So far, my time in Washington, DC going through Franciscan Mission Service’s formation program has been incredible. I am across the street and right down the road from different convents and monasteries, all offering a quiet place for reflection, Adoration, mass, and confession. I’m now living in an intentional community with 12 other people, learning to cook, work, and live together. In addition to my weekly class sessions, I have the opportunity to serve once a week at the Father McKenna Center, a local non-profit shelter in DC.

The Father McKenna Center was started by Reverend Horace B. McKenna, SJ, an associate pastor at St. Aloysius Parish in DC. He was an incredibly compassionate man who started various programs to help feed, clothe, and house those experiencing homelessness. The Father McKenna Center was founded soon after his death as a way to carry on his special care for those in poverty.

Serving at the Father McKenna Center is one of my favorite parts of each week. With all the different programs they offer, the center is a very busy place. I mainly help serve breakfast and lunch, clean and cook in the kitchen, and help people shop in the food pantry.

One of the most memorable experiences I have had at the center was during my first day, when I met John. He came through the breakfast line where we were serving cold cereal, coffee, and juice. He stopped at the end of the line where I was and signed “thank you” to me many times – he is deaf and unable to say much out loud, but he gave me a huge smile. At the time, we were very busy, so I just smiled back and kept serving. I thought about him after I left that day, though. He tried so hard to express gratitude to me over cold cereal and juice. I felt like I didn’t deserve his gratitude for doing so little.

This is the importance of a ministry of presence – of being with those who are marginalized. Serving in and of itself is a good thing, but we miss the point when we focus on the task instead of the person. The task of serving breakfast and lunch for the men at the center isn’t something I should solely focus and get caught up on; I should focus on meeting Christ in the men that come through the line, and try to show God’s love through my presence. I saw John again this past week, and was able to converse with him a bit more through lip reading and smiling.

While reflecting on our different service sites, one of my fellow missioners, Beth, showed me a prayer that struck me. It is a prayer by Pope Paul VI, which says:

“Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellow men throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give peace and joy.”

How often do we ask God to make us worthy to serve others? This is the prayer I’m adopting: Lord, make me worthy to serve those at the Father McKenna Center.

Feature image: adaptation of photo by Wikimedia user Multichill – Creative Commons