When I made my first vows as a Daughter of Mary and Joseph, I promised to be an "instrument of mercy," following the call of our Founder. About the same time, almost five years ago, I began to work with men coming back after long-terms, decades, in state prison. From my involvement as a volunteer a few days a week to having the responsibility of managing five transitional homes for these men, the invitation to be an "instrument of mercy" has helped me grow in this ministry as a DMJ. I listen to many heart-wrenching stories. I walk with the residents in their many challenges. What has emerged for me in my relationships with the men, is the mutuality of this ministry. There is no doubt that my management of the Homes, with the support of volunteers and staff, benefits the men in their transition back into society. The graces I receive far outweigh my service.
For example, the men have been deprived for many years of the simple joys I take for granted. They’ll spend hours admiring a tree, listening to the birds singing, in some cases cycling along the ocean or park pathways. Just walking around the neighborhood or using public transportation in total freedom delights them. Years in prison have not been wasted – their hearts are attuned to God’s presence in the ordinary. Observing this and listening to their excitement deepens my appreciation for all they are enjoying, and heightens my own sensitivity to the gift of NOW.
With the help of Sister Linda Peters, Sister Nuala Briody and a couple of regular staff members we serve close to sixty men housed and supported by The Francisco Homes. All of the residents -- at some point convicted of a violent crime -- live in harmony, and work together as witnesses of the transformative grace of God's mercy and compassion. There is no way we could give ourselves credit for what we see happening around us. It would be foolish. Yet it happens while we are simply present to them in our commitment as DMJs. So the phrase "instrument of mercy" in God's hand has taken a whole new level of meaning when I can set aside fears and frets over my limitations and trust that I can be used by God, and kept in "good working order" thanks to the care and encouragement of my DMJ sisters.
~Sr. Teresa Groth