This past week I worked with the Missionaries of Charity in St. Louis while on spring break. There were 7 girls total who went from Benedictine to spend time with the sisters and serve with them on a mission trip.
I didn’t know what to expect. None of us did. As the trip leader, I had spoken with the sisters multiple times about details. We knew they had a soup kitchen and shelter for women, but didn’t know how the week would actually pan out. Thankfully, everyone went with the flow.
As we pulled up last Saturday, we thought we had the wrong address. The building was old and in a sketchy area with a wire fence. It was the right building though. This is the poorest area I’ve ever worked in. Buildings were falling apart. There are so many people who are homeless or barely getting by all around the sisters.
During the week we got up at 4:30am to get to morning prayer with the sisters followed by a half hour of meditation, a break to make breakfast for the ladies in the shelter, then Mass. Then we’d head to the soup kitchen to help with food preparation, serving, and clean up. It was beautiful to see all the volunteers that came throughout the week to help. After that was all cleaned up there was noon prayer and then time for lunch (and resting which almost never happened 🙂 ) until adoration which went from 2-3. As soon as that was over, we worked in the after-school program until about 6ish when everything was cleaned up. We made our own food during the week, so we took time before evening prayer (at 7) to make dinner. After that, we finished up any projects the sisters had given us and tried to get to bed around 9/9:30ish when lights were supposed to be out.
Exhausted just reading that? It was around 3 hours of prayer and 6 hours of apostolate work each day. We went to a psychiatric ward, nursing home, and refugee camp to pass out food and/or pray too. And all that’s not counting a bunch of other things we did. It felt so good to get so much done and collapse at the end of the day.
At one point during the week, one of the sisters just kind of smiled at us and asked if we ever thought we could be that tired. Nope, probably not. On Tuesday we were completely pooped, but that didn’t stop us. We still got up early and worked hard. After all, it’s what the sisters do every day. Could we not do it for a week?
The sisters were so inspiring. Each of them was from a completely different country and culture, but they worked so well together. They truly try to “serve Jesus in disguise” like Mother Teresa taught. It’s kind of hard to put into words what it was like. I mean, they got up at 4:40 every morning and are completely dedicated to following God’s will. They don’t advertise their needs. But they told us if we needed anything to let them know and they would pray about it. And guess what? They are immensely blessed with their volunteers and supplies that are donated.
You know how people sometimes say that in serving others they were helped more than the people they helped? Well, that sounds kind of confusing, but hopefully you get the picture. That’s how I felt this week.
Sure, we served meals and helped create a safe place for kids in troubled homes to come to after school. But I feel like my life was changed more than theirs.
It was blissful to be away from the internet and homework. I ignored thoughts of my to-do list until heading back. I sent only a few texts. It was glorious! Of course it wasn’t fun to get back to over 200 emails, buuuut it was nice while it lasted. I think I’ll institute a technology-free day from now on.
Although I was physically exhausted by the end of each day, praying with the sisters reminded me why we were there: to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor. And we did. But at the same time Jesus used the time to ask us to dig deeper than that and become closer to him. He was so present in our work. The sisters recognize how blessed they are, and their trust in God is so deep. It was amazing.
They were smiling all the time and cracking up (especially one of the sisters who was hilarious). It just goes to show how following Christ with abandon truly does bring immense joy.
On Friday when I was in the chapel praying the sister’s apostolate prayer with everyone before serving the soup kitchen meal, it kind of hit me. There was Jesus, hanging on the cross with the words “I THIRST” right beside him. He thirsts for me. For you. As much as we all have the desire to love and be loved, Jesus longs for each one of us individually. He already died for us, and now desires that we love him in return. But not just love him. Most of us can claim we love him. But the sisters this last week showed me what following Christ with total abandon looks like. Their trust in him is complete.
I was so inspired by the simplicity of their lives (take their chapel with nearly no furniture for example, the lack of washers/dryers, and no internet). Jesus is their reason and cheerleader for their work, and is always present in their lives.
The sisters surprised us at the end of the week by giving us each a 2nd and 3rd degree relic of Mother Teresa, including miraculous medals she actually touched.
It was such a beautiful week and I am so thankful for the opportunity to refocus my life.
Jesus, thank you for the beautiful sisters in St. Louis who opened their home to us and were so generous during this mission trip. Please bless each of the ladies in the shelter and kids in the after school program and help them to encounter your love through the Missionaries of Charity. Keep the sisters safe. Thank you for showing me the beauty of your love in action, and help me to never forget to love you in the poorest of the poor, whoever that might be each day. Use me to be a light to those I come in contact with, and please give me the grace to be a witness to the joy your love brings. Most of all, thank you for showing me this week that your love is deeper than anything I could ever imagine and you are infinitely deserving of my love. You don’t demand it, but you thirst for it. Help me to satiate your thirst by loving you and serving you in those I come in contact with not just on mission trips, but in the beauty of the little moments every day of my life.
P.S. Read the I THIRST meditation here. Just do it. And then share it with your friends!
25 thoughts on “My week serving the poor of St. Louis”
Augh! That sounds so amazing! Glad it was a wonderful trip 🙂
What does a 2nd and 3rd degree relic mean? #ProtestantIgnorance 😉
It was SO awesome 🙂
A 1st degree relic is part of the saint’s body (bone chip, blood, etc), 2nd is something they touched (like the medals they gave us, or a piece of clothing), and 3rd is something that touched a 2nd degree relic (sometimes Catholics will touch rosaries to multiple relics – usually 2nd class – and make it a 3rd class relic of lots of saints). Sometimes relics will be sent around the world as a special way to remember the holy person and honor them 🙂 Glad you asked!
Thanks for explaining! So are these relics used as memorials-ish to inspire certain traits that saint was known for? Are they used in prayer? I guess I’m asking what their purpose is 🙂
You ask great questions! 🙂 They serve as a reminder of the saint (like you’d keep something sentimental from a grandma perhaps), and a way to worship God through the way he worked through the saint. In general, everything we do to venerate saints comes down to asking for their intercession through prayer. Here’s an article that does it more justice: https://www.ewtn.com/library/ANSWERS/RELICS.HTM
You explain things really well! 🙂 And the article helped a lot. So will you keep your relic of Mother Teresa in a safe place? On your person? At home?
Definitely in a safe place 🙂 But not on my person. Most people would have them in frames or displayed somehow in their homes with other religious pictures and such. At some point I’ll probably wear the medal, but I already wear a crucifix all the time 🙂
Love it! I especially love how you got to sit on a bench Mother Teresa sat on. How Catholic nerdy/awesome is that?!? Thanks for sharing your experiences.
Thanks Sarah! There were definitely some Catholic nerd moments throughout the week 🙂
Thank you for such a beautiful, heartfelt reflection! I went for 10 days to Haiti to be with the Sisters and it was the same: so much love!! So inspiring…what an amazing experience!! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Elizabeth 🙂 They are such beautiful sisters and it was so inspiring.
This is such a beautiful reflection- thank you for sharing it. I know I’ll keep the image of Jesus’ saying “I THIRST” in my head and heart for a long time.
Thanks Abbey! That image sure does last long 🙂
Thanks for sharing your experience. It was beautiful. I know you will cherish it for your life and what better way to remember it than to write about it.
Thank you Adrianne! It does help to write it down 🙂
This was beautiful! I was introduced to the sisters as a mother of three young boys in elementary school. We had a weekly service for the 8th graders to this soup kitchen because we lived in St Louis. Amazing are these missionary sisters. Every time I went I was filled with unexplainable happiness, my heart over flowed with joy seeing 8 young boys & girls set aside their fears and really dig in & help alongside the sisters & each other. They saw poor most likely their parents had never seen and we all realized the work came easy because it was for Jesus. So many good memories! I have never met stronger women than I did helping the sisters, these women have nothing but they have all they need, Love for Jesus. Thank you for the reminder of this special place, the laughter of the sisters, the faces of the poor and the joy of Service. May you continue to follow Jesus, your heart is so beautiful thank you for letting us in.
Thank you, Andrea! I’m so glad you got to work with the Missionaries of Charity too. It was such a unique experience. Even now seven years later, this is such a memorable experience. I’ve yet to meet anyone who trusts God with as much abandon as these sisters. That really struck me at the time, and has stuck with me ever since. Grateful for their work and how many lives it has touched!