"Charity of St. Elizabeth of Hungary" (detail) by Edmund Blair Leighton

“Charity of St. Elizabeth of Hungary” (detail)
by Edmund Blair Leighton

In June, I started a mother’s ministry at my 10,000 person parish and the response has been overwhelming. Though we began meeting over five weeks ago, every week I receive more requests from women who have heard about us and want to join the group.

Here’s the thing I already knew, but my experience has confirmed: women are hungry for community, for support, and for friendship. Women feel isolated and alone.

At the end of almost every session, someone approaches me and confesses a private pain. There are marital issues, parenting challenges, the death of children and spouses. I pray to hold back my tears as these women tell me their stories.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but these women I’m befriending? I’ve been sitting next to them in the pews for years. Until recently, I didn’t even know their names, let alone their sufferings. Though I’ve seen them almost weekly for the last six years, my efforts to get to know them have not exceeded a polite nod and a weak smile as we file into and out of Sunday Mass.

Isn’t it strange I would never forget to leave my iPhone at home but I can’t be bothered to ask the woman sitting next to me at Mass every Sunday her name?

Isn’t it strange that I live in a über technologically connected society, but I remain so emotionally disconnected from the people around me?

The late, great Saint Mother Teresa said,

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”

When I was young and newly married, I often thought I had to be famous or well known to think my work and life meant something. I thought saving the world required recognition.

Now I know that is not accurate.

My work and my life become meaningful when I give myself away, when I look up at the talent and greatness of the people around me and not when others look up at me.

To make my life meaningful, I don’t have to even leave my own home or my church pew on Sunday and there is ample opportunity to give myself away—to extend love and compassion to the lonely and unwanted. Desperate people are standing right before my very eyes.

Do you want to save the world?

Go home and love your family.

Love your children who—at times—are so needy it drives you to the brink of insanity.

Love your spouse, who may very well be an adult, but is probably so hungry for your undivided attention he or she is almost starving.

Bake your new neighbor some bread and drop it off at the door.

Approach the woman who sits with her darling family every Sunday in your church pew and ask what her name is and where her kids go to school.

Leave your virtual “community” (whatever that is) and engage in the living, breathing community God put right before you.

It doesn’t matter if others return your kindness, if a person judges or critiques your efforts or is flat out rude. St. John Baptist de la Salle says:

“Adapt yourself with gracious and charitable compliance to all your neighbor’s weaknesses. In particular, make a rule to hide your feelings in many inconsequential matters. Give up all bitterness toward your neighbor, no matter what. And be convinced that your neighbor is in everything better than you. This will not be difficult if you keep even a little aware of yourself. It will give you the ability to overcome your feelings of resentment. Each day look for every possible opportunity to do a kindness for those you do not like. After examining yourselves on this matter every morning, decide what you are going to do, and do it faithfully with kindness and humility.”

We aren’t called to like everybody, but we are called to love them and the people we encounter everyday—they are a good place to start. We don’t need become overseas missionaries in Africa in order to feed the poor. We can start by loving those in our community, even if we don’t particularly care for them.

I’m not sure my work with the mother’s ministry has completely eradicated my self-absorption, but it has definitely shaken me from my slumber. I can’t entirely alleviate the world’s pain, but I’ve realized I can attempt small acts of love.

I can smile at the new mom at church who has no friends.

I can send an email to the weepy woman suffering privately, assuring her of my prayers.

I can bake some brownies and brew some hot coffee and offer it to the women who have dragged themselves to our Friday morning meetings.

I can decide to attempt just one kind thing for another person in my community, and I can have faith that those small acts are indeed changing the world—one charitable deed at a time.

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