People Over Problems: Project Life 2016
Staring at a mound of trash, holding your nose to avoid the rancid scent of decaying garbage. Walking into a daycare full of underprivileged children, not knowing what their lives are like when they leave the safety of the school walls. Mowing through a field of overgrowth at Greenwood Cemetery that stretches further than you can see in all directions (link to Tony’s blog). These are a few of the tasks that a hundred high schoolers from parishes across the Archdiocese of St. Louis faced as they embarked on a week of service and prayer known as Project Life. For many of them, these tasks may have seemed overwhelming. Yet, with all of the vigor and youthful energy they could muster, they set out to accomplish a goal and solve whatever problems they faced. But, that’s just the thing, they weren’t there to perform a task or complete a challenge. The speakers at the evening programming offered everyone on Project Life a new worldview to bring to their worksites each day. They challenged us to take a step back from the task at hand and to see something infinitely more important—people.
On Sunday night, Melissa Hunter (youth minister at Assumption parish) and Andrew Shipp (youth minister at St. Alban Roe parish) gave a dynamic talk involving Andrew taking an on stage selfie and Melissa tackling him. They defined mercy in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, who says that mercy is "the compassion in our hearts for another person's misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him." They emphasized the importance of noticing people, a theme that was echoed in all of the talks throughout the week.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
Monday night, Sister Joseph Maureen from the Little Sisters of the Poor talked to us about practical ways we can practice the Corporal Works of Mercy in our daily lives. Building on the night before, she talked about noticing the needs of others. She talked about how we can show mercy to the poor by listening to Christ’s command to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, etc.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
The next night, Amanda Jelavich a social worker for the Queen of Peace Center, told the heart breaking stories of her clients who suffer from addiction. She reminded us that it isn’t always necessary to solve every problem. We often get so caught up in things that we don’t notice the people sitting right in front of us. Sometimes the best way to help a person is by practicing the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Showing a person that they are loved, offering a listening ear and praying for their needs affirms their dignity as human beings created in the image and likeness of God.
Amanda concluded her talk with a reminder that although we may not have personally struggled with an addiction, we all find ourselves enslaved by our desires when we turn to sin. Cutting straight to the heart, Thursday night’s speaker, Bryggen Korte, turned the focus from giving mercy to others; to discussing the great need we all have to be given mercy. She said, “authenticity leads not only to happiness, but holiness”, a reminder that we should not be afraid to be real about our brokenness and weakness. Bryggen emphasized that Jesus sees us as we are and loves us anyway. His one desire is to pour his love into our hearts and to fill out brokenness with his mercy. If there is one thing to be learned from this week at Project Life, it is that every person we encounter is in need of mercy, including ourselves. Going forth from the week, we challenge everyone to foster a culture of encounter in their lives. To look up from the task or problem at hand and to recognize the dignity of the person in front of us. To be present to every person we meet and to show them the mercy of the Father by practicing the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.