I had the pleasure and privilege the other day of visiting Visitation Monastery of Minneapolis, a community of seven Visitation Sisters who provide a contemplative presence in the inner city. Their mission is “to share prayer, hope and God’s blessings with the people in our neighborhood and to receive their blessedness.” The community was formed out of a commitment to “be one with those who live on the edge economically, and who are often marginalized by society.”
My colleague Verna arranged the visit and she and I had tea with several of the Sisters before joining them for their evening prayer. During our discussion they talked about their work in the community.
I was humbled and inspired listening them talk about the people they encounter. One that they mentioned is a homeless man who suffers (as so many homeless do) from a mental illness. He shows up at their door now and then for prayer or a meal. He seems to have a knack for showing up on imporant liturgical feasts and other special occasions. They spoke of one occasion when they were having a celebration of the 70th birthday of one of the sisters. Several of her family members were there and, as they were about to sit down to the table for supper (formally set for the occasion), in walked the man. They simply pulled up another chair and invited him to join them for their celebratory meal. Afterward, they all moved to the living room, where a fire was set, for coffee and converation. After a while, he got up to leave. Thanking them, he told them that he had been out on the streets since early that morning and had been cold, and tired and hungry when he knocked on their door.
It would have been so easy when the unexpected visitor came to the door to say, “Can you come back later, we’re busy now” or to put a sign outside that they were closed for the evening. Some might have done so. Others might have let him in, but quietly resented the presence of an outsider at a special “family” gathering. But this community welcomed him with love and treated him with dignity. And, in their hospitality and care of him, they fed the hungry Jesus and provided warmth to the cold Jesus, and gave rest to the tired Jesus.
Sr. Mary Frances Reis reminisced about the “old times” when the nuns sat in a parlor, often behind a grille, talking to visitors who came. The visitors, she said, liked to touch the nuns – their arms or their veils – with the idea that they were touching the holy. What she gets to do now, she said, is to touch the holy through her encounters with the people in the community.
These women touch the holy, day after day. They are a worthy model for all of us for how to be Christ to others and how to see Christ in others.
You can learn more about the Visitation Monastery by visiting their website here.