When I was a kid growing up in Canada, I learned that the best way to become a better hockey player was to play with kids who were better than me.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives.

Today I had a singular privilege – Kathi and I, along with five of our kids, visited the Children of Mary religious community near Newark, Ohio. What an experience.

Mother Margaret Mary was an extraordinarily gracious hostess. We spoke for a while about a project she’s working on encouraging Christian unity, and it sounds terrific. We then had a tour of the grounds, in all its natural splendor. Mother had invited us to stick around for lunch (a few PB&J sandwiches, we thought) and then afternoon prayers. As it turned out, the lunch was a sumptuous feast, and the prayers included Eucharistic adoration and positively angelic singing. It was a day to remember.

What is it about holy people that is so striking? I have met some amazing individuals during my lifetime who share certain qualities – and at the top of the list is humility. It seems to be such a clear reflection of Christ within, when humility is so central to an individual’s being.

Mother wasn’t rushed. She treated the children, even eight year old David and his rapid-fire questions (“Is this like a vacation house? Who lives here? Where do you sleep? What’s behind all these doors?”) with complete respect and attention. At one point, I noticed Mother and David walking together and saw that Mother isn’t much taller than David. Another powerhouse, diminutive nun.

There are precedents, of course. Mother Teresa comes to mind. But as Mother Margaret Mary explained, Mother Teresa served the poor, while the Children of Mary seek to bring people to Jesus in the Eucharist.

Another utterly enchanting quality of the sisters was their sheer joy. Their incredible devotion to our Lord was so evident, it was inspiring. The sense of reverence before the blessed sacrament was amazing – even when four year old Hannah got the hiccups part way through afternoon prayers. Their sense of joy was contagious, and thoroughly enveloped Hannah. Earlier in the day, with a sense of wonder, she went to bathroom and asked, “Am I using Jesus’ potty?”

I am so grateful that we were able to spend some time with these wonderful nuns, a treasure of the Church, providing us with so many benefits through their prayers, intercession, and the example of their lives.

Mother made a comment, when I remarked about the lunch being a little more than sandwiches, that it wasn’t unusual for the sisters to go above and beyond.

That might just be the clincher. Being so thoroughly grounded in prayer, with a spirit of humility and joy, what do the sisters like doing more than anything? Serving others.

I don’t know whether Mother Margaret Mary or any of the sisters ever played hockey. But they sure provide me with inspiration to become a better Catholic.