By Sister Marissa Butler

What started as an ordinary morning visit to the gym ended as a powerful Mercy moment. While putting away my belongings, another gym member was stuffing a backpack, soiled blanket and half bag of cheerios into the next cubby.

He looked familiar. I assumed our paths must have previously crossed at the gym. Throughout my workout, my eyes kept following him. I started to leave, but instead stood by the door interiorly conflicted. The young man was sitting on the floor against a wall, charging his phone. I felt the need to respond, but how? Being a daughter of Catherine McAuley, I imagined what she would do. I heard her voice tell me to offer something to eat, and also to pray for him so his soul was fed, as well.

I sat on the floor next to him and asked if he needed anything. He explained he had been kicked out of his parents’ house and needed somewhere to stay. Knowing I could not take him home, I began searching for nearby shelters. We continued talking, and he accepted an offer for breakfast.

My intention was to buy him breakfast and go on my way. Instead, I sat down as he was eating. He shared his story, one of struggles with his parents and financial challenges. He wanted to change. I shared my story of broken relationships and need for counseling. He was surprised these experiences were familiar to me.

I told him that at the end of every day, I look back and identify where I saw the face of God and today there was no doubt in my mind I was sitting at the table with Jesus. We remained at the table sharing the gift of our tears before exchanging names and parting ways.

Later, when reflecting on the experience, I saw how it spoke to our vows:

Obedience: Time spent asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit and asking myself, “What would Catherine do?” and “What does my commitment to mercy call me to do?”

Celibacy: The vow of celibacy is more about freedom and less about restrictions. It invites me to an all-inclusive love, a love that gives life to other people.

Poverty: Poverty is not simply funds in a bank account. There is poverty of time. I met this young man’s poverty with an open heart and open ears. My poverty came in sitting on the floor and entering into his story. I chose not to walk by and say, “Get up. Get a job.” More important than a meal, I gave my time.

Service: Catherine McAuley said, “The spiritual and corporal works of mercy constitute the business of our lives.” I may not have given him clothes to wear, but I clothed him in dignity by acknowledging him as another human being created in the image and likeness of God. He may not have been imprisoned behind bars, but he was lacking hope and perhaps imprisoned by his situation.

As a novice, I have learned that the vows we profess as Sisters of Mercy cannot be lived independent of one another. This encounter brought them together and made real for me their true meaning.

Learn more about the vows Sisters of Mercy take and what a life of Mercy is all about: