Father Michael's question disarmed Martha Reichert -- and changed her life.
Reichert was in the tough first days of her continuing work with women who are abuse victims, prostitutes and addicts at Samaritan House, a homeless shelter in Denver, Colo. In a video telling her story, made for a recent tribute to her work, Reichert, a wife and mother of a beautiful young family that keeps her plenty busy, recalls her first time at the shelter. She woke up with a pit in her stomach, scared of her newfound commitment, made at the request of Fr. Michael, the chaplain of Samaritan House, through the auspices of Endow, a Catholic women's group of which Reichert is a member.
"I had no idea how to relate to homeless women and addicts and prostitutes," she remembers thinking. When she pulled up to Samaritan House in her car, "there was a line of about 40 men waiting for their TB screening; I was seriously terrified." She recalls grabbing her steering wheel and putting her head on it, praying to God: "You know how weak I am, you know how I'm not ready to do this, so you're going to have to have to do it for me."
"And so I got out of my car," she remembers. "I dragged my little suitcase behind me by all the men waiting and I get to the front desk and Father Michael looks at me and says, 'You look terrified,' and I say, 'Father, I totally am.'"
Martha's moment of revelation at Samaritan House came two nights after she delivered a stillborn baby. Which brings us back to Fr. Michael's question: "Did you talk to the women of the shelter about this, about your pain?" Never had she thought of such a thing. "I'm here to hear their suffering," she thought. But that's not the Christian life; the Christian life is receiving love, too, and having authentic encounters with men and women in our lives, whoever they are.
"I realized that there was not some gulf between me and this homeless woman," Reichert shares.
It has been made clear that the "war on women" rhetoric will be employed yet again by the Democrats during the upcoming months as we near midterm elections. However well-intentioned, it's a patronizing, ideological manipulation. It's drenched in an understanding of women and men that is driven by the changed expectations that the sexual revolution imposed. But do we consider that there is something about our very bodies and the structure of the family itself that has been grievously injured by this worldview?
This isn't a screed about the current state of our politics, believe it or not. It's a proposal: Perhaps there is something about human dignity that can only be found in the lives of the most vulnerable -- the unborn, the elderly, the child with Down Syndrome, the woman who has been abused, the woman who thinks she has no option but prostitution ... the list goes on. Maybe there is something about their desire for and response to tenderness, which can teach us about our responsibilities to one another.
Listening to Reichert speak, I am reminded of the words of Edith Stein, a martyr of the last century, who was among those murdered at Auschwitz. "Everywhere, the need exists for maternal sympathy and help, and thus we are able to recapitulate in the one word 'motherliness' that which we have developed as the characteristic value of woman. Only, the motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy, it must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened."
The world needs mothers and fathers. You may not be a biological parent, but you can mentor, you can model responsibility and self-sacrificial love to someone. This is what Martha has been doing at Samaritan House. In complete, vulnerable trust in God, she encounters sisters and daughters in love. This stewardship, this answer to the need for adults who take responsibility and care for others, often the most neglected or underserved, helps us all. That's a love worth sharing.