A reflection by Sister Miriam Mendez

There are times in a person’s life when a circumstance seems to take on a life all its own. The person somehow transcends herself and her natural inclinations to participate in an event. Now I’m pretty ordinary in some ways and unique in others.  

Mommy Mode is the drive to keep children comforted and safe. It is not entirely planned but rather an automatic response: A breastfeeding mom hears the cries of a baby, anyone’s baby, and immediately leaks milk.; the wail of a toddler on the playground causes moms to come to attention; someone calls out “mom” and the heads of moms turn in the direction of the call. I call these responses Mommy Mode. My children are in their 30s so it has been a while since I have been in Mommy Mode. Like other moms though, I know and remember it. 

Unlike most women, I have been called to another way of life in my later years. I have been a Benedictine sister for more than ten years. I live in a community of 37 women who share everything in common.

The ancient Rule of St. Benedict calls us to pray, to listen deeply to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, to receive all as Christ, and to respond to the needs of the times. 

One of my duties is to answer the phone. In his 6th century Rule, St. Benedict speaks of the duties of the porter of the monastery and how the porter was to answer the door. Brought forward to the 21st century, answering the telephone is is kind of like being a porter.

It was my usual Friday afternoon phone duty time though unusually busy because of Raspberry Festival, an annual fundraiser for the Historical Museum at St. Gertrude. We depend upon numerous volunteers, some coming from a great distance, to make this event a success. The house and outlying buildings were filled with volunteers and the phone didn’t seem to stop ringing.  

Then came the call that changed everything for me and, in fact, for the whole community that evening. A mom called from 170 miles away. Her 17-year-old daughter and two friends had car trouble and were stranded a short drive away from us. Could the Monastery help house them overnight? Mom had been here years ago on an Engaged Encounter Weekend and knew that where the girls were stranded was somewhere near the Monastery. I could hear a mom in distress crying out for help.

I am usually a very methodical person, somewhat tentative in my actions, but I instantly went into action. Our retreat center had one room for Friday only; I asked the retreat center manager for it and she said yes. Immediately, I contacted the mom, grabbed keys to a Monastery car, and took off for the 20-minute drive to get the girls and bring them back just in time for supper. With a crowd of thirty or so extra guests already, what is an additional three going to matter?

I got them settled for the night in the little room. I told them that I would meet them at breakfast the next morning. I was in “Mommy Mode” for sure. I knew the room was promised to another volunteer beginning on Saturday so I needed a plan in case their car couldn’t be repaired and they needed to have a safe place for the weekend. Fortunately, the car was repaired and the girls were able to complete their trip home. It wasn’t until I dropped them off that I returned to my usual mode of operation.

As I reflected on the events of the weekend, I ask myself what really happened. It wasn’t just an individual who responded. Employees, volunteers, and community members took part. Christ came knocking on our door on one of the busiest weekends of the year and we listened to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the Rule of St. Benedict. Out of our “enough” we were able to give Christ in the guise of these three young women just what they needed: food, shelter, and companionship. 

I know that Mommy Mode was part of the impetus that guided me to respond way out of my usual comfort zone. In 1 Peter 4:10 we read:  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” So is Mommy Mode a gift that I am able to give? Most assuredly yes. Would I have been able to accomplish this without the rest of my community? Definitely no. What is the lesson? “Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice…” (Rule of St. Benedict, Beginning of Prologue). The girls asked, “what can we do to pay you back?” My response was “someday, help out somebody who needs it.”