Beth Sri

Some say that we don’t choose saints to love and look up to, rather that they choose us. 

Now, I’m not a natural crier. I actually do all I can to keep my tears reserved  for times of private indulgence. But there’s something about St. John Paul 2nd that not only opens the doors of my life wide to Christ, but also opens those ducts up to a tsunami of big, ugly tears. (They’re already starting, can you tell?)

So listeners, bear with me and my shaky voice, full of sniffles here as I share my own story of JP2, how he found me, loved me & became my spiritual father.

I don’t remember much from my toddler days, but I do remember being fascinated by the evening news on TV.  I understood very little of the goings-on featured in the coverage, but I knew two famous figures well – President Jimmy Carter and Pope John Paul. It was a big deal to me whenever either name was mentioned. It made such an impression on me, in fact, that as a 2 ½ year old, I begged my parents to name my newborn brother Jimmy Carter. Like good parents, they did not name him Jimmy Carter. Instead he was named after my other favorite news figure…and I made sure everyone at the hospital and everywhere else knew it by repeatedly saying, “That’s my brother, Pope John Paul. He’s NOT Jimmy Carter.”

At age 15, my next encounter with the person of John Paul 2 was not merely through a screen but with the man himself…and 75,000 others at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993. Seeing his helicopter above us at Mile High Stadium when he arrived and the palpable energy and grace felt by all those around me. We were simultaneously jumping up and down, screaming, hugging. Others were crying (Crying? What’s that about? So weird,” I remember thinking. But -Ha – jokes on me today!) He said many things at the football stadium and at the state park, many of which were tricky to make out given the massive, echoing sound system and his Polish accent. Yet, my big take-away was this sentence: “This is no time to be ashamed of the Gospel. … It is the time to preach it from the rooftops.” He said it with such force, such conviction that my 15-year-old adolescent self couldn’t help but think, “Huh, there must truly be something to all this Catholic stuff I’ve been around my whole life.” His unwavering confidence pointed to that something more, something solid and lasting, something reliable and life-giving. Something I’d been immersed in my whole life, but was just seeing for the first time. As a result, I became more involved in & committed to my faith in high school through youth group and retreats. 

Fast forward six years…a young bride and her new husband, clad in the traditional white and black, ascended the marble steps of the Paul the 6th Hall to meet the supreme pontiff. We were honeymooning in Rome and sought the Blessing of New Spouses. John Paul II was the first pope to begin this tradition of newlyweds receiving an individual blessing at the close of each papal audience.

My husband and I knew our time with him would be brief and that strategically, we need to say something to grab his attention, to engage him in a conversation of sorts so we could not be quickly shuffled away. We were told not to kneel, but so we rather adopted an awkward sort of bow to the seated Papa. Ted began: “We bring you prayers from Steubenville!” (Why he said this is a story for another day…) “Steubenville…” he repeated softly & slowly “Students?” I knew I had to jump in here as the monsignor nearby was already tugging on my elbow in an attempt to get us moving on. “Holy Father, we hope to be holy parents of many holy children” I blurted out in, all in one breath. It was my own way of planting the flag, of asking for a blessing of this desire. After that, with Mr. Monsignore still gently & persistently insisting on our departure, I kissed his ring and we stepped away. 

[Walking back to our seats, I was overwhelmed with the meeting, filled with a joy that escaped in not a few tears. I knew I had met a saint that day. What a gift. [I just didn’t know yet that he was my saint.]]

By May of 2003, we’d had our second baby & first-born son. My husband at that point had begun leading pilgrimages, which always included the hard-fought victory of front row seats at the papal audience in St. Peter’s square. During the audience, the pope is driven around the piazza in an open car, affectionately called a ‘Pope Mobile.’ Often when a baby is spotted near the edge of the crowd along the route, the Popemobile stops and the guards lift the child to the pope for a kiss and blessing. 

I desperately wanted this for our 8-month-old son. Yet, there was a potential difficulty: The Holy Father’s health had been deteriorating. We didn’t know if he’d be up for kissing babies that day. I’d asked the people back home to pray that it would happen. I’d prayed inside the basilica for it to happen. We’d asked the sisters who gave us our audience tickets how to increase the chances of it happening. They gave us their best advice. We hoped, God-willing, it would all be enough. 

At the close of the audience, as the Popemobile was heading for the door, my husband with his long arms, held the baby over the barrier for the pope & guards to see. Meanwhile, I’m stood on a chair behind them, waving my arms, yelling at the top of my lungs…”TAKE THE BABY!” and pointing toward him like a crazy lady. It worked. The Popemobile stopped and our son, crying at the commotion, his diaper sagging through his sweet sailor outfit, was scooped up to the lips of Pope John Paul 2. Time seemed to stand still. As our son was being ushered back into our arms, the pope turned his head and looked at me, his eyes piercingly blue. 

It’s been said that John Paul 2 had an amazing memory of his personal encounters with people, even when they themselves did not. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to say “so good to meet you!” and he’d reply “remember, we’ve met before at such and such a place. You were on your way to… or we talked about…” He could even pick back up a simple conversation with someone again years later. Given this, I’d like to think that in that split second, he remembered me, an idealistic young bride gushing her mission statement to him, resisting being pulled away from his side. I’d like to think that he saw me, that he knew me, that he was imparting something of himself to me that day. There’s no way to know this for sure, of course, but there was something almost tangible in his eyes that day…

We last saw him again earth-side on March 17, 2004. (I had learned that morning that Sri Baby #3 was on her way.) Seeing our dear Holy Father slurring, drooling even, showing difficulty in even raising his hand in blessing, doing all he could to communicate with the throngs of pilgrims who had come from near & far to spend time with him. He was so frail that I couldn’t help but think we wouldn’t have him with us much longer. Sure enough, about one year later, at a baby-shower, my god-mother told me the news of his passing. “I know he was special to you,” she said, hugging me as I burst into tears. 

The images of his funeral: the simple coffin, the pages of the book turning in the wind, the hauntingly beautiful Eastern Rite melodies, the throngs of pilgrims overwhelming the city of Rome – these impressions are burned in my memory. It all seemed surreal. 

My spiritual director asked weeks later, “How are you doing with our holy father’s passing?” I couldn’t even respond audibly, I just cried & sniffled & cried. “You’re still grieving, still grieving” she gently replied. 

Later, we learned his feast day would be October 22, commemorating not the day he died, his birthday or even the day he was named pope. It was the day he was installed as pope, and coincidentally – or should I say – providentially, the day I was baptized. Another connection. 

Since his passing, we’ve had many more connections. Naming our next child – #4- after him and watching him as a 6-month-old crawl right up to the temporary marble tomb in the crypt of St. Peter’s, gently hitting it with his sweet chubby hands, in a sort of “high 5” gesture. And more recent occasions of re-connecting with him at his tomb, now in the upper basilica, near the blessed sacrament chapel. And every time I end up there, the tears do too. 

But this last summer was the most unexpected encounter, though I shouldn’t have been so surprised. For a milestone anniversary, my husband and I went to Poland for a week to celebrate. Trying to get to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, we had given our Uber driver the wrong address. We ended up at the church next to it, which housed his battered, torn and blood-stained cassock, a relic from his 1981 assassination attempt. Even though the glass case was tucked into a discreet corner of a side chapel with a kneeler in front of it, I wasn’t content to simply say a prayer before it. I took time to soak this in, to study it from all angles, awkwardly maneuvering around it …

Upon further exploration this side of the Sanctuary, we found the JP2 Museum. Here was the jackpot. A treasure-trove of all sorts of HIS own personal stuff, it was like going through your grandpa’s trunks in the attic as a kid. His skis, the Holy Spirit prayer given him by his own father that was near him on his deathbed, his first cardinal cassock, his letters and engraved desk pen set. Throughout the museum, the sound system played the audio of speeches he had given in Polish and even his first address as pope. But what hit home the most were all the photographs…his baby & toddler pictures, his young adult pictures, his baby priest photos, cardinal shots, so many pictures…All with this glint in his eye, this spark of “something,” this inviting tight-lipped smile as if he was keeping a secret or sharing an endearing private joke.

It was so overwhelming, these glimpses of my spiritual father in rapid succession, one after another, tracing his life, his own growth, meeting him again at each of stages, accompanied by his voice and in his hometown of Krakow at that… I had no choice but to bee-line it to the women’s restroom to have myself a good, ugly cry. 

I don’t know what the future will hold for JP2 and me, when he’ll next surface in some way at some point in my life and I don’t know why I have this deep connection to him.

But I do know that something about him has transcended all distance… whether a television screen, a crowd, the Atlantic or even the distance between earth and heaven. In him, I have felt SEEN. He showed up at the crossroads of my life…before my parents’ divorce, as I attempted to more purposefullylive  my faith in my teens, in his own personal blessing at the start of my marriage and in seeing me with my children, building the family I personally told him I’d hoped to have. He saw me with a gaze not unlike the gaze of our heavenly father, penetrating and intense with a deep, unearned love. I don’t understand it. I don’t deserve it. 

And maybe also the tears. No one makes me cry like he does. And as much as I don’t like it, he’s teaching me that tears can actually be good. A friend of mine says tears in the spiritual life are a sign of grace, God’s life within us. Well then, Amen. So be it. Let’s bring it:  John Paul 2, we love you!

Beth Sri is the mother of eight children ages 19 to 3, and is married to Catholic theologian Edward Sri. A graduate of Benedictine College, she was among the first FOCUS missionaries. Beth continues to lead and invest in those around her, encouraging fellow wives and mommas in their call to marriage and motherhood through mentorship, small group gatherings and blogging at her website Though not Italian, she relishes cooking up “authentico” Italian pastas for her growing family. When she’s not in the kitchen making a quadruple batch of something or chauffeuring children to & fro, she can be found on a long run out in the Colorado sunshine or curled up with an annotated Jane Austen novel.

Lindsay Schlegel

Irene scribbled a note on the oversized calendar on the wall in the kitchen. 

“Andrew?” she called. “You’re serving at Holy Thursday Mass.”

The only response was the sound of a turning page in the next room. 

“Drew?” Irene called again. 

She opened her mouth to yell, but took a deep breath instead. She was going to give up yelling for Lent this year. She was going to do a lot of things for Lent this year. A week left, and none of them had stuck. She realized now that she’d considered Lent a do-over for her neglected New Year’s resolutions, and still she’d failed. She shook her head, letting herself wonder for only a second what that meant. 

She capped the pen and walked to the living room, where her twelve-year-old son was sprawled on the couch, all lanky arms and legs, two hundred pages into one of the Tolkien novels he loved. 


He grunted acknowledgement without taking his eyes from the page.

“Holy Thursday. You and Ben are serving.”

“Uh-huh. Okay.” He glanced up for a second, probably knowing that otherwise she would have asked again if he’d heard her. 

“Cool,” Irene muttered to herself, and turned back into the kitchen. She reached into the snack drawer and pulled out an Oreo. It was double stuff, which her husband, Mike, preferred, but which she felt was an insult to the classic American cookie. That made this kind of a sacrifice, right? 

She flipped open the notebook she kept on the counter to the page where she’d scrawled Lenten resolutions weeks before.

Yell less. Okay, did that once, just now. So, check. 

Listen more. Hmm, maybe not. 

Pray the rosary every day. Definitely not. 

No meat Fridays. This line had stars around it, as she had forgotten nearly every week last year and served pepperoni pizza or burgers to her whole family. This year, she’d done better, but more often than not, it was because she hadn’t really meal planned, and they’d had to eat eggs or tuna or PB & J sandwiches for dinner because it was all there was. 

Walk three miles three times a week. She’d totally forgotten about that one.

No treats. Oops. 

She paused mid-chew, and considered spitting the thing into the garbage. She’d stepped on the foot of the trash can to open the lid and started to lean over when Andrew came in, presumably looking for a snack.

“I thought you gave up treats,” Andrew said. 

“It’s stale,” Irene answered, inadvertently spewing crumbs into the garbage. 

“I don’t care,” he said. 

“There’s a cheese stick in the fridge.” She dropped the rest of the cookie and its bag into the garbage, releasing the lid a second later. She swallowed what was in her mouth—it was mostly chewed at this point anyway—and felt a familiar sense of discouragement settle into place within her. 

Andrew took two cheese sticks from the fridge and went upstairs, to do his homework, she hoped. 

Irene looked back down at the list, but it was only seconds before she couldn’t read it for the tears in her eyes. If she was honest with herself, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt the desire to pray or to eat well or to move her body beyond what was totally necessary. It was her handwriting, but it read like someone else’s heart. 

Part of her thought maybe the tears meant she desired these things now, but it wasn’t that simple. The last year or so had been a relatively calm period in her life. When people asked what was new, her answer was genuinely “nothing.”

Just the other night she and Mike had been talking about how that was a good thing—no one close to them was dying, there was no house to buy or sell, no job moves, no imminent adult decisions to make.

But while those all seemed like good things, the things you hope for yourself and others, there wasn’t any joy in it. Maybe this calm she’d wanted wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

She hadn’t tried a new restaurant in years. She hadn’t made a new friend in even longer. The books she read were continuing works of the same few authors and the TV she watched was largely syndicated. She hadn’t been challenged in any way in a long time. And when she’d tried, first in January, and again now, to be proactive about living her life in a big way, she’d proven to herself that she couldn’t do it.

“Mom?” Fifteen-year-old Ben came through the garage door, sweaty from baseball practice. “I’m hungry.”

Suddenly Irene wanted everything to be different and to have it all happen right away. 

“Sure! I saw a recipe the other day for some granola bars with chia seeds. I think we might have some…” She rummaged through a drawer.

“Uh, no thanks. I was thinking more like peanut butter and apple, like always. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?” He disappeared into the mudroom to put down his gear.

But what if it is broke? Irene thought to herself. She put the canister of oats back in the drawer and looked at her list a third time.

What do you want from me? she thought. Or rather, prayed. “God,” she put at the beginning of the sentence as she ran it through her mind again. God, what do you want from me?

Drew and Ben came into the room at the same moment, from different directions in the house. After monosyllabic greetings, one went for the peanut butter, the other for the apples in the bowl on the counter.

Her eyes fell on the page once more before she closed the book. 

Listen more

Irene took out a cutting board and knife and wordlessly accepted the fruit her older son had washed in the sink.

The knife thudded methodically as it broke the fruit into pieces to be shared. 

She started to speak, to remind the boys about the yardwork they needed to get done this weekend before everyone came over for Easter, but they’d already begun their own conversation. 

The boys laughed and she looked up to see pieces of her own face, pieces of her husband’s face smiling into each other. 

It struck her how much she’d missed, without even realizing it. 

And deep within her, at her core, she knew that this grace was what would bring her back to life.

Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, and believer in the life-giving power ofwords. She’s the author of “Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God” and the host of the weekly podcast, Quote Me. She has alsocontributed to a number of other Catholic and secular publications, including Verily, Ever Eden,Aleteia,, Natural Womanhood, and Blessed Is She. You can learn more abouther work and her speaking ministry at or on Instagram, @lindsayschlegs and @quoteme_podcast

Rachel Lamb

As I was growing  up in the Episcopal Church, Saint Patrick was seen as too Catholic and too Irish a saint to merit much observation from the Anglophile WASPs of my childhood parish. Outside of the secular observation of a day filled with green beer and public displays of debauchery, I didn’t give today’s feast day much thought, except when it meant avoiding the parade route due to traffic and sidewalk vomit. 

In my late twenties, Saint Patrick took on a new meaning for me when I entered the Catholic Church at Saint Patrick’s parish, guided by priests from Germany and Uganda. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, with her German Jewish ancestry, was presented to me as my patron saint by a Polish priest radiating Christ’s love. The universality of the moment was not lost on me. At the same Easter Vigil I was welcomed Home, three generations of a Vietnamese family were also baptized and received into the Church. Grandparents, parents, teens, toddlers, and infants all received the waters of baptism. The Vigil was particularly long that year because the Rites were celebrated in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese so that all catechumens could understand in their own language. God is in all people, for all people, throughout the ages and generations. 

            When I turned twenty-nine, I was sure that God intended for me to discover my vocation before I was thirty. At least, that’s what I told myself as I tried to force God’s hand to work on my timeline and my to-do list. I had spent my twenties trying to make myself perfect enough to be worthy of love, marriage, and children. I did not want to date until I felt desirable, worthy, and wanted, and so I did not date for half a decade. Enveloped in a smog of depression, I did not see myself as worthy of love, and I was certainly not in a state of sober-mindedness to prayerfully discern marriage. Christ tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but what do you do when you hate yourself? How do I love my neighbor as myself, when I want to crawl out of my own skin? Is there a dating service for anti-social misanthropes with an affinity for congregational hymnody? I haven’t found that sub-reddit group yet, but I’m on the lookout.

In the meantime, I prayed the novena to Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, asking for guidance on my vocation. There was something about her life’s work that made me want to delve deeper into philosophy, explore the Carmelite orders, and aspire to martyrdom. And so I prayed, and received an answer of sorts. Within a week of completing the novena, three men asked me on a date. I accepted all three, because as the saying goes, “if there ain’t no ring, it ain’t no thing.” The first night, my date took me to a lovely jazz bar with a fantastic band visiting from New Orleans. The next night, my second date also surprised me with an equally enjoyable night at the same jazz bar, which I thought was slightly odd. When my third date in three days pulled his car into the parking lot of the same jazz bar, I exclaimed out loud if someone was playing some sort of practical joke on me. I was too shocked at the situation to register his dismay that I had been on other dates that week, and at the same bar to boot. I didn’t have time to consider his fragile ego–I had spiritual discernment to do.

I am not one for signs and wonders, and any manner of marketing practices could have led three strangers to choose the exact same jazz bar three nights in a row. But I kept meditating on the jazz bar’s name, The Free Man. Night after night, I kept being returned to The Free Man. I had prayed for Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to help me choose a vocation, and she had responded by showing me that I am both worthy of love and free to love. I had thought my vocation was something that could be chosen, rather than freely given and freely accepted. As my sullen third suitor of the week drove me home that evening, I exclaimed aloud, “so that’s what Saint Therese of Lisieux was talking about when she said her vocation was love!” My date was less than impressed with the Little Flower.

Today is the feast day of Saint Patrick, the man with the shamrocks. At age 16, Saint Patrick was trafficked and enslaved for six years to a foreign country that he would come to represent as their patron saint. He was not free, and his life was not his own. In the dehumanized hopelessness of slavery, Patrick placed his hope in God and converted his captors. He saw his traffickers as his neighbors, and he loved them. Thing is, as Christians we quickly come to learn that even when we are free, our lives are not our own. Self-will keeps us entombed in the world rather than free with the Spirit.

It has been five years since my three-date week, and I am still a very free woman, whether I like it or not. I still fear that I am undesirable, while anxiously desiring love from a husband that I worry will never appear. “What are you looking for?” That’s the primary question I am asked by men since I began dating online late last year. At first, I would tell them the truth, “I am looking for a friendship with a man in which we discern entering into a marriage covenant that will be mutual, exclusive, lifelong, with an openness to children.” I very quickly came to realize that was considered coming on too strong, even for religious guys. One man described my sacramental desire as kinky. I had to dial it back a notch. In the evenings after work, after walking the dogs and preparing dinner, I enter into conversations with men online about any manner of daily life, and it always circles back to that central question: “What are you looking for?” 

One modern development of dating apps is the ability to see just how many weirdos, ahem, potential suitors, live in my zip code. With each swipe right or left, I have the opportunity to meet a new neighbor to love, or a new potential kidnapper depending on what the pre-date background check reveals. I avoid apps that focus on love as physical manifestation alone, but it is always a topic of conversation within the first few days of meeting. Again, I am out of practice with this, so apparently expounding on the basics of theology of the body is a bridge too far for most, well all, the men who have kindly taken me on first dates. That one’s on me. I’ll save the tutorial on sexual economics for the fourth date. Saint John Paul the Great would have had a field day with the theology of online dating. None of us are completely free quite yet; we are all running–at varying speeds–away from our vices, chosen and unchosen..And so, when a man asks me what I’m physically willing to do outside of marraige, I will send him resources on porn and sex addiction. That one’s on him.   

“What are you looking for?” Saint Patrick did not choose to go to Ireland, and he became the patron saint of the land of his captivity. Please God, do not let me become the patron saint of online dating. 

“What are you looking for?” Saint Patrick found holiness in a dehumanized life without freedom because he was looking for God, and God is everywhere. Saint Patrick’s Lorica sings how God is before, behind, in, beneath, and above us. God is in the heart, mouth, eyes, and ears of any person we encounter. These are our neighbors, known and unknown, loved and unloved. 

So what am I looking for? I am looking for Our Triune God, the Creator of creation, in and through my neighbor. I am looking for Love. I pray that Saint Patrick will help me have the eyes to see it as I make myself at home in this world and the next.

Rachel Lamb, a lifelong Texan, earned her Master of Divinity degree with a certificate in Anglican Studies from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in 2011. After being offered a position as a pro-abortion chaplain with the Episcopal Church, she began volunteering with the pro-life movement, and entered the Catholic Church in 2014. Rachel enjoys speaking consistent truth to the value of all life, and finding common ground within the pro-life and feminist movements.

Karianna Frey

Like most good things in life, this story starts with a gathering. Or rather, the decision to gather folks together. Like the ripples in a pond reshaping the land around it, the gifts we share can affect us and those around us. We had no way of knowing how this one gathering would transform our hearts or how those ripples would still be felt to this day. 

“Steve, what do you think about us inviting people over for Stations of the Cross next Friday?” My husband, well-versed in all of my hare-brained ideas, looked up from his computer and waited, a slightly wary look creeping into his eyes. 

“We’ll invite some families over, pray the Stations, share a simple meal, have wine, kids can play in the yard while the adults chat… it will be great!” His response, a blank stare. After a moment, he took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Only you would think about inviting people over to celebrate death. Make sure you get it on the calendar BEFORE you invite people.”

I have a little secret to share with you, I am not a cradle Catholic, I am a Catholic by choice and discernment. I was called to join the Catholic Church while I was in college and looking back, I can see how that Fiat, that “yes” left such a remarkable mark on my life. I love learning about and experiencing and celebrating traditions that seem uniquely Catholic, and so many of our traditions seem to be especially inviting for gathering. After all, as humans, we are wired for connection and community (whether we like it or not) and a simple meal is an easy, low-stress way for people to share in each other.

When the dinner date rolled around, I started to doubt our decision on this particular gathering. You see, instead of just inviting other Catholic Families, who might have a vague idea of what it means when we say “Stations of the Cross,” we invited Catholic Families and families from other Faith traditions. We decided that if we were going to reflect on what Christ did for each and every one of us, we’d better make it a true Ecumenical gathering in the Name of Jesus to remember His sacrifice for all of Humanity! 

When I converted to Catholicism in 2001, well before I met my husband, I never expected that one of the great joys in my life would be being able to share some of the wonderful traditions that our Faith offers with other people, especially non-Catholics. Growing up, I remember hearing how Catholics really weren’t Christian and that they were idol-worshippers, and cared more about their “traditions,” and didn’t really know Jesus, and all kinds of misconceptions. After seeking and finding solace and a home in the Catholic Church, I made it a point to keep learning and to help correct those misconceptions when I would experience them, whether it’s with non-Catholics or with fellow Catholics who may just have for years misunderstood their Faith. For me, sharing our Faith traditions with others is a way to not only help people understand what it means to be Catholic, but is also a way for me to share my love of, and for, Jesus with others. 

Early on a Friday evening in March, a small group of families gathered in our backyard in Pasadena. There was the Baptist preacher and his family, the Evangelical Christian seminarian and his family, the Latter Day Saints family, the non-denominational family, and of course, a smattering of Catholic families, for emotional support. We set up the Stations of the Cross along the fence around our yard, and handed out 14 lit candles (one for every station) to the some of the kids, because, let’s admit it, candles make everything better and so much more fun. We began our remembrance in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, bathed in the gentle glow of the setting sun, as a hush settled over our group.

“During our time together, remembering the walk to Calvary, you will see some of us making gestures that may be unfamiliar to you,” I started, “Feel free to join in, or just observe. This time in prayer is a gift from our family to yours.”

The first Station was announced and you could hear the gentle laughter as our cross-bearer stumbled under the unfamiliar weight of the crucifix that my husband mounted on a tree limb as he attempted to genuflect. He steadfastly refused any help from his sisters, insisting that he could carry the Cross all on his own. Looking back, this sounds vaguely familiar to my own life and faith-journey… How often have I stumbled and refused to share the burden with friends, family, or even Jesus, steadfastly refusing any help with what ever cross I was carrying at that time?

As we experienced each station, the kids asked questions that many of us keep locked in the depths of our hearts: Why are they hurting Jesus? Why are the ladies crying? Why does Jesus keep falling? When we learned at the fifth Station that Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus carry his cross, our son decided that maybe help from his sisters and friends wasn’t a bad idea. With every “Our Father,” “Hail Mary,” and verse of the Stabat Mater, we came closer and closer to Calvary, all without leaving Pasadena.

The Twelfth Station: Jesus dies on the cross. In the stillness of the twilight, a hodge-podge of families from differing faith backgrounds knelt together on the grass before an image of Jesus crucified. At this one snapshot in time, we were not Baptists, Evangelical Christians, Latter-Day Saints, or Catholics; we were humans, linked together through time and space, kneeling with Mother Mary, John, Mary of Magdala and Simon of Cyrene, as the Word Incarnate breathed his last. 

As we shuffled to our feet, our shoulders were bowed with the burden of remembrance, recognition, and realization that Jesus’ sacrifice was for all of us and not just some of us. At that moment, the words of St. Paul rang as true now as when he first recorded them:

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Loving someone else requires taking chances and giving of yourself. It means offering parts of you that may be misunderstood, but you still want to give them to others because it’s of you.Standing together, in the glow of the lone remaining candle at the 14th Station, our family laid bare the love that we felt for our friends.

Our evening ended with the taking, blessing, breaking, and sharing of bread as a hodge-podge of  families gathered together around folding tables, chairs, and more candles, to share in homemade soup, crusty bread, and wine. We reflected on what we experienced that night and what it meant to each of us. The kids played and laughed in the darkness until it was time to retire for the evening to go back to our realities. 

Sharing the Stations of the Cross has now become a Lenten tradition for our family, and one that our friends look forward to participating in with us. The Baptist pastor and his wife have introduced Stations of the Cross to their church community as part of their Lenten offerings, and the meat-free mushroom and gouda soup has become a much-requested recipe from Stations of the Cross participants. 

For our family, Lent is more than just prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is a time to come together as brothers and sisters in Christ as we prepare our hearts for His triumphant return. It’s also a time for our family to show our love for everyone in our lives.

And it all started with a gathering

Karianna Frey is a wife, mother, and Classical Educator based out of Pasadena California. Originally from the Midwest, she adores red lipstick, vintage style, champagne, and Jesus. You can find her on Instagram at @kariannafrey posting about faith and family, all in an effort to avoid the inescapable, yet sanctifying, chore of housework.

Ellen Virginia

“Ellen, God wants you to be healed, He longs for you to be whole.” The glow of my phone in the dark living room provided enough light for me to find a Kleenex as tears fell onto the screen, my friend’s text message spanning hundreds of miles between us, touching my heart in the wound that needed healing the most…

Self sufficiency, false humility, pride. All of these are different words for the same phenomenon, the one that had created a wall between my heart and God’s. I loved Jesus but I had not fully grasped His unconditional love for me. For months I had convinced myself that I didn’t have time to make my health a priority, I had a busy life and perhaps would make time when my children were older. My friend’s inspired message cut through my pride, allowing a glimpse of myself from the Father’s point of view. I was beloved and worthy. Worthy of healing, worthy of giving Him time to heal my body and my heart. 

The following day I made the phone call I had been putting off for months. I scheduled surgery with a specialist four hours away for PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. I was nervous to undergo the procedure but given the lengthy waiting list for such a skilled surgeon, I had time to forget about it. However, as the months progressed, so did my symptoms. Another cyst rupture left me reeling in pain followed by a day in bed to recuperate. Instead of growing in fear of the surgery, I grew in gratitude that I had a deadline, a date on the calendar for when I could finally be rid of these symptoms. 

Many years before all of this, when I first became a mother, I had committed myself to serving whoever Jesus put in my path through making meals. It was a tangible way to teach my small children about loving our neighbors and it was much easier than volunteering at Church with toddlers in tow. I delighted in helping others, and yet I hadn’t accepted the reality that I needed help, too. I had forgotten that in order to give love, I had to receive it from the source of Love, Jesus.  

In the months leading up to my surgery, we were thankful that we had built a community around us and were blessed by the love of close family & friends. Our two years in that town were the longest we had lived in one place and we had no intentions to leave. I was confident that our friends and family would be right by our side to carry us through surgery and recovery. I had embraced the fact that I would need their help to manage through and my heart was at ease. That is, until one day, six weeks before my surgery, God stirred our hearts and asked us to trust Him in a much bigger way. We gave Him our mustard seed of faith and took the leap, accepting my husband’s job promotion and moving our family three hours away from home. 

The closing date on the purchase of our new home was scheduled three days before my surgery and I was certain I had somehow mixed up the plan. The timing of it all felt like a mistake. God wanted me to be healed but how was I going to undergo surgery without our vast network of support? 

Ready or not, surgery day arrived, but to my surprise, I felt an overwhelming peace. Through Christ’s mercy, the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows, and the hands of a very skilled surgeon, my surgery was extremely successful. The surgeon performed a bilateral ovarian wedge resection, returning my elevated hormones to normal ranges, all while preserving my fertility! 

I heard the doctor sharing the good news with my husband and I tried to open my eyes to see their faces. Despite my greatest efforts to complete such a small task, they wouldn’t open as nausea wracked me to my core. “Narcotic naïve,” the nurses paged to one another in the post operation room, as they checked my vitals once more. Pain seared through my body and I could barely speak or move. They were the most painful moments I had encountered in my life, and yet… there was that peace again … and there He was. The One who had longed for my healing. He hadn’t left my side. He asked me to offer my suffering for those in need of prayer as names scrolled past my closed eyes…friends, relatives, strangers, and neighbors alike. Through His grace I received the strength to focus on uniting my suffering to Christ’s sufferings, for them. And though the pain lingered, peace did too, in a greater way. It happened to be Lent, and Christ had invited me to Calvary with Him through my own personal cross.

Leaving our support and moving to a new town right before major surgery meant that I had only One who could fully care for my heart–Jesus. My support of nearby friends had been stripped away but He remained. My expected two week recovery turned into a six week recovery, and though my heart was weary and doubting at times, Jesus never left my side. He provided help at every moment during those long weeks through our family and friends, near and far, who came to our aid.

Weeks passed and I was soon physically able to care for myself, but I wasn’t prepared for how I would feel about my scars. I had my own battle wounds from birthing our four miracles, but the  scars from this surgery were different. If I had held onto my pride and self-sufficiency, believing my physical body didn’t need healing, I could have avoided the pain and scars of surgery. But I would have been rejecting God’s invitation to healing. By His grace I was able to humble myself enough to accept His help, to accept healing through surgery, to love myself by letting God love and heal me. And I learned that loving myself means loving all of me, including my scars. Though they’re hidden from the outside, my scars give me daily perspective and newfound empathy for the many crosses carried by each person we encounter. Yes, it really is true – we love because He first loved us. Real humility allows us to let down our guards of self sufficiency, allowing the Father to love us. When we’ve received His love, we can finally, fully love ourselves, wounds and all. That kind of love spills over, like an ocean from our hearts, into each heart we encounter along the journey to our true Home.

Ellen Virginia is a devoted wife and homeschooling mother who loves to share her gift of hospitality with everyone she meets. A natural cheerleader of the heart and a passionate advocate for time spent with Jesus, Ellen delights in encouraging women to choose joy each day. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram: @yokedtothehealer.

Shannon DeGrave

This camper trusted me too much. It was my first summer as a cabin counselor at a therapy camp for children with physical disabilities. I felt out of place since I had little medical training other than a first-aid certification course taken in middle school that had expired about five years prior. The camper was having difficulty with her bowel program that day and was in need of my assistance to change her. This should not have been too difficult, but I had never so much as changed a dirty diaper before, much less cleaned up a teenage girl. Her counselor was at the other side of camp with another camper and I was the only counselor at the all-girls’ unit whom she felt comfortable asking for help. It was not as if I could say no to her, especially since she was in such a state of discomfort, but also because of her total confidence in my ability to help her.

         After I asked another counselor to keep an eye on my kiddos, the camper and I went into her cabin’s bathroom. I helped transfer her onto the toilet and take off her clothes. Immediately, my stomach rolled at the odor – filth was everywhere. But the camper was already so embarrassed about her accident. She was apologizing to me and sheepishly trying to explain her situation, so I tried my best to keep my discomfort to myself, especially not to let it show on my face. Seeing that there were not any garbage bags or paper towels around the bathroom, I excused myself to grab some from the supply closet after I made sure the camper was secure where she was sitting.

         As I was walking, interiorly I turned to the Lord Jesus and asked for help. The camper was in a particularly vulnerable situation and I did not want to make it worse by causing her to feel bad, but I did not know how I get over my disgust of bodily fluids so I could give her the help that she needed. The Lord reminded me in that moment of a story in the life of St. Francis. Not long after Francis had his conversion, he was riding his horse on a plain beneath the city of Assisi and there came to face to face with a man who had leprosy. When Francis saw him, he was initially repulsed by the man’s open, oozing sores and the hand that reached out for alms with missing fingers. Instead of running away, Francis, inspired by Jesus to whom he had given his life, jumped off of his horse and embraced the leprous man, kissing his hand before placing into it a few coins. After he mounted again, he looked about and could no longer see the man with leprosy. He believed that it was not a human being whom he had kissed, but the Lord Jesus himself.

         As I gathered up my supplies, I realized that I needed to do as St. Francis had done – to get off my high horse and love this person in the way they needed to be loved. I went back then to the camper with a new frame of mind. With the situation being no longer about me and about the camper, I was able to serve wholeheartedly. I asked her how she was feeling, and as I cleaned her body and her wheelchair, I reassured her that it was no bother at all – because it truly was not anymore. The camper became more at ease and was even comfortable enough to laugh and make jokes about it! The situation went from one that was negative for the camper to one that was positive. She left that encounter built up and self-confident, not torn down. 

         Francis’ story jolted me into a greater realization of what exactly it was that I was doing at this camp, because of the similarity between my struggles and that of the saint. I was there to love Jesus in the campers. In his Testament, Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I became acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became the source of spiritual and physical consolation for me.” Francis had good reason to want to get away from the leper since it was thought in that time that leprosy was highly contagious. I, on the other hand, had no such excuse, other than not wanting to get dirty! When I was able to get past my reservations due to the lack of confidence in my abilities, being able to serve the camper was transformative for both of us. Because I was able to look outside of my love for myself and love the Lord Jesus in this camper, the insecurities both of us had melted away.

I found in this experience that healing and growth, whether that be physical, emotional, or spiritual, happens within the context of community. As human beings, we are made for relationships and it is through our relationships that those parts of ourselves which are wounded become whole. Working with children and adults with disabilities has made this apparent to me. Many people with disabilities are partially or totally reliant on others for their activities of daily living. For those of us who are able-bodied, the idea of living that way can be repulsive, because of how much as a society we value independence and self-sufficiency. Physical disability requires the assistance of others, but this dependence is not something to turn away from, but something in which to rejoice. My relationship with the camper deepened because of the struggle we went through together, and it taught me that relationships are the place where the Lord Jesus chooses to heal us all.

Shannon DeGrave is a senior at Holy Family College in Manitowoc, WI, studying Theology & English. Shannon enjoys hiking, singing in their college’s chorale, and listening to opera. Shannon has been published with Engage the Culture, The Novice, and America Magazine.

Kristin Heider

The February sky was overcast as I walked into the empty, darkened church. After years of being weighed down by a heavy burden of confusion and indecision, I was at a breaking point. I sat before an invisible God and cried out, as I had so many times. This time, though, my cry was a declaration rather than supplication, with a tone more audacious and desperate than ever: “My God! I will not leave this church without an answer!” A phrase I had encountered the previous year had slowly made roots in me, and in this moment, I was ready to answer its call-to-action: “In order to be free of the agony of indecision, you must look a thing boldly in the face and choose it passionately.” For me, Kierkegaard’s words captured the torment of the crippling decision I faced, one that was fraught with a years-long-history of agonizing, murky prayer. God seemed silent, and I had no sense of a single next step. 

I had constructed a cage for myself from grief over the loss of a beloved friend who had entered seminary, from my desire to “do God’s will,” and from my crippling fear of making the wrong choice. I was trapped, terrified, exhausted, wounded, and bereft. I had understood the friendship to have been divinely crafted to last a lifetime, so the loss of it felt like abandonment by God, and it threw me into a mental and spiritual anguish unlike I had ever known. My own conflicting vocational pulls were equally confounding. I had come close to joining a religious order, but mentally and spiritually, I was not healthy. And an hour away, there was another good man who had offered me his friendship many times, but whom I was unable to answer, though I wanted to. Years of discernment had seemed to bear no fruit, and I could no longer live in this cage. And so, I declared before God that I would not leave the church without choosing a strong next step. 

Meanwhile, one state over, this other young man sat in his attic bedroom in a tall Baltimore townhouse, plucking his guitar. He had pursued a friendship with me for 4 years at that point, receding into the background when the waves of my confusion were too strong, but always returning to gently ask if the time was right now. Inexplicably, he had always made me feel at ease in his presence, and he seemed to delight in mine in a way I did not understand. We had recently stepped back from friendship once again, and he was living his life with the mystery of the future looming for him. By then, he had witnessed many of my tears and heard my conflicted heart. By then, he knew how broken I was, yet he still hoped for friendship with me. We’d go for long stretches of time without communicating, only to run into each other at a party and rekindle the warmth between us after a single delightful conversation. As I sat in the church begging the Silent Divine to bless the decision I was about to make, to “go before me,” this man was up in his bedroom, thinking of me, wondering how much longer he could or should wait, but knowing he was willing. Love is patient. 

Several hours passed. The late afternoon sun began to change the reflections coming through the stained-glass windows in the church. Miraculously, I had made a decision. I stooped low before the cross, holding my face to the ground for a few moments, then rose and walked out of the chapel, my steps quickened by the previously-impossible-for-me act of choosing and the anticipation of what was to come. I did not have the sense that all my wounds were healed or all my questions answered, but I had a deep assurance that committing to a man whom I deeply admired and trusted, and who so relentlessly showed me that his love for me was principally for a neighbor and sister, that this was a worthy and supremely good choice, made in freedom. 

The drive to Baltimore was an hour long, the stop-and-go rush hour traffic reflecting my trepidation but also my confidence. I knew that he would embrace me, and that my choice to go to him that evening was a choice for life. As we walked together through the park that chilly evening and talked, we knew we were going to be walking together for the rest of our lives. It wasn’t a fairy-tale love story—it was way too messy and dramatic for that, but I perceived that there was a more profound romance in choosing one another with our eyes wide open to the burdens and crosses we each had carried and those we still carried. There was romance in the intention to love each other despite and because of them. We wanted to help each other carry these loads and all those to come. Love bears all things.

Twelve flips of the calendar later, we held hands as we entered the same church, this time purpled and draped for the liturgical season that had just begun. I stared at my left hand, freshly adorned with a sweet, humble vintage ring within that hour, and prayed the stations of the cross with this man I had just promised to marry. In a way, it felt incongruous: I was full of peace and joy while I stared at the stark images of Christ bearing the cross and being borne upon it. My abiding sense since then has been that in love, these things are carried together always. Joy and suffering. Love endures all things.

Seven more months later, on a scorching August evening, we exchanged vows. We danced and laughed with 300 friends and family in a non-air-conditioned church basement, every guest dripping with sweat, ditching dress-shirts and shoes, and proclaiming that ours was the best wedding they had ever attended. On our drive to our new home in Dayton after our honeymoon, we entwined our precious, freshly married hands, the sun kissed our faces through the windows, and our hearts were lightened by the presence of one another and the music coming from our CD player. As a new song drifted through the speakers, pointed lyrics unexpectedly broke into my joy and sparked a flood of my deep grief from the heaviness of the past and of my still-healing mind and heart. With great love and peace, he squeezed my hand, and told me without words that he understood and that he was there with me, and that he always would be. Love is kind. 

As I recall these pieces of our story, I can feel within my body the graceful movements of our fourth beloved child on earth. Some paths on this journey have been smooth, bright, and blissful, and have borne so much life. Others have cut our feet and made us bleed. Inevitably though, we sit and dress one another’s wounds, and then we carry on. Last week we swayed in the kitchen on healing feet to the Springsteen song we danced to at our wedding as our little ones watched, amused. The bridge of the song tells of the hope, and sometimes failure of romantic love: “Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true. Oh, but you and I know what this world can do.” We have certainly had a taste of the brokenness the world can render. But the next line and chorus have become a simple embodiment of our promises, a way to ground us when life’s challenges are heavy: “So let’s make our steps clear, that the other may see. I’ll wait for you, and if I should fall behind, wait for me.” We’ve danced to it many times in the past 6 years, because it reminds us of who we are and who we strive to be for one another: patient, kind, accepting, enduring. It reminds us of the shifting of the universe that occurred when we sealed our choice to love each other with lifelong vows. My husband. My love. My friend. My other half. If we continue along this path together, step by step, striving to care for the other as another self, and waiting for one another in turn, all will be well. Love does not fail. 

Kristin is a wife, mother, and nurse living in Dayton, OH with her precious brood of four rascals five and under. She has many interests but spends most of her scarce free time trying to decide between napping and making a dent in her book stack. She finds God most easily in a well-crafted plate of food.

Chika Anyanwu

A 175 year old Moreton Bay fig tree resides prominently in front of the main office at my parish. It’s roots resemble massive tentacles of a mythical sea creature whose limbs both rise above and are submerged deep below the surface. The height and girth of the fig tree make it a showstopper and it’s easy to tell who visitors are to the area because they stop, stare, and try to take in the wonder of it all. And it truly is a wonderful sight to see.

On one occasion, as I was pulling into the driveway of the church for daily Mass, I noticed an older man sitting underneath the tree. His clothes were slightly disheveled, his face seemed sunbeat, and his shoulders slumped heavily at his sides. 

Although the sprawling branches of the tree provide much-needed relief on hot and sunny Southern California days, I have made it a custom to always invite anyone whom I see sitting underneath the tree to come inside the cool church and sit with me during Mass. But walking up to a stranger and inviting them to Mass wrestles me outside of my comfort zone. I was also a little anxious because the man appeared to be homeless and I was having a moment of guilt and stinginess. I had a few dollars in cash—a few small bills and a larger one—and although I knew I should give him all of my money, I didn’t want to. At the time my finances were tight and I hadn’t budgeted unexpected charity.

I had a quick talk with the Lord about my selfishness and fear of rejection and prayed for the courage to approach the man and love him well no matter what.

I walked over to him and with an outstretched hand I introduced myself. Tired eyes on a withered face looked up at me, but there was an absolute kindness that expressed itself in his smile. He shook my hand and said that his name was Lenny. I asked Lenny if I could sit with him under the fig tree and with a slight sweep of his hand, he gave me permission.

I didn’t know what to say after that. I’m a pretty shy introvert, so walking up to anyone, especially someone that I don’t know, requires every ounce of courage from  the Holy Spirit! I prayed that God would give me the right words to speak.

“It’s pretty hot out today.”

“Yep.” Lenny responded.

“Would you like some water?”


I quickly got up and hustled to the parish office and welcomed the relief away from the awkward small talk. The front desk assistant was kind enough to give me two water bottles and I also asked her for any information regarding shelters, food banks, and resources that could benefit Lenny. As I waited for her return, I took the time I gathered my thoughts. Mass was going to begin soon and although I didn’t want to miss it, I also felt a prompting of the Holy Spirit to be church to Lenny.

I returned to him still sitting in the same spot underneath the fig tree.

“Lenny, it’s pretty hot out here. Would you like to come inside the church? Mass is going to begin in the next few minutes and you can come and sit with me.”

“No. I’m alright right here.”

Taking a moment to pray again, I knew where God wanted me. “Well, if it’s alright with you, I’ll join you as we enjoy the warmth.”

And so we sat. We made small talk at first and then gradually he shared about his life: the adventures he’s had, the places he’s been to, and the people he’s shared it with. We had a few destinations in commons and we chuckled as we recalled the moments that we experienced there. He also shared about his life as a homeless person where the streets were not always kind, but he had somehow managed to keep safe. We sat on the curb underneath the tree for almost an hour.

I knew that God was asking me to give Lenny everything. As much as I sincerely cared for Lenny and felt my love for him as my brother and friend in Christ grow, I was still tight-fisted and worried about my own vulnerable financial place. I reached into my pocket and gave Lenny a handful of my smaller bills. He sighed and looked at me with a bit of sadness.

“I don’t want your money. I’ve just been enjoying your company.”

“It’s the least that I can do, Lenny.”

“But you already gave me the most. Your time.”

I was stunned. Holding his hands, I prayed with him, slipped the money back into his hands, and left.

I wanted to go home and quickly busy myself with anything and everything because my pride was wounded and my encounter with him weighed heavy on me. “I don’t want your money, I’ve just been enjoying your time.”

I turned into the now empty church and slowly made my way to the tabernacle. During my encounter with Lenny, I thought I was supposed to be church to him, and I was. But in a more profound way, Lenny was Christ to me. He gave me the most prized possession of his attention. And I received it, but could only muster up what I thought he wanted in return: a lackluster, half-hearted, materialistic gift. All he wanted was me but I didn’t think that I was enough. I rarely think that me, just as I am, am enough.

My heart was pierced by the swiftness into which he ceased to be Lenny and thoroughly became Christ.

How many times have I assumed what Jesus wanted? How many times have I given Jesus the gift of Cain rather than the gift of Abel? How many times have I withheld my very self from Him?

I’ve often times been hesitant with giving Jesus everything because what if Jesus asked for something that I wasn’t ready to give? How could I ensure that I would be, well, comfortable? And what would I have left for myself? If it sounds selfish, that’s because it is selfish and it’s the reality of my sinfulness.

I was afraid to give Lenny all my money because I placed a disordered value on it. To him, more valuable than money was me and my time. In the same way, I place disordered value on materials, ideas, and situations and hesitate to offer them to Jesus in full and all He wants from me is me… Just me and my time.

The important lesson I learned underneath the 175 year old fig tree didn’t start there. It actually began on the wood of two other trees over 2,000 years ago: the wood of the manger and the wood of the cross.

God knew—and knows—that as much as we strive for holiness, we would get it wrong, and the only rectification for out sanctification could not come from us, but from One like us but perfect in every way. He gave His only Son to leave the glory of Heaven for the manger in Bethlehem. The wood that held our Savior was the first altar of offering from Jesus.

And He wasn’t done. His very self was given on the cross where Jesus gave both you and I everything to the point where no drop of blood or water was spared. His anxiety in Gethsemane was for us. Taking on every lie, curse, and revilement was for us. Every slap, slash, spit, and splinter was for us. Every bruise and every nail was for us. Every breath especially the last exhale was for you and me.

And what He wants from us is just that…us. Our presence. Our time. Our love. Our attention. Us.

We can struggle with giving Jesus the things we “think” that He wants, but this Lent, let’s strive to be present to Him and to allow Him to be present to us. The more that we choose to be in love with Jesus, the easier it will become to let go of everything else because of love.

I held back under the tree but Jesus still gives and gives, and even forgives, and gives again. Let’s learn from our beloved, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.” 1 John 4:10-12

Chika Anyanwu is an international Catholic evangelist and author currently based in Anaheim, California. She has shared her love for Jesus as a confirmation coordinator and young adult minister in Southern California, is a two-time alumna of the National Evangelization Teams Ministries, is a devotional writer for Blessed Is She, and was an area contact for Life Teen. Her book, My Encounter: How I Met Jesus in Prayer is the perfect pocket-sized testimonial and devotional for all ages. Chika is a part of a big and beautiful Nigerian family, loves coffee, and strives for sainthood every day although bad drivers challenge her sanctity.

Kerry Weber

One cold winter night I bought a tuna sandwich for dinner at a pharmacy. I was hungry and late for a meeting and was feeling sorry for myself for having to eat dinner at a place that also sells stockings and cold medicine. I passed a man curled up under some blankets on the street. “Got anything to eat?” he asked, clearly seeing that I did. I took out half of the sandwich and gave it to him. But as I walked away, doubts filled my head: Should I have given him the whole sandwich? Should I have bought another one just for him? Was he even hungry?

It’s not easy to determine the best ways to act with kindness and mercy. St. Basil the Great, of the fourth century, puts it quite simply:

The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked…. The acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.

That’s a challenging statement. My lack of action can be, in itself, an injustice. But how do we know when and how to act? It seems like too much, sometimes, to feel for every person you see and to give to people in need not knowing what they’ll do with the money. It is difficult to see everyone as an individual.

In the summer before that cold winter night, I had been threatened by a man who had locked himself in the wheelchair-accessible bathroom at church. I’d knocked on the door, and the man had emerged, a flurry of baggy, ragged clothes and unkempt hair. Angry, screaming and delusional, he believed his feet had been burned by acid and that I’d been continually bothering him. His arm was raised and his fist clenched tightly as he started at me. All I can remember about that moment is thinking, I’m about to get punched in the face, although I made no attempt to move. Sensing this, my then-boyfriend stepped in to mediate, and the man punched him in the face instead. It was a long day.

Since then I’d been a bit more wary of than worried about many of the homeless people I passed on the street, yet I tried to strike a balance between vigilance and mercy. Mercy, as described by Venerable Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy, is “the principal path pointed out by Jesus Christ to those who are desirous of following Him.” It sounds simple enough. And yet I often feel that this path can be a difficult one to travel, and that keeping pace with Jesus, our guide on this path, is a challenge.

The thing is, it’s easy to imagine yourself doing great works of mercy. It’s easy to have good intentions. What’s difficult is the follow-through, because God didn’t challenge us to commit to the corporal works of mercy for a few days. God challenges us to commit to a lifestyle—and a lifetime—of mercy. And that’s not easy, because maybe in the end, the corporal works of mercy—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless and others—aren’t things that can be completed the way one can finish playing a board game or painting a picture. Each act is not an isolated incident, but a part of a process, akin to sweeping the floor. You have to do it regularly or things begin to get messy. They must become habits without becoming mindless. Ultimately, the works of mercy point us toward ways in which we can build God’s reign on earth.

And yet action must be rooted in relationship. In one of the most powerful passages in Dorothy Day’s autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she speaks of the wonderful evolution of the Catholic Worker movement and writes about how many surprising, God-filled moments came about while “we were just sitting there talking.” She writes of people moving in and out of the house and says, “Somehow the walls expanded.” I can’t help but think that here she writes not only of the willingness of the community to take on and take in guests, but also of the walls of the heart growing in kind. Because that is how our hearts are meant to work: just when you think your heart is full to the point of breaking, it adapts and grows and learns to love more than you ever thought you could.

In an effort to delve more deeply into these works of mercy, I decide  to stay as an overnight volunteer at a homeless shelter at a nearby church. I will be  spending the night in a church basement with more than a dozen men I’ve never met, and I have no idea what to expect.

When I arrive, the shelter feels strangely similar, like the kind of place in which I would have attended a Brownie sleepover as a child, but with rough, folded cots instead of thin, Minnie Mouse-themed sleeping bags on the floor. The walls of the shelter are white, and the room is long and sparse. The cots are folded and lined up near the walls; each already has blankets on it. Near each bed are hooks on the walls upon which hang random personal items, presumably owned by the men: a few jackets, a suit coat on one hook; a plastic, gold-colored centurion helmet on another.

When the men arrive, a young man smiles broadly at me and introduces himself as Angelo. He holds out his hand to shake mine. “Don’t worry, they’re clean,” he says. I am not worried about germs, just shocked that he is so young. He couldn’t be older than his early 20s. Next, Greg comes over. He is wearing a blue-grey sweatshirt and has several tattoos. We begin chatting, and the subjects range from our favorite kinds of chicken to the fact that he’s been to Western Massachusetts, where I grew up.

Greg tells me he has been all over New England and the Midwest. His dad was in the Navy. When he finds out I work for a Jesuit magazine, he says he knew a guy who went to a Jesuit high school. As he talks, he spreads peanut butter on a toasted heel of bread and then rolls it up.

“Are the Jesuits like the brothers up by St. Francis? Is there a rivalry, like gangs?” he asks, laughing.

“Like the Sharks and the Jets,” I say. “Lots of finger snapping.”

Johnny, who has been sitting nearby, gets up and walks away and then comes back with a card that reads St. Padre Pío House. He says it’s at 155th Street in the South Bronx. “He was a priest who bled from his hands and feet,” he says with a sweet pride at being able to connect my world to his. “Yeah, that’s the stigmata,” I say. Johnny nods.

A man named Louis asks if I brought earplugs. I tell him no. “I hope you’re a good sleeper,” he replies. One of the men tells me a joke and I laugh in approval. Greg chimes in, “You have to let her think we’re high-quality homeless people,” he says and laughs, as well. And in that moment I realize that, deep in conversation, I’ve forgotten about that label for a while. I haven’t tried to categorize the men as crazy or Christ-like. I’ve just let them be. And I’ve allowed myself to be present.

The lights go out at 10:30 p.m., and I have a difficult time falling asleep. Around 11 p.m., a cellphone rings. The snoring is at all volume levels and intervals, so at times it sounds almost like one continuous rumble. I understand now why Louis asked me about the earplugs. A man starts coughing with gusto. Someone brushes off his sheets. And yet somehow, after talking with many of the men that evening, all the noise doesn’t really bother me. I’m grateful that they’ve welcomed me. Throughout the evening, that small space has seemed to expand, as the men make sandwiches or watch movies or just sit there talking. I feel surprisingly at home.

This story is adapted from Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned and Keep Your Day Job (Loyola Press) by Kerry Weber.

Kerry Weber is an executive editor at America, where she has worked since 2009, and the author of Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned and Keep Your Day Job

Peggy Weber

It was a lovely, sunny Sunday. This May day might have led to hikes or picnics but for me it was the perfect afternoon to make money.

Our parish was holding its annual Catholic Charities collection day in the parish center – which just happened to be on our street. This special donation day was long before online giving. No one could text or click  to give money back then. 

Instead, the bishop asked parishioners to stay home while workers went door-to-door to collect for the charitable needs of the diocese.  And people did. The money that was collected was then brought to the parish center for tallying. Our street was humming with activity.

Some other kids on our street and I figured that if we set up a lemonade stand near the parish center, then the kind-hearted volunteers would stop and buy a cup of our delicious drink. It was a great plan and sure-fire selling opportunity.

The four of us had the help of Hopie’s  mom. She provided the cups, ice, lemonade and table. It seemed appropriate that his family sponsor the group. After all, he had a cool bike with a banana seat and their family had a color television.

I provided a lot of the salesmanship  since I was not afraid to approach people and ask them to offer up a nickel – that’s right five cents – for a cup of our cold brew.

We really should have moved the table closer to my house because I lived directly across from the center. But Mrs. B. had given us the goods and was watching us closely.

After two hours of work we were satisfied with our efforts. We had made $1. A whole dollar! We did the math and realized that we each now had 25 cents to spend. In today’s economy that might seem quite small, but for us it meant we could each buy five, full-size candy bars. Or we could diversify and purchase two big bars and 15 cents worth of penny candy. And all the penny candy back then was truly just a penny.

We were itching to race to Tony’s Spa or Tom’s Variety to spend our earnings.  But we also knew we had to help with clean-up. So, we folded up the table, threw out the trash and handed the almost empty pitcher to Mrs. B.

She asked, “How did you kids do?” We grinned and told her about our dollar profit. She smiled again and then looked at all of us intently. “Now kids, wouldn’t it be really nice if you walked across the street and donated that dollar to Catholic Charities?”

“Nice! No it would not be nice,” we all thought. “Nice would be licking chocolate of our fingers and shaking sugar out of a pixie stick!” However, no one voiced those feelings. No one wanted to look at the lady who had made that lemonade stand possible and say we preferred candy to charity. 

Instead we all nodded. We crossed the street under her watchful eye, clutching the change and wishing we had run to the candy store and then done our clean up. We wished she had suggested that we donate 75 cents and let us each keep five cents. We wished that giving to a charity did not hurt so much.

We walked in to the center and spoke to a man at a table. We had hoped that if we were making such a big sacrifice then the least they could do was to make a big fuss. Instead he looked confused. “Who are you kids and what do you want?” was his comment. He then referred us to another table that was for miscellaneous (random) donations. We gave the money and they said thank you. No one called over the pastor or even an assistant priest to say, “Aren’t these kids amazing! They gave their lemonade stand money!”

No, we just walked out of the center slowly and dejectedly. We said little to each other. Wasn’t giving supposed to feel good? Was it ever going to feel as good as biting into a chocolate candy bar? Would we ever think that helping our neighbors was as nice as looking through the glass case at the store and telling the clerk, “One red licorice, two jaw breakers, and three bit-o-honeys?”

Why did giving hurt so much? And why did we, just little kids, have to do it?

That day did not reveal a touchy-feely experience of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. It did not have the happy ending that should come from making a noble sacrifice. At least not right away.

That day showed me that sometimes giving is really, really hard. I suppose if it were easy then the world would be a different place.

But also on that bright, spring afternoon, when all I wanted was to make money for myself, I felt a little kernel of pride within me, knowing that I had done something to help others. And from then on, when my needs feel more important than the needs of othersI know what I should do. 

That day I also learned that even though we should give humbly and quietly, it also nice to be thanked. 

Sometimes I wonder if giving our lemonade money would have been easier if we had known that it was to help children without any food or families or even homes.  We knew the name”Catholic Charities” but we did not understand the work. Maybe if we knew what “neighbor” we were helping we would not have minded helping as much.

Maybe we would not have grumbled so much. Although, I suspect, that we still would have  yearned for an afternoon where we could stroll up the street with coins clutched in our hands and dreams of candy in our heads.

Peggy Weber is an award-winning Catholic journalist and the author of Enough as You Are (Loyola Press). She holds degrees from Providence College and Marquette University. She is most especially a wife, mother of three and grandmother of seven.