that I looked up the website of their Order to find out more about their lives. As I read up on their vows and their beautiful philosophy of life, one thing in particular jumped off the page at me. I saw that one of the five objectives for the Order’s sisters is that each of them “make their very lives a sign of God’s love for a sinful world, and an eloquent sermon to all around.”
“An eloquent sermon to all around.” I loved that choice of words. Truly, I learned more about God’s love for a fallen world in five minutes of sitting in the sisters’ living room and seeing the work they do at the maternity home than I could have from five weeks of reading theological tomes on the topic. They radiate such a beautiful light that I have to think that anyone — even a nonbeliever — would have a natural draw to be near them, and a great desire to also posses whatever it is that shines such a light in their hearts.
I’ve been thinking about those sisters a lot today as a new season of Lent begins. When I think back on what it’s like to interact with them, I realize: this is one of the reasons I love Lent. As painful as it is to make sacrifices, to put such focus into detaching myself from all those worldly pleasures I love way too much, I see through the sisters’ examples just how earth-shaking it is when people really let go of selfishness and conform themselves to Christ. If even 2% of those of us who call ourselves Christians showered everyone around us with the love of Christ on the level that these women do, it would turn the world upside down. And even though some of us have a very long way to go, it’s inspiring to think that every Lent we get a tiny step closer to making our lives one eloquent sermon on the love of God.
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