CATHOLIC HERALD STAFF
I sat down with Joe Livaudais inside a Dunkin Donuts. The orange walls barely warmed the room from the October chill, but the coffee shop was buzzing with downtown Milwaukee residents and students filing in for their afternoon caffeine fill.
As Livaudais raised a small Divine Mercy prayer card for emphasis, explaining the role of St. Faustina’s diary in his new ministry program, a woman named Patricia approached our table.
With wide eyes and a tall, elegant frame, Patricia, a woman suffering from homelessness, said, “I’m almost going to cry.”
Hearing Livaudais mention God’s mercy pulled her to our table.
She rubbed her eyes to prevent the rivulets from running; we invited her to pull up a chair.
No home, no money, and no family to call. Patricia expressed her frustration with God, saying, it’s really hard to trust him in the darkness of her circumstances.
In light of the message of Divine Mercy, Livaudais jumped into ministry mode. In fact, he was already anticipating this encounter. Every morning he prays for the people he will meet while he is out on the streets.
His daily surrender of his works to Mary brought Patricia to the table that day. And after chatting with her, Livaudais invited Patricia to pray with us.
“Yes,” she said before he had even finished the invitation, leaning forward and immediately reaching for our hands.
Huddled around the plastic table, the three of us invoked God, pleading for his mercy and his presence amidst Patricia’s sufferings.
“It’s hard to have faith,” Patricia said.
“I know, but he is with you,” Livaudais responded. Before she left, Livaudais handed her a Divine Mercy prayer card.
She nestled the image of Christ, depicting rays of love and mercy pouring out of his heart, between her calloused fingers. Her eyes grabbed Joe’s for a quick thank you and then she gracefully swung her backpack up off the floor and strode out of Dunkin.
Encounters like this happen every day for Livaudais. Right now, it’s his job.
Friends pitch in monthly to help cover his phone bill and living expenses. He travels in his 2004 Honda CRV from city to city, sleeping wherever he is welcomed to crash on a couch.
Three years ago, his life looked very different.
Back when he was a student at Ave Maria University, Livaudais was determined to launch a political career but attending a retreat his senior year changed that course.
During one particular internship in Washington, D.C., Livaudais said, “I realized I really don’t want to look at a computer screen. I want to look at a face, I want to look at a human, a person.”
Fast forward to six months ago as Livaudais was completing a mission year with the Marian Missionaries of Divine Mercy, an apostolate and religious community based out of Massachusetts. “Last year was the greatest gift of my life,” he said.
Lead by Fr. Michael Gaitley, author of 33 Days to Morning Glory, the apostolate focuses on living in community and encountering those who are suffering and sharing the message of God’s mercy.
“We would go hit the streets and try to bring the message of divine mercy into action out in the world,” Livaudais explained.
Recognizing that the laity can reach people in ways the clergy cannot, “The laity is really the sleeping giant in the Church,” said Livaudais.
When his mission year ended, Livaudais took the lessons he learned, jumped in his car and started his own mission of mercy: a specific ministry to invite Catholics to be apostles out on the streets called Living Mercy Ministries.
“What’s really on my heart is to help that beauty of what we have [access to God’s mercy] go from head to heart, and to make our hearts beat with zeal and love so that we will want to love the faith and preach it to the ends of the earth,” said Livaudais.
Instead of letting the Gospel we hear on Sunday trickle in our ears and sit placid in our minds, Livaudais aims to invite Catholics in cities across the country to walk the streets, befriend the sick and homeless, and share the good news with those who are lonely, sad and suffering in the States, his website (www.livingmercyministries.com) details.
We have to actually live the Gospel and imitate what Jesus did, Livaudais emphasized, saying, “If we don’t bring flesh to it, we are missing the mark.”
In the coming months, Livaudais will travel to Iowa, Texas, Virginia, Nebraska and loop back to Wisconsin, walking the streets each day and speaking about God’s mercy with those he encounters.
No matter what kind of conversation ensues, he gives every person the little prayer card Patricia gingerly gazed at before leaving our table.
“I want to get that image into the hands of as many people as possible,” Livaudais said.
“My goal is ultimately to be with them, to cherish them in that time, but when I say goodbye, to give them this image because I know this image is the vessel Jesus promised and through it he wants to reveal his goodness and exhaust that mercy.”