National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

How Peace Prevails Amid the Poorest of the Poor

Gina Giambrone gets a taste of the genuine joy the Missionaries of Charity find in serving the poorest of the poor.

BY GINA GIAMBRONE

January 14-20, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/10/07 at 11:00 AM

 

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, too.

Gina Giambrone writes from

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.