A graceful day for His Grace
Reflections: Women alive with the power of God
By Louise Altham
Earlier this year, I discovered that the Missionary Sisters of Charity (Mother Teresa’s foundation) have a convent in Surry Hills, and that lay people are welcome to help out on weekday mornings at the soup kitchen where upwards of 40 people are fed at a time.
Working at a university, I have the chance to be involved in many different apostolates, but it is through visiting the Sisters and helping in their service to the poor that I have learnt so much about Christian charity and the love of Christ this year.
First, I have learnt so much from the guests at the soup kitchen themselves.
Being poor has not taken away the dignity of the men who say “ladies first” and wait till I have served the women before taking food themselves.
After I clumsily sloshed some food out of a ladle, the woman whom I served only grinned and reassured me that I’d get better with practice – it was she who was helping me, not I her.
The men who stay behind to mop and clean the floor and tables have the dignity of any other worker – they get the place very impressively clean! These people have prompted a radical rethink of my own outlook on life; they make me rethink the standards by which I consider a person to be ‘dignified’ or ‘undignified.’
I have seen individuals with almost nothing still share what they have, and they make me reconsider my use of my own privileges, those which I take for granted.
Also, the Sisters themselves challenge many mainstream attitudes and ideas.
I have two friends who are contemplative nuns, and they challenge me with their dedication to the liturgy and to prayer, always ready to intercede for anyone at any hour.
The Missionaries of Charity have revealed to me another way of being wholeheartedly given to God, and they contradict so many of the messages
I receive in other ways. They own nothing; their convent is clean and light and airy, but it is also poor.
But they also possess everything: as well as the calm confidence needed to handle some of the rowdier moments, they have infinite patience and charity for each person who comes their way.
I think it is this combination of the face to face encounter with real need, plus the intense faith dedicated to addressing that need, that makes these visits seem like a brief encounter with reality before returning to some of the more superficial concerns of ordinary life. (Not that every ordinary life is superficial – only that it is easy for me to forget the experiences of others sometimes, in my absorption in my own experience.)
It is difficult to describe the impression that the Missionaries of Charity make without sounding unrealistic, but the fact is that there is nothing like the example of one of these women who is totally consecrated to God, and who seems to be alive with the power of God.
Louise Altham, a University of Sydney graduate, is a member of the chaplaincy team on the campus.