Life as an eloquent sermon

February 26, 2009 | 14 comments

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.


  1. Jamie

    When I was in Catholic high school, one of the sisters took a group of us girls to her motherhouse in St. Louis. It was the happiest place I’d ever been – still the happiest place I’ve ever been. I never asked my friends, but I wonder to this day how many of them came away from that day thinking, “Hmmm…. I wonder what a calling feels like?”

    Of course, at that age we weren’t really thinking about being called to family life; I’m grateful beyond measure for that call!

  2. Diana

    Thank you, Jennifer, that was beautiful!

  3. Elizabeth

    Whenever I have the privilege of meeting holy souls like this, I feel like I’ve discovered rare treasure; a Pearl of Greatest Price.

    Which, in an indirect sort of way, that’s really what it is.

  4. Karita

    we get a tiny step closer to making our lives one eloquent sermon on the love of God

    Tis is what I want, but I am far away from it.

  5. Chere

    I am fortunate to live 2 miles from a Carmelite monastery, and, though I don’t often see the sisters or talk to them, the peace of their chapel and grounds is apparent as soon as you get out of the car. I have often gone there when I’m “at the end of my rope” with the troubles of the world and found God’s loving arms around me soothing my hurt and anger!

  6. Megan@SortaCrunchy

    Jennifer, thank you so much for this. It met a significant need for me this morning. Right before I opened the email with this post, I was praying, asking God to show me how I can minister to the needs of the people I will encounter today. This post spoke mightily with an answer. I love the idea of living life as an eloquent sermon. And your description of the sister’s tangible love and expression of Christ – THAT is how I want people to experience me. Not for my own glory – not at all. But so that eyes may be lifted to Him.

    This line – 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. – this. This answered my prayer for guidance today.

    Thank you.

  7. Janet in Toronto

    I recently encountered two elderly nuns in our dentist’s office where I was waiting with my two teenage sons. They struck up a conversation with us, and talked a little about their charism which is to pray for young people. They asked my boys about school, and what they like to do, and one of them talked about her family home on the east coast of Canada.

    They were so loving, and pleasant, and calm. It was a wonderfully peaceful interaction.

    As they were leaving, they said that they would pray for us, and mentioned a number of things that we had discussed (for example, that they would pray for my older son as he makes decisions about which university to attend.) After they had left, the receptionist said that they see a number of Sisters from their convent and they are all simply wonderful women and that she always looks forward to seeing them.

    The love and peace of Christ that they emanated continues to strike me. Their prayerful life is a high bar that I dream of reaching some day.

    Thank you, Jennifer, for reminding me of that brief intersection of my life with theirs.

  8. Melanie B

    Thank you for introducing us to these beautiful sisters. Your story brought tears to my eyes.

  9. Party of Eight

    Another beautiful post, Jennifer, thank you! When I clicked on their site, and their singing started! I truly felt their happiness. My children even came over to see and hear.

    When on retreat this past week-end, two of the most joyful nuns joined us from the Religious Family of the Incarnate Word (Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara). I was Blessed by their presence.

  10. 'Becca

    How wonderful! That type of love and care and helping, whether in a big maternity home or on a smaller scale in the community, is exactly what our society needs to reduce abortions. Most women who choose abortion do it because they fear they could not be good mothers–because they’d have to do it all on their own. Taking away that sense of isolation makes motherhood much more feasible.

  11. Jenny Andrews

    Your description of the sisters' joy & truly feeling the love of Christ through them reminded me exactly what it was like to be in the presence of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Theresa's sisters) when I was studying abroad. Exactly. And my roommate was so taken with them and the Lord they served that she became a Missionary herself – it was a most amazing thing to witness. I wrote about Sr. Rosalie a bit on my website here (

  12. Koala Bear Writer

    That is a beautiful idea. Makes me think of the video we watched about St. Therese last night — her life was certainly an eloquent sermon. And that maternity home sounds like such a wonderful idea — we need more those!!! 🙂

  13. Holley

    This is my first time to your site and it’s beautiful! Shannon from Rocks in My Dryer told me about you.
    I loved how you said, “It was as if my presence on her couch was 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…All I know is that in that moment I knew exactly what it meant to show someone the love of Christ.”
    I’m a writer first but also a counseling intern and that’s how I hope each of my clients feel in my presence. I’ve never put that into words, much less such eloquent ones. Thank you for doing that for me today.

  14. SursumCorda

    I hate it when I read a lovely post and nit-pick it…but that’s not going to stop me, I’m afraid. 😉

    “…the soul-quenching love they exude…” You didn’t really mean that, did you? ‘Twas a bit jarring.

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