I walk in and find myself immediately flooded with many tasks to do.

While people come over to say hello and give hugs, I'm given instructions for the day. Before I can start any of these tasks, I have an unhappy customer complaining about this or that and two people waiting to receive food and clothing assistance. This might seem like a mad house, but it's really just another day at Samaritan House, a thrift store and emergency food bank our sisters assist at in Downtown Steubenville.

After meeting with a client in need of food and clothing, I soon find out they can't find much of what they are looking for in the way of clothes. I make up a list of their needs and decide to run downstairs where we have a bit of an "overflow" supply. As soon as I step our of the door, another client is awaiting clothing assistance. Asking him to please wait, I ask one of our volunteers to fill out the food order for the first client while I run downstairs to find clothing. It's been a few years since she's done an order, so we decide to do it together. When I come back upstairs, there are more people asking for food and clothing assistance and people wanting to know if we help with this, that or the other. The other sister I'm working with comes to the rescue and helps some of the people needing assistance. I hear glass shatter behind me. The first client says none of the clothes I brought up would work and they will come back another day. I desperately seek out the shattered glass being told by 3 people they heard it shatter from 3 different spots. As I was searching for the glass, I realized the clothing I brought up needed to go back downstairs. Once finding the glass nestled between some boxes on the floor, I begin to do clean up. As soon as I begin, I receive a phone call. When 3:00 hit (the time we usually pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet), I found myself in the middle of a clothing order, needing to take clients downstairs for their needs, finding no rest even at that time. I was starting to wonder -- is this what a mother of many young children feels like?

With so many tasks to be done and not enough time to do it. Never have I wanted to receive the gift of bilocation so badly. Being overwhelmed on days like this is an understatement.

The rest of my day continued in a similar fashion with many people needing assistance and only two of us to meet the many demands of the day. Before I knew it, my 2 1/2 hour shift was over and it was time to clean up and go home. Our usual clean-up crew however went home early, leaving Sr. Maria Clare and me to fend for ourselves, taking us twice as long as normal.

On days like this I can't help but wonder, "Lord, did I really make a difference today? Did I really build up Your kingdom today, feeling very overwhelmed and running around like a mad woman attempting to give everyone the love and attention they need while still getting my work done? Is sweeping up shattered glass and sorting through clothes really sanctifying myself and others?" 

The Lord gave me a very beautiful word for the beginning of this year -- that faithfulness to the little things we do in life is our path to sanctification.

When we change diapers, hold our tongue with the co-worker who rubs us the wrong way, love our spouse and children in the midst of a hectic day, study for an exam, or do dishes for our parents, we are showing the love of Christ.

I realized on this day that being with the clients who come in won't solve their problems. They will still be poor, still be hungry, still be sick. Mopping the floor isn't exactly bringing about world peace, but little acts done with great love does build up the body of  Christ in a mystical fashion we will never fully grasp on this side of Heaven. The smile from the high-schooler who had been living in a bad situation for months; the relief of a mother to have food for a few weeks for her children; the love and attention received when answering a question for someone; the grandmother whose eyes fill with tears because she knows her granddaughter will have adequate clothing; none of these are earth shattering! They are all the product of simple acts done with love.

At the end of this very hard and trying day, I read a letter from one of the clients at Samaritan House ensuring us of her love for us and calling us "angels sent from God". I don't know about being angelic, but we can all be saints when we live a life of faithfulness to our vocation. No matter how monotonous, trying or difficult our daily tasks may be, we are all called to sainthood. We are all called to love.

"Jesus said love one another. He didn't say love the whole world. If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one... Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person... Intense love does not measure; it just gives. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."  -St. Teresa of Calcutta

                                                                                                                       -Sr. Chiara Joan, novice

A relief of Jesus and St. Faustina at the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Krakow
"Jesus loves you!"

The room, filled with more than 100 college students, was absolutely still. All listened with rapt attention as the sister with her Polish accent told us of the greatness of the Lord's mercy and love. Our pilgrimage group from Franciscan University's study abroad campus in Austria was visiting the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow, Poland on Saturday, the second day of our trip.

We weren't listening to St. Faustina herself, but Sr. Marie Vianney was close enough, keeping the message of mercy alive with her simple and joyful words. She shared about Faustina's diary, the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the sacraments of mercy: Confession and the Eucharist.

Sister wanted each of us to return home with a word of love from Jesus, so she printed slips of paper for each one of us with a line from St. Faustina's diary. Mine said: "Tell me about everything, be sincere in dealing with Me, reveal all the wounds of your heart. I will heal them, and your suffering will become a source of your sanctification" (#1487). I was comforted by Jesus' compassionate invitation. I knew I could entrust myself to Him, because "all things work for good for those who love God" (Romans 8:28).

Perhaps our ears and hearts were all the more ready for such a message because of what we had already experienced together. 24 hours earlier, we had walked silently through one of the most infamous places of evil and suffering in Poland and in the world: Auschwitz.

I had read stories of what took place there and at other concentration and death camps, but nothing compared to walking through Auschwitz myself. As our guide spoke of the sufferings of the victims and the cruelty of the guards, I felt as though Jesus had suffered His Passion again and again in each person there. Jesus was stripped, beaten, starved, tortured, and killed there. Such rejection of love; such untold evil. What good could come from this?

And yet, even before all of this happened, Jesus was already appearing to little Sr. Faustina Kowalska at her convent. He was already telling her of His mercy for Poland and for the world. Precisely in this place, this place of suffering, Jesus chose to reveal His heart. He told St. Faustina: "Because you are such great misery, I have revealed to you the whole ocean of My mercy" (#718).

From the misery of Auschwitz came the sacrificial love of St. Maximilian Kolbe and perhaps many other unknown saints. From the terror and losses of the war blossomed the vocation of Karol Wojtyla, our beloved St. John Paul II. From the hardships, large and small, of our own lives, come the knowledge of our need and of the Lord's mercy.

Friday afternoon, we walked down the railroad tracks to the ruins of the Birkenau gas chambers. On our right, we saw only chimneys left from the death camp buildings. The tour guide told us the wood from the barracks had been carefully dismantled after the war and used in the restoration of Warsaw, which had been mostly destroyed by Nazi bombs. It was as if Jesus was silently telling us that the wood of the cross must be the means of redemption and the road to resurrection.

At the memorial at the end of the tracks, we stopped to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy together. It was a golden afternoon, and the light made the grass on either side of the tracks more green and alive. I wondered that there could be beauty in such a place, but then, isn't that what God always does?

-Sr. Mary Gemma, T.O.R.
"Silk" (Samuel Hayes Johnson)
October 20, 1946- September 14, 2016
Silk died, early on the morning of the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. I appreciate that to most people that sentence probably seems funny, like a typo or a strange grammatical error. It isn’t. Silk was my friend, and more than that – he was Christ for me, in a very unique way. For over a year, I had the privilege of caring for him by shopping for him each week. The last year or so, this also meant I brought his groceries to his apartment, as he had become too weak to carry anything of any weight. I was not there when he died, though I was quietly awake, wondering why I was awake at 4:30 in the morning. But my sister was there, was able to be present to him at the end. She, like the wise virgins of the Gospel, kept vigil for the bridegroom as he came to bring Silk to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Who was Silk? This question has plagued me for my whole time in community, but extends even further, to my time as a student at Franciscan University. I used to see him at St. Peter’s Church, where he attended 8:00 Mass every day for more than three years without an interruption (he was quite proud of the statistic, and actually knew the exact number of Masses in his “streak”). In those days, I knew him without knowing him – he was the shabby, skinny guy with a wispy gray ponytail who wore cutoff jean shorts and a blue sweatshirt every day and always waited until the end of the line to receive communion. He was a mystery to me then, but not a personal mystery – more like a curiosity. I think I would have been afraid of him, had he ever come up to me to speak.

I got to know Silk the summer of my first year in community, when I first spent some time at Samaritan House, our thrift store. He was a regular volunteer at Samaritan House, where he was a perpetual nuisance – arguing with and occasionally frightening other volunteers, insisting that he ran the place, and often keeping us late at the end of the day as he would insist on praying for the dead (especially dead celebrities! I have a sharp memory of praying for Shirley Temple when she died a few years ago). Actually, we all thought that we were doing him a favor, letting him come in to close the store. We realized when he first got sick and didn’t come in for a few weeks that we actually relied on him to remind us of many of the little tasks involved in closing up: every day something would be forgotten, whether it was cleaning some area or emptying the till or cleaning out the coffee carafe. Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure we still forget the coffee sometimes.

I’m not really sure how I started shopping for him, but that’s the way it was with Silk – only after he’d talked you into doing something did you realize that you’d been roped into it. And the fact is that he just didn’t seem to have anyone else he could rely on. He had great charm beneath his rough demeanor and vague, cryptic language, and a way of bringing you into his world. After time with Silk, I would find myself referring to things in his special lingo, where sisters all had nicknames, St. Peter’s was “the basilica” (it’s not a basilica!), and any activity – however mundane – was a “run” (as in, “we need to run on this one!). Shopping for Silk was totally mortifying for me. If that seems like a funny statement, allow me to paint a picture for you: imagine a lone religious sister, shopping at Walmart. In her first order, she has typical “nunnish things” – frozen vegetables, generic cereal, and discount meat. She quietly pays with her debit card. In her second order, she has chocolate donuts and milk, a variety of candy bars, Hostess cupcakes, and two or three large containers of Haagen-Dazs ice cream. She pays with a hundred-dollar bill. Do you see now why it was an awkward experience? Afterward, I would bring Silk his things and chat with him for a few minutes about whatever was on his mind: usually something related to his car (he always had a car that was on death’s door); to the sisters and their assignments (he truly believed that his opinion about these things carried great weight with Mother Mary Ann and the council and was deeply grieved when sisters were moved away or when he felt they weren’t in jobs they liked); or the Blessed Mother, who was the great love of his life. We would sometimes pray for the dead, but Silk did not think I was an especially good pray-er, so he usually omitted prayer time if I was the only one there, sometimes adding commentary about the excellence of Sr. Carrie Ann and Sr. Magdala Marie’s prayers.

My time with Silk was usually exasperating, frustrating, and totally heart-warming. He was intractable and impossible to reason with: I’ve often modified Paschal’s quip to refer to him, “Silk has reasons of which reason knows nothing”. He was like that to the end, scheming about how he could get a new car the last time I saw him, a week before his death. I guess he was his usually querulous self even in the hours before he died. When the sisters saw when they stopped to see him that he was dying, one stayed with him. Apparently, he kept telling her to leave. But she stayed, waiting like the wise virgins for the coming of the Bridegroom. In a sense, though, she was also waiting with him. Silk was Christ for us all in so many ways, so as Sister sat by his side, she kept watch not only with a lonely old man, but with Jesus himself. There is no way to explain this mystery, but it is the truth: Silk was Christ’s presence for us, and Jesus gave us so many opportunities to love him in Silk that I am overwhelmed by the privilege I had in knowing him.

And I can’t believe he is actually gone, now the object of my (apparently mediocre) prayers for the dead. Perhaps, then, I will borrow Silk’s prayers. Please join me in praying for my friend with the prayers he used each time he prayed for the dead:

Mary’s gonna take him for a ride.

Gone but not forgotten, forever in our heart.
-Sr. Agnes Therese Davis, T.O.R.

A couple weeks ago my cousin had a heart attack while bicycle riding. Praise God there was a nurse biking by him and she was able to perform CPR until the ambulance came and the defibrillator was used. His heart stopped beating for ten minutes! The doctors later told him that with the type of trauma he endured statistically there’s a 5% survival rate. But God is greater than any statistic- Jim survived…miraculously – thank you Jesus.

Just like we need our human hearts to beat so we can live, there is another heart that is needed for us to live – eternally. This is the heart of Jesus! “The designs of His Heart are from age to age, to rescue their souls from death and to keep them alive in famine. “(Entrance Antiphon for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus)

We should meditate on the beating, living Sacred Heart of Jesus. How His heart beats for you, me, the whole world! Do you know about the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus? “The term ‘Sacred Heart of Jesus’ denotes the entire mystery of Christ, the totality of his being and his person…Devotion to the Sacred Heart…calls for a fundamental attitude of conversion and reparation of love and gratitude …” (Directory on Popular Piety and the liturgy #166, 172)

The Lord is Love and He desires to be loved in return. He gave himself up for us when he died on the cross because He loves us. His heart stopped beating when He died…but as he gloriously rose from the dead, triumphant over sin and death, His Sacred Heart beat again and it continues to  beat victoriously signifying His eternal Love.

"The love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5) He desires that our hearts beat in unison with His heart and look like His heart. “My daughter, I desire that your heart be formed after the model of My Merciful Heart. You must be completely imbued with My Mercy.” (Diary of St. Faustina #167) When we lose sight of His love and mercy, our hearts begin to “stop”. Jesus rushes to our side, sends us a nurse (the Holy Spirit) to perform CPR and to revive and bring new life to our dead and cold hearts.

May your heart be united to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, beating in unison with His heart which is love and mercy itself.

Happy Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus!

“Sacred Heart of Jesus, my light, my love, and my life; lead me to know you and to love only you. May I live to you alone, in you, by you, and for you.”
~St. Madeleine Sophie Barat
Sacred Heart of Jesus, Have Mercy on Us!

Franciscan Sisters TOR Samaritan House

This year's mission shirts say, "Discover the Beauty," printed boldly under a silhouette of the skyline of Steubenville. Looking back at the week I spent with Franciscan University students spending their spring break in prayer and service for Steubenville, I think the choice of motto was prophetic. I, for one, feel I learned a lot about vision and beauty. As I worked alongside the students and introduced them to the town and people I love, I came to a clearer understanding of what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, "Blessed are your eyes because they see."

The fact of the matter is that our eyes don't always see the truth or the full reality of a situation. A few days into our mission this year, a student came to me. "Sister," he said, "can I ask you something? Isn't it like totally depressing seeing this stuff every day? Doesn't it get heavy?"

I had to think about that for a minute before answering. How do I feel about seeing so much suffering every day? Does it get "heavy"? Of course, there are moments that are just plain sad, like when you learn that a young woman has chosen to abort her child, or when you hear that a job opportunity fell through, or when the volunteer you've spent hours with doesn't come in to work because he's drunk again. But that's not what I see when I look at my life.

"No," I answered the student, "It's not totally depressing." And I went on to explain about the beauty I have discovered in my life living and serving in downtown Steubenville. Actually, we who live at our mission house downtown like to say we are "living the dream" because we are blessed to spend our days with the same sort of people that Jesus chose as his friends. If you read the Gospels, you will notice that most of the time Jesus was completely surrounded by people in need. He was followed by crowds of the sick, he sought out a tax collector of ill repute to be his apostle, and he did not shrink from inviting beggars to follow him or the demon-possessed to be his missionaries.

In other words, Jesus did not flinch from any aspect of human reality, no matter how raw, and in every person he saw something beautiful, something precious, and something worth saving.

Our relationship with Christ begins when we allow him to look at our particular human reality and discover the beauty there, hidden though it may be under sin and suffering. And as we learn what love is from Love Incarnate, we, too, begin to have eyes to see the beauty hidden in others. That is why any life involving contact with the "poor and marginalized" is far from depressing and heavy. Such a life is a privileged encounter with hidden beauty. When I listen to people's sorrows and share their pain, it is like I am receiving a precious artifact covered in dust and grime. My listening and sharing are a kind of dusting and polishing, whereby the beauty of the person is revealed once more. This is living the dream.

In this year of mercy, may we all have eyes to see the beauty of our neighbors, near and far. May be all discover the beauty stamped on each heart and be willing to give of ourselves to reveal that beauty to others.

Sr. Agnes Thérèse Davis, T.O.R.

Our sisters have been trying to visit Helen at a local nursing home for a while now.  Recently our perseverance paid off and she agreed to talk to Sr. Sophia Grace and I about a month ago.  We found her to be a lovely, though slightly confused, woman.

When the time came to offer her communion we found out that Helen had a resistance to more than our visits; she was resisting the Lord's love.  She refused the Eucharist because she didn't feel worthy to receive it, although she had no serious sin on her conscience.

Suddenly, I got it: the Devotion to the Sacred Heart, the message of Divine Mercy.  It all made sense. This is what our Lord means when He speaks of souls rejecting Him.  My heart was pierced in the tiniest way by the pain of His Sacred Heart.

Here is just one example of what Jesus told St. Faustina:  "The flames of mercy are burning me.  I desire to pour them our upon human souls.  Oh, what pain they cause Me what they do not want to accept them!" (Diary of St. Faustina 1074)

Another time Jesus pleaded with her to spread the message of His mercy: "Tell aching mankind to snuggle close to My merciful Heart, and I will fill it with peace." (1074)

While my puny human expectations settled for months of working with Helen to overcome these feelings of unworthiness, Jesus decided to reveal the miracles of His mercy to us.  Just one week after our first visit with Helen we saw her again.

When it came time to offer her communion, I have to admit my expectations were low.  Once again, she began to protest, saying she wasn't sure she was ready.  Unlike last time though, she asked me directly if I thought she was worthy to receive.  I looked her in the eyes, and with confidence, allowed Jesus to speak His mercy and love into her broken heart.  She believed me and I rejoiced with all of heaven as Helen received the Blessed Sacrament that day!

The Lord cannot be outdone in generosity so we continue to see the Lord's grace operate in Helen.  I truly believe that once she received communion once He was able to pour oceans of grace into her soul.  The next time we visited her, there was no hesitation when we asked if she wanted to receive communion.  When I held up the host and said "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world..." she looked directly at it and her fact lit up.  I swear she was seeing Jesus...Helen is blind in one eye and can't see well in the other!! Now in Mass and adoration I ask to see what she sees.

I tell this story because this is an illustration of the graces that are available today.  If we open the door just a crack for Jesus, He will flood our lives with the ocean of His mercy.  In fact, as the gospel illustrates today, Jesus can even walk through locked doors!  The message of Divine Mercy tells us that Jesus longs to pour out His mercy on all, especially the most hardened of sinners.

Here are some of the graces that Jesus promised would be available on this day and what He desired this Feast of Mercy to be:

"My daughter, tell the whole world about my inconceivable mercy.  I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners.  On that day that very depths of My tender mercy are open.  I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.  The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.  On that day all the divine floodgates through which grace flow are opened.  Let no soul fear to draw near to Me, even though its sins be as scarlet...The Feast of Mercy emerged from My very depths of tenderness.  It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.  Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy." (Diary 699)

Perhaps like Helen, you feel too unworthy or too sinful to approach the Lord today.  This could be a lie of the evil one.    It is because of our sin that we need His mercy and the more sinful, the more broken you are, the more you deserve His mercy!  He longs, desires to love you, to pour out His mercy upon you.  The Sacrament of Confession is the Fount of Mercy and this is where we find healing, grace and peace.  If you have been afraid of coming to the Lord this is the first step back.

So have mercy on Him, on our dear Beloved Savior, relieve the suffering of His heart, snuggle close to Him and allow the "waves of His infinite tenderness"(St. Therese) to overwhelm you.

Sr. Magdala Marie Clarizio, novice
Why the Wild Goose?

Because there is a wildness about the Holy Spirit.  Fr. Dave Pivonka, one of our T.O.R. brothers, in a new video series called The Wild Goose, tells how the ancient Celts used to call the Holy Spirit the Wild Goose, precisely because of this wildness.

The Spirit blows where he wills! (John 3:8)

I can attest to this in my own life.  I grew up living the life of a faithful Catholic.  I went to Mass on Sundays, served my parish in different ways, and was even beginning a prayer life towards the end of my College career.  But I was just going along with life, until I went to a Steubenville Youth Conference as a chaperon.

At the retreat they talked a lot about knowing God's personal love, having a relationship with Him and living a life in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  I was hesitant because I hadn't heard any of this before.  But at the same time I saw in the speakers and most of the teens around me something that I didn't have and I wanted it!  They had a zeal for life, and love; they had the Holy Spirit!

The Saturday night of the retreat I told the Lord that I was going to give him one chance to show me this Holy Spirit and if nothing happened that was it, I was done, and I would stay content with the way I was living my life.

I opened the door of my heart a tiny crack and he absolutely flung it open!!!  I experienced His love pouring into me.  I didn't just know in my head but knew in my heart that I was personally loved by God.

 It was so overwhelming.  I was filled with His peace and joy!  His presence was so deeply personal and so intimate.

I can honestly say that from that day, from that moment, my life has never been the same.

He has taken me on a great adventure that I never could have imagined.  It has been a journey into greater freedom as I have come to know my identity as a beloved daughter of God the Father, and with many unexpected turns it has even led me to the convent!!!

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?  Do you desire more of the Holy Spirit?

There isn't a better time to ask for this Experience and for more of the Holy Spirit than in these next 50 days between Easter and Pentecost (May 15th).

Join us in preparing for Pentecost by taking part in a Video Novena.  Over the next 50 days we will post 9 (of the 14) Wild Goose videos on our Facebook Page, that's about one every 5 or 6 days.  Each one focuses on a different aspect of the Holy Spirit and how to live a life led by Him.  Each one is only about 25 minutes but they are packed with powerful teachings and testimonies.  And they even have subtitles in Spanish!

In between each video spend time reflecting on Fr. Dave's challenges and invitations (resist the temptation to binge watch!) and begin to experience the wildness of the Holy Spirit for yourself!

Check out the trailer for the videos below:

As part of the novena, join us each day in praying the prayer below:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.  Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.  And you shall renew the face of the earth.  O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, through Christ Our Lord,  Amen.
-Sr. Sophia Grace Huschka, T.O.R.
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