For Abbey Mackie and the other student-volunteers from SCA, serving food at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen was turning out to be a good but unremarkable experience. Students were given different jobs to help with the afternoon mealtime: handing out food and drinks in the line, talking with guests as they ate their meals, helping with clean up.
Everything was going relatively smoothly. But that all changed when a man with a long beard came in, his face injured and obviously hurt.
He came into the soup kitchen almost apologetically. He looked around at the guests and the workers and said that he’d been beaten up. He tried to explain that he wanted to get to the soup kitchen earlier; he was worried that he was too late for the lunch. In fact, Mackie recalls that they had just started putting away the chairs when the man came in.
Thankfully, he wasn’t too late, and as he sat down at one of the round cafeteria-style tables, Mackie sat down next to him. She asked him what happened and the man began to cry. He told his story: a family member had stolen money from him recently; he had just moved into an apartment one week ago and came home last night to find the apartment locked, an eviction notice on the door. Everything he owned was locked away in the apartment. He wasn’t sure where to go, so he headed to the soup kitchen. Along the way he was assaulted and woke up in an alley.
As Mackie listened, all she could think about was how unfair and devastating this man’s story was.
But despite all of his struggles, the man didn’t act devastated. What he said next not only surprised Mackie, it shook loose something deep within her: a new way of seeing, a new way of loving.
As she recalls, the man said that he was going to be okay “because God’s with me.” He told her that no matter what happens, it would be alright.
Mackie wanted to help. “Do you know anyone to call? Someone who can take care of you?”
His answer: No, but God will take care of him.
As she recalled later, that moment made Mackie confront her feelings about the homeless and poor. She said that sometimes it’s so hard to see people like this — that we get too emotional — and so we cover up and suppress those emotions. We tend to make excuses by thinking, “Maybe it’s their fault their lives are like this. Maybe they’re mean or bad people. Maybe they don’t care how they live.” Mackie knows that she’s often tried to shield herself from the realities of poverty and hardship, that she’s made these same excuses to herself. But seeing that man in the soup kitchen meant she had to face them.
She knew this man was trying. His positive attitude, his trust in God, his thankfulness even for a warm meal — he was struggling, but he was not going to lose heart.
He told her at the end of their conversation that he knew a store that was hiring, that he was going to go apply for a job. It was the kind of hope that seemed almost impossible just a few minutes earlier. The man had come looking for a meal and a place of fellowship; Mackie had come to give service. What each of them had received was a witness to God’s love.
Why do we struggle to love?
We often forget what love really means. Love isn’t just a feeling or emotion. Love is patient; love is kind; love doesn’t envy. Love is the act of self-giving that is willingly done.
Our Lady loved. She loved because Christ fulfilled her purpose; she had Christ within herself, both physically and spiritually.
Her love was pure because she was sinless and an image that we should strive for. She loved those who killed her son; she loved even when her son was being mercilessly whipped. She loved when she was hurt, and it is what makes and takes the best in us. Her love was so strong that only her love could take the injustice that was inflicted on her son.
This is the type of love that we should strive for. It takes so much courage to live like this. To be honest, you can’t truly love unless you really know Christ.
A Reflection by Anna Schubert
Dear St. Catherine’s family,
My name is Leya, and I graduated from St. Catherine of Siena Academy in May 2015. Today, I am a sophomore at Wayne State University, and I am writing to share my experience with Wayne State Labre Project.
I first heard of Labre Project, a Jesuit ministry, through a close friend at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. Labre Project is named after the patronage of St. Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of the homeless. On Friday evenings at JCU, a group of students load up two vans with hot food, gloves, and socks before driving through the streets of Cleveland. The ministry began years ago, and over the years, visits of food and socks have turned into genuine, authentic friendships between these college kids and the homeless.
My friend at John Carroll would describe her experiences with Labre Project, bubbling over with excitement as she shared stories of her friends, like the old woman who had finally been put into housing and the man by the church corner who could make up raps on the spot. Her stories were powerful and a little bit surreal. Every single conversation would end with her looking me in the eye, saying, “Leya, Detroit needs a Labre Project.”
Every week, I would listen to her words before pocketing them immediately. It was true—Detroit did need a Labre Project… but I really didn’t want to do anything about it. I was busy, and I wasn’t very good at befriending strangers. Besides, Detroit was not exactly the safest city to be driving around with vans and college kids. I figured there was absolutely no way the University would even consider permitting such a request. I had made up my mind—Labre Project was cool, and I respected what those students did, but it was not for me. God obviously had a different plan in mind.
Months passed, and I was exiting off the interstate as I drove back to campus after a long weekend. I passed by a woman holding a sign for food right off the highway. She was young, with brown-blonde hair and a sweet smile. I was familiar with this lady, as I had driven past her at least fifty times before. This time, something was different.
A week went by, and I kept finding my thoughts drifting back to the image of this lady by the street corner. Another week went by, and my friend from JCU called again with more stories from Labre Project. A third week, and the image of this lady was still engrained in my mind. By the fourth week, I was frustrated. I made a deal with God—I would bring up the idea of Labre with Fr. Jim, one of the chaplains at Wayne State Newman Center, if, and only if, God presented me with a very blatant opportunity to do so.
A couple days later, and I stopped by the Newman Center to grab some coffee before class. I was walking out when Fr. Jim grabbed me, exclaiming about the new crucifix they had just hung in the chapel. I followed him into the room and was immediately awestruck at the peace radiating from within. It reminded me of St. Catherine’s chapel in the mornings before school begins, where the shadows from the cross are mirrored on the walls, and the beauty of the stillness catches on your heart. I eyed the crucifix, then turned to Father’s transfixed gaze, then turned back to the crucifix, then back to Father’s transfixed gaze. Sighing, I realized that God had won.
The months that followed were a blur. One thing is for sure: God had a very specific plan in mind for Wayne State. That day in the chapel, before I even finished explaining, Father Jim cut me off and dragged me over to meet Adam, a junior who had spoken to him about something similar a couple months earlier. Together, Adam and I brainstormed over the course of a few weeks, and literally without us even trying, doors began to open. Donations began pouring in, and we were blessed to meet different men and women who provided us with advice and mentorship in homeless ministry. Adam eventually introduced me to his sister, Angela, and the three of us and Fr. Jim spent a weekend down at John Carroll University, participating in their Labre Project. The weekend was so much more than I ever imagined, and it was such an affirmation that God was at work.
The four of us went out into the streets of Detroit for the first time this January, and we met so many incredible men and women in just three hours. Our second visit was even more powerful, as we recognized many of the individuals from the week before, already beginning to form friendships. Here are three points that I have realized from my experience that I wanted to share with you all.
Spiritual warfare is real.
Before every single meeting, something stupid will go wrong. Last week, the meat would not defrost; the week before that, there were petty disagreements; the week before that, all of us were stressed and impatient and frustrated at how much we still had to get done. Spiritual warfare is real… but that’s okay!
God does the hard work, not you.
The reason why spiritual warfare is okay is because you’re not fighting the battle alone. As someone especially prone to feeling overwhelmed, this is something I need to keep reminding myself—especially in moments of frustration. I’ve seen this characteristic of Jesus displayed so many times in the past few months. Every time I am discouraged, God will open another door. That beautiful moment will bring so much affirmation that He is in control.
Service gives life.
No matter how frustrated and stressed we might be when we leave campus, we come back filled with peace and joy and so absolutely content with life. I’ve always heard that when you give, you receive ten-fold. It’s a nice saying to hear but absolutely incredible to experience. Whether that service means travelling to the Dominican Republic, or being a witness to life in Washington DC, or serving in your own homes and parishes, the beauty that follows is so worth the little sacrifices that come with. That beauty allows prayer to become more tangible and a relationship with Jesus more concrete.
Thank you for allowing to share my experience with Labre Project with you all. I hope you all love every single moment of EPOCH week. Your witness is beautiful.