Love and the Missionaries of Charity
When I was in my first year in seminary in Rome, I had to choose an apostolate among the various organizations throughout the city that helped the poor, the hungry, the homeless.
I really wanted to work with the San Egidio community, a recently formed group that was ecumenical and had a fresh look and great heart for helping the poor, praying with them, and living with them. I went to a few other organizations to say that I had prudently made my decision, and one of these was the Missionaries of Charity, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s sisters at their homeless shelter for men at San Gregorio.
The day I visited, I was put to do the menial work in the kitchen, slicing bread and peeling carrots. Somehow I managed to cut myself with a carrot peeler and was sent up to the infirmary where one of the Missionaries of Charity cleaned my cut and gave me a band-aid. While she was healing me, I told her I was a seminarian trying to decide which apostolate I wanted for the year. So she told me a little about what they did there at San Gregorio.
“These men could go other places. We are not the only homeless shelter in the city. There are other places where they can find food. Why do they keep coming back here? It is because we love them as if they were Jesus. That makes a difference.”
It’s still a conversation that changed me. And even though I put the Missionaries of Charity as my third choice, the priest in charge of the apostolates still sent me to work with the Missionaries of Charity for two years, slicing bread, sometimes still peeling carrots and other vegetables for the evening meal. I had some wonderful experiences there, too, but most of all, it was helping the sisters take care of these men, learning to serve these men in small hidden ways with great love.
The love, or charity, of the Missionaries of Charity is this same love commanded by Jesus. “A new commandment I give you, love one another as I have loved you.” It is beyond merely “love your neighbor as yourself,” which is human. Hollywood likes to talk about “random acts of kindness” as the quintessential part of love. But as beautiful as those moments of magnanimity are, I think it falls very short of Christian love.
Love as a virtue cannot be random, when I feel like it, but habitual. It is intentional. “Today, I will love.” I become loving the more I love. And Jesus exhorts us to higher, divine love: OK, “Today I will love as you have loved me, Jesus” This love is Spirit-driven. It is the love of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
Love is patient and kind;
Love is not jealous or boastful;
it is not arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrong,
but rejoices in the right.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
“They will know you are my disciples because of your love.” (John 13:35). Because you love like I love. Being baptized as Christians gives you and me the power to love with the same heart as Jesus. He gives us His own love to use. Don’t waste it. A parish church must be this community of love that seeks the best for each other as we learn how to become “little Christs” in the world, surrendering ourselves more to know, love, and serve Him and others — just as Jesus surrendered Himself, just as Jesus loves and serves us still. See how He washes us and cleanses us from sin. See how He feeds the hungry with His Body and Blood, here and now at the Eucharist.
Father James Melnick is a priest for the Diocese of Little Rock. He is a graduate of Holy Trinity Seminary (University of Dallas '05) and the Pontifical North American College ('09). He is currently serving at Conway-St. Joseph's and Danville-St. Andrews. Visit him online at Bible Belt Catholic.