Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Vocation story

Among volunteers with the Missionaries of Charity, there's a running joke that once you come to help, even to run a one-time errand, you're theirs for life. The last six years of my life, starting with a chance encounter with two MC sisters, are a grand example of the truth behind the joke.

In early 2003, I was studying at the Franciscan University campus in Gaming, Austria. I'd gone to Vienna a few days before the semester began, just to experience the city. And experience it I did – experience severe jet lag, and experience the bitter cold of an Austrian winter. I didn't do much sightseeing, but I did happen to attend the same Mass as two MC sisters. I'm not sure now of why, but I found myself volunteering in their soup kitchen that afternoon. I was in Europe, I was on my own, I was free to explore – and I spent the day ladling mugs of tea.

Come spring break, I had no money left for travel, so I arranged to spend the time as a live-in volunteer with the sisters. I got up when they did (that part took a few days); I shared their prayer and their work. I don't know if my enthusiasm was a help or a hindrance, but it did give me a look at the order. One afternoon, a very drunk man tried to demand entrance to the soup kitchen by kicking the door in. One of the sisters went to open the door and speak to him as if nothing had happened, but told him he could not come in. He slammed his fist down on the counter. She stood her ground. He left. He was over six feet tall, and violently drunk. She was 4' 10”, and never turned a hair. That moment stuck with me through the visit; but what really drew me towards the order was the perfect rhythm of prayer and work, the way one flowed into and enlivened the other, and the joy the sisters derived from it.

Back in the States, I checked out another order or two, was not nearly so attracted, and largely set the question of a vocation on the back burner. It was always there - I always intended to apply to the MCs someday – but it was not foremost in my mind. I had no more contact with the order until 2006, when I returned to the Washington DC area and began volunteering at their women's hospice near Catholic University. Once a week, I would join them for Mass, then help to sweep and mop the women's rooms. It was a privilege then, and it still is that now. I never told the sisters there that I was thinking of entering; I was not certain enough of it or myself.

Volunteering there eventually fell prey to a new job and difficult hours, all of which coincided with my drift away from the Sacraments. I never left the Church, I still attended Mass most Sundays, but I no longer went to confession and consequently did not receive Communion. Personally, it was a very bitter period in my life. It ended, by God's grace, around Easter of 2008; and it is then that I date my adult faith from. It marked the difference between passively having the Faith and actively living it; similarly my sometime desire to join the Missionaries of Charity became a perceived call.

In April of 2008, I began volunteering at the MC AIDS hospice in Baltimore – I'd moved, and had an evening job that easily allowed for morning visits. I eventually told the sister superior there that I wanted to enter, and she encouraged me to make a visit to their postulant house. That finally happened in November '08, and I was accepted to the order.

Currently, I have again had to leave off volunteering with the sisters in favor of working two jobs. One is waitressing, another is working a register; both are very humble jobs but provide many opportunities for the service that is the charism of the Missionaries of Charity. I remain in contact with the sisters, attending special events at the Baltimore house and attending meetings of the Lay Missionaries of Charity. There's a saying of Blessed Teresa's that what the sisters do, we laity cannot; what we do, they cannot – but together we can do something beautiful for God. For now, as I work towards being able to enter, I am doing what I can to meet my half of that.

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