“Last night was the first time I had ever blown out my own birthday candles or had birthday cake,” she said casually. “My mom was an alcoholic so, I guess she just forgot most of the time.”

Birthday cake. Something I never thought of as a luxury.

These are the words of a woman I have the privilege of sharing life with at Maggie’s Place. These are the words that invited me to contemplate the worst kind of suffering that exists: the deprivation of love.

The recent canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta has reignited my love for her charism and attitude towards building the kingdom of God (seems to be the trend around here). She was a woman that had to witness unfathomable suffering every single day, yet she was still convicted that there was something worse than starvation and physical diseases.

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst, the most terrible poverty of all,” she once stated. “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.”

It’s frustrating to know that we can’t restore all the broken families, clone all the noble and faithful men in the world, or stop the heart wrenching abuse that happens all too often. It’s hard to witness the pain that people have become numb to. What we CAN do though, is be somebody for those who have nobody. This is the power of the human heart that pumps love through the veins of every person connected to Maggie’s place. We look at every woman that walks through our doors and tell her with our actions: YOU ARE IMPORTANT. YOUR LIFE MATTERS TO ME. I believe that this is the most valuable gift we can offer someone. It is the most necessary part of our work as MissionCorps.

The other powerful way that we can respond to suffering is through mercy. A few weeks ago, I attended a Right to Life lunch hosted by the Diocese and we heard a series of speakers throughout the afternoon. One of the former board members of Maggie’s Place, Mike Phelan, emphasized Mother Teresa’s work in relation to mercy. He reminded us that it is mercy that restores dignity. It is mercy that looks at the homeless prostitute and says, “You are STILL loved. You are still important.” It is mercy that looks at a mother that has lost custody of her children and says, “You are STILL loved. You are still important.” When we take time to recognize God’s mercy in each of our own sinful lives, we allow ourselves to recognize the ways in which we are called to be a channel of God’s mercy in every life we encounter.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

This scene in the bible is such a pivotal moment in Mary Magdalene’s life. It was a compassionate hand reaching out to her that enabled her to see herself as worthy of being forgiven and loved. Mercy not only has the power to restore dignity, but also restores hope. When you are working with women who have nobody to depend on in their lives, have a past full of mistakes, and have never been treated with respect, it is our highest calling to be the hand that reaches down into that dark hole and pulls them out of their misery. Mercy challenges us to find the heart in people different from us and see a heart made by the same Maker that created our own. It is a heart that thirsts for love and mercy, and must give it to others in return.

So does this mean that we can fight the world’s greatest disease with birthday cake? No, not exactly. But if a birthday cake can remind one woman that her life is important and cherished apart from her perceived self-worth, then that birthday cake is the best medicine on the shelf.

 

By Jana Zuniga, a MissionCorps member