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Gina Giambrone gets a taste of the genuine joy the Missionaries of Charity find in serving the poorest of the poor.
BY GINA GIAMBRONE
Mopping floors never felt more
significant. I just passed 3 1/2 hours cleansing a vast expanse of linoleum at
the Missionaries of Charity residence for the homeless and terminally ill in Washington, D.C.
When I was making arrangements for my one-week stay
here as a live-in volunteer, I anticipated chaos, dirt, smells and
unpleasantness. I expected tragic situations, repulsive sights and difficult
tasks. But it hasn’t been that way at all.
I arrived on Sunday afternoon. One of the sisters
emerged from the cloister, showed me the chapel, and then escorted me to my
room and invited me to take a nap.
I awoke in time to help prepare the residents for Mass. After everyone was
dressed, we began the long trek up three flights of stairs to the chapel. We
laughed joyfully at the traffic jams caused by the slow but determined
“grandmas,” as the sisters lovingly call the older women.
After Mass, it was back downstairs to serve dinner. I
chatted with several residents in the living room afterwards. One of the
grandmas taught me how to play Deuces Wild. Then it was time for Holy Hour.
The sisters knelt on the floor in five perfect rows,
wearing their white saris with three blue stripes, just like the one Mother
Teresa had worn. Their voices blended beautifully as they prayed to their
beloved Spouse, Jesus, present in the Blessed Sacrament.
As I laid my head on the pillow that first night, I
had to remind myself that I was here to do mission work with the poorest of the
poor. How could this experience be so full of peace, joy and beauty?
My answer came the next morning as I learned about
the daily schedule. We were in the chapel by 7 a.m. to begin the day focused on
Christ. We also prayed Cardinal Newman’s prayer that begins, “Dear Jesus, help
us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go.”
This is what the sisters do. They cleanse, purify and
transform their daily tasks with the radiance of Christ. Every interaction with
a resident is an encounter with Jesus, who is present in “the least of these.”
Every meal prepared, every towel folded, every bed made, every adult diaper
changed, every counter scrubbed, every blouse buttoned — everything they do is an
act of service to Christ.
As I mopped the floor this morning, which I just
mopped yesterday and will mop again tomorrow, it struck me that the sisters’
repetitive domestic work is the same work most mothers do in keeping up their
homes and caring for their families. A wife and mother spends
much of her life cooking, cleaning and attending to the needs of the husband
and children God has entrusted to her care.
I believe the secret to the sisters’ joy in such work
is being rooted in prayer and the Eucharist, and daily professing out loud the
intention to be Christ to others. I wonder what effect it would have on the
world if every mother started her day this way.
When I begin to mop my own kitchen floor with as much
joy and commitment as I have mopped this “missionary” floor, I will be well on
my way to living my vocation with authentic happiness and holiness. The
Missionaries of Charity don’t have a monopoly on transforming domestic drudgery
into a holy act of love. Our kitchens and laundry rooms are mission fields,
Gina Giambrone writes from
Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.