What have I done for Christ, and what more can I do by serving my sisters and brothers?

By: Sal S., Spiritual Mentor at Thrive For Life

On Saturday, February 2nd, I joined my fellow Thrive volunteers to participate in our monthly retreat at Otisville Federal.  It was my first retreat.

To be honest, I had some hesitation – even trepidation – in the lead-up to the visit.  I just wasn’t sure I had anything to offer the men, as I had never walked in their shoes or known the challenges they face day-to-day.  But my trepidation melted like an early Spring snow on a sunny day the moment we entered the chapel at Otisville where we conduct our retreats.  We were greeted by the men with huge smiles and a warm welcome. Their joy seeing us spread, multiplied, and filled the chapel and our hearts.  It was a grace-filled moment.

What I learned from my one-on-one conversations with some of the men was that many had been moved there from other federal correctional facilities in different parts of the country and, as a result, their families were often far away and unable to visit.  We were their family. I was worried that I had nothing to give. Being present to them, praying, and reflecting alongside them was in fact something I was able to offer.

But I know that I received infinitely more than I gave.  To connect with the men in prayer, conversation, and reflection, and to be in community and fellowship with them, gave me the opportunity to live out my Gospel faith: love the stranger and serve a brother who suffers.  In their faces and in their welcome amidst such challenges, I saw the face of Jesus.

One of the men asked me, “Why are you doing this?”  I paused for a moment and thought back to St. Ignatius of Loyola who challenges us with the magis (“more” in Latin) and to ask ourselves:  What have I done for Christ, and what more can I do by serving my sisters and brothers?

The men I met at Otisville remain in my heart, my mind, and my prayers.  I so look forward to returning next month, this time with no trepidation but with great joy – the joy that comes from community, from service, from faith lived and shared magis.  I thank my brothers at Otisville and my fellow Thrive volunteers for this gift.

Axel de Foucauld