8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 8)

In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!  The lessons so far are The Power of Loving the “Other,”  Always Take Mary with You, God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves SmallGod Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. Faithful Love Sweetens Life, God Transforms Our Pain, and God Measures “Success” Differently Than We Do.  This is the eighth and final post in the series. I hope it has blessed you, reading it, as much as it blessed me to write it.

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks. Like many Americans, as the first and then the second jets hit the Twin Towers, causing them to crumble, I stared at the television, not quite comprehending the horror that was transpiring before my eyes. Thousands of lives, wiped out in an instant. Thousands of families, in alterably shattered. An entire nation mourned, and continues to mourn. And so this eighth and final lesson that I learned from Mother Teresa may be especially timely today:

Lesson #8:  Joy, Like Love, is a Choice.

people-shelter-themselves-under-their-umbrellas-at-st-peters-squareAs I read about the life and writings of Mother Teresa, several words came up over and over again: Jesus, love, obedience, humility were high on the list. But “JOY” is the word that most clearly characterizes the life of this great lady. In Thirsting for God, Mother Teresa observed, “Saint Teresa of Avila worried about her sisters only when she saw them lose their joy. Joy is a source of power for us.”[i]

In Mother Teresa in Her Own Words, she recounts the story of a time when she and her Sisters were in St. Peter’s Square, where Mass was being celebrated. It started to rain, and Mother Teresa told her Sisters to pray “a quick novena of Memorare to Our Lady so it stops raining.” And so the Sisters began to recite the familiar prayer nine times, as Mother had instructed:

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known

that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help or sought your intercession, was left unaided.

Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother;

to you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions,

but in your mercy hear and answer me.

Amen.

At first the raindrops fell faster and thicker, but as they continued their intercession “umbrellas started to close. By the time we finished the ninth prayer, the only open umbrellas were ours; we had worried so much about praying that we had paid no attention to the weather.”[ii] I later learned that when they prayed this “quick novena,” they offered the Memorare not just nine times, but tenth — the tenth in thanksgiving for answered prayer. This abundant trust in God liberated them to live in joy.

Mother Teresa’s single-minded focus on the Source of her miracles, rather than the cause of her difficulties, whispered to me the secret of her joy. No matter what is happening in our lives — whether we are on a train to a new adventure, cleaning up a distasteful mess, or struggling to hear God speak to us over the din of the crowd, we can CHOOSE JOY. Choose to trust. Choose to give thanks. And in so doing, we follow in the footsteps of this great lady, Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

If you enjoyed this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

Photo credit: Original photo from “The Economic Times,” March 14, 2013.

[i] Adapted from Mother Teresa, Thirsting for God: Daily Meditations, ed. Angelo D. Scolozzi (Cincinnati: Servant, 2013), 21.

[ii] Mother Teresa in Her Own Words, edited by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado (Liguori, MO, 1996), 64.

 

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8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 7)

malcolm_muggeridge_something_beautiful_for_godIn celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!  The lessons so far are The Power of Loving the “Other,”  Always Take Mary with You, God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves SmallGod Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. Faithful Love Sweetens Life and God Transforms Our Pain.  Enjoy!

Lesson #7: God measures “success” differently than we do.

Mother Teresa was nearly forty when she started the most physically demanding chapter of her life, toiling in the slums of Calcutta. Like most of us, her life had many chapters – beloved daughter, gifted singer, humble novice, popular teacher, courageous visionary. And yet, the motivating force was the singular virtue of obedience. At each stage of her life, her love for God enabled her to take the next step as God opened the door. By the end of her life, she and her Missionaries of Charity had opened hundreds of centers all over the world, and “mothered” thousands upon thousands of souls out of love for God.

Even so, she had her detractors who questioned everything from her motives to her bookkeeping. Where were all these large donations going? Why did she not set up hospitals where the desperately sick could get the care they needed? Some accused her of helping only to make converts — while others declared she spent too much time tending to temporal concerns, and not enough on leading souls to Jesus. Some who tried to get close to her by volunteering found they did not have the stomach for it; others were outraged that she would not stop everything to be photographed and interviewed. She truly had no interest in being an icon; she was too busy loving Jesus in the hearts of the physically and spiritually poor.

Reading the accounts of those who contacted her in some “professional” capacity – journalists and government workers especially — I was struck by the number who were unexpectedly deeply moved by these encounters. Perhaps the most famous example was veteran journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, whose documentary and subsequent book Something Beautiful for God introduced Mother Teresa to the world. In the book by the same title, Muggeridge recounts a harrowing story in which he witnessed an injured man being treated at the local hospital in Calcutta. “It was a scene of inconceivable confusion and horror . . . It was too much; I made off, back to my comfortable flat and a stiff whisky and soda . . . I ran away and stayed away; Mother Teresa moved in and stayed. That was the difference.”(1)  An avowed agnostic, Muggeridge later converted to Catholicism as a result of Mother’s influence.

Looking back on life, each of us will measure our own legacy by our own personal yardstick of accomplishment, of what we felt was most important. For some, it is financial security for ourselves and our loved ones. For others, it might be philanthropy or ministry goals. For Mother Teresa, as for the Missionaries of Charity, everything could be measured by this single observation, which I found on the website of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers:  “Right now, today, and everyday, Jesus is thirsting for my love. He is longing for me.” You can read the full prayer oft he Missionaries of Charity Fathers here.

Mother Teresa taught me that the heart of Jesus is thirsting for our love, longing for our presence.  By that standard, how can I be a “success” today?

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

(1) Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1971), 22.

 

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 6)

young mother teresaIn celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!  The lessons so far are The Power of Loving the “Other,”  Always Take Mary with You, God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves SmallGod Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. and Faithful Love Sweetens Life. I will write one lesson each day. Enjoy!

Lesson #6: God Transforms Our Pain

Like her friend St. John Paul II, Mother Teresa experienced the loss of a parent when she was only eight years old; he lost his mother, she her father. Such a profound loss leaves a deep scar on the soul — I see this with my own children, who lost their first family at an early age. However, for both Karol Wojtyla and Agnes Bojaxhiu, this profound loss seemed to give them a heightened awareness of the temporal nature of the physical world, and a deep desire to enter into the heart of God.  By the age of twelve young Agnes, as she was then known, knew she was going to become a religious sister. When she left her childhood home in Albania at the age of eighteen, it was the last time she saw her mother and sister.

I was about the same age, eighteen, when I was in a car accident that changed the course of my life. Seriously injured, I spent more than a month in the hospital, followed by a long recovery at home. As a result of the accident, I would not be able to have children. I also came away with a profound sense that God had spared my life for a reason – and that I needed to find out what that was. Twenty years would pass before I finally understood why God allowed this pain to enter my life: If I had not experienced this loss, I might never have been ready to welcome Chris and Sarah, first as foster kids and finally as my own children by adoption. When I see pictures of Mother Teresa walking among the children in the Nirmala Shishu Bhavan (the Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart), I wonder how often she looked into those little faces, remembered her own childhood grief, and thanked God for redeeming that pain in such a life-giving way.

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10:37). The pain we experience in our human relationships can make us hard and bitter, or drive us closer to the heart of God. If we choose the latter, the pain opens our hearts and makes us more compassionate and better able to recognize the pain in others.

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 5)

In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!  The lessons so far are The Power of Loving the “Other,”  Always Take Mary with You, God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small, and  God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. I will write one lesson each day. Enjoy!

 

Lesson #5:  Faithful Love Sweetens Life 

MT cardReading about the work of the Missionaries of Charity, it’s hard not to be impressed by the arduous nature of their work – how thankless, endless, and repugnant it often is. And yet, they persevere, out of love for God. The thing is . . . there is an unmistakable joy underneath it all, a sweetness that Mother Teresa spoke of as “fruit” in the small cards she passed to those she met. The cards read: “The fruit of silence is Prayer. The fruit of prayer is Faith. The fruit of faith is Love. The fruit of love is Service. The fruit of service is Peace.”

The sweetness of spirit that seems to be so characteristic of the Missionaries of Charity flows from the prayerful core of their daily lives. This prayer of Cardinal Newman’s, which the Sisters offer daily, uniquely captures this sweetness.

 

Dear Lord:

Help me to spread your fragrance wherever I go.

Flood my soul with your spirit and life.

Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of yours.

Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.

Let them look up and see no longer me, but only you, O Lord!

 

Every day we are given opportunities to love like this, to offer tiny baby steps of faithful love . . . steps that are only possible if we strengthen ourselves in virtue and daily prayer. We won’t always FEEL loving. But we can always choose faithfulness . . . if we are faithful to tend to our own physical and spiritual needs. Just for today, ask yourself: “What can I do to spread the sweet fragrance of Jesus in my world today?”

 

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 4)

In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!  The first three lessons are The Power of Loving the “Other,” Always Take Mary with You, and God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small. I will write one lesson each day. Enjoy!

 

1974, Calcutta, West Bengal, India --- Mother Teresa with a child from the orphanage she operates in Calcutta. Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Boyaxihu), the Roman Catholic-Albanian nun revered as India's "Saint of the Slums," was awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. --- Image by © Nik Wheeler/Sygma/Corbis

1974, Calcutta, West Bengal, India — Mother Teresa with a child from the orphanage she operates in Calcutta. Mother Teresa (Agnes Gonxha Boyaxihu), the Roman Catholic-Albanian nun revered as India’s “Saint of the Slums,” was awarded the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. — Image by © Nik Wheeler/Sygma/Corbis

Lesson #4:  God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers

Do you ever get nervous about praying aloud? Does your mind go blank, or your palms get sweaty? Do you listen with admiration of those who are “good at it,” and wonder if they have the inside track to God?

Not to worry, Mother Teresa taught us. God delights in the simple, heartfelt prayers of his children. In her book Such a Vision of the Street: Mother Teresa, the Spirit and the Work, Eileen Egan recorded the following lines from a speech that Mother Teresa delivered in Berlin on June 8, 1980 (1).

“Prayer is not meant . . . To trouble us. It is something to look forward to, to talk to my Father, to talk to Jesus . . . .

And when times come when we can’t pray, it is very simple:

If Jesus is in my heart let him pray, let me allow Him to pray in me, to talk to His Father in the silence of my heart.”

One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa is recorded in the book Mother Teresa: Reaching Out in Love. Edward Le Joly and Jaya Chaliha recount a time at the Children’s Home (Shishu Bhavan), when a critically sick baby was brought to Mother Teresa. Taking the baby in her arms, Mother quietly recited the Our Father, then handed the infant back to the Sister. The next day, the infant was out of danger. “It happens here frequently,” the Sister said (p.96).

Although I don’t mind praying aloud in most settings, like most people I experience times when I simply don’t know what to ask for. This story of Mother Teresa reminds me that even the simplest, most basic of prayers can be very powerful on the lips of those who offer those prayers with trust in the benevolence of God.

 

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

 

(1) Eileen Egan, Such a Vision of the Street: MT, The Spirit and the Work (NY: 1985), 427.

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 3)

prayerLesson #3: God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small.

On March 4, 2016, four Missionaries of Charity as well as several lay workers were murdered while working at a nursing home in Aden, Yemen. A priest who had recently joined the community, Fr. Thomas Uzhunnalil, a Salesian missionary from Bangalore, was kidnapped; his fate is still unknown. One aspect of the story I found most fascinating, which I recounted in the introduction of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, is that the one surviving member of the community, Sister Sally, was miraculously spared. Her testimony was published by the National Catholic Register. “At least three times they came into the Fridgerator [sic] Room. She did not hide but remained standing behind the door — they [ISIS] never saw her. This is miraculous.”

“Humility of the heart of Jesus, fill my heart,” prayed Mother Teresa in Total Surrender (p.76). This “smallness” was reflected not only in the physical stature of St. Teresa (though she was tiny!), but in the humble interior of the heart that allowed her to take up even the smallest task with great joy and abandon. It is this “smallness” that prevents us from becoming resentful, bitter, and envious at those whose lives seem just a bit better.

A wise woman once told me that God always humbles us just before he calls us to do something great. Without that lesson in “smallness,” too soon I find myself running ahead, determined to do it all MYSELF . . . and just as often, making a mess of things. In the life of Saint Teresa we see a woman for whom nothing was too small, too demeaning, too dangerous, or too dirty. God did not always work visible miracles — of the thirty-six thousand she and her Sisters rescued from the streets, eighteen thousand died. But there were miracles, and the most lasting will be known only in eternity.

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

8 Ways Mother Teresa Changed My Life (Day 1)

One Heart Full of LoveIn celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well!

Thanks for reading!

Lesson #1  The Power of Loving the “Other”.  I first discovered the writings of St. Teresa of Calcutta riding at the back of a cross-country bus in Mexico. A recent Bible school graduate, I had been presented with two options: Spend a year in Singapore, helping to start up a new Bible school for local pastors-in-training, or going back to school and becoming a book editor. I decided to take a few weeks to visit missionary friends, traveling by bus from Acapulco to northeastern Mexico. The adventure gave me plenty of time to think.

My backpack contained only a few essentials: a few apples, a roll of TP, a change of clothes and toiletries, my Bible and journal, and two books that had been recommended to me — Elisabeth Elliot’s autobiographical These Strange Ashes, and Mother Teresa’s, One Heart Full of Love. Early in the book, Mother Teresa recounts a story of going to help a local Hindu family with eight children who had not eaten for days. She writes:

“I could see the specter of hunger drawn on the faces of the little children when we found the family. . . In spite of their need, the mother had the courage and compassion to divide the rice that I had brought into two portions. Then she went out… It seems a Moslem family with the same number of children lived across the street. She knew they were hungry, too.”[1]

Her act of no-strings-attached generosity surprised me. I had been taught that “real” missionaries always focus on spiritual needs. And yet, nowhere in the text did it appear that Mother Teresa had prayed with the family as she handed over the food. What was more, she had clearly seen in that Hindu mother something. . . virtuous. What did it mean? Could one truly share the love of God in such a simple way, without expectation that the gesture would lead to a Bible study? This was an uncomfortable thought planted in my evangelical brain.

Mother Teresa’s “ecumenical mindset” flew in the face of my missionary training, which had elevated “church planting” over any other kind of service. I had not yet discovered the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy as such, or set foot in a Catholic Mass. And yet the words and actions of this dear “saint of the slums” resonated in me, and reminded me of the words of the Lord in which he separates the sheep (which up to that point I thought meant “Bible-believing Christians”) and goats (“everyone else”). And yet the example of Mother Teresa (a Catholic!), made me look again:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 Gulp. Reading further in the book about Mother Teresa, I saw that even as she tended souls as they passed into the presence of God, she did not force them to say the “sinner’s prayer.” Rather, she urged them to face God without the weight of unforgiveness and regret upon their souls, to find peace before they died. Her heart of Mother Teresa was first and foremost . . . a mother’s.

Although I had been a Christian all my life, poring over that book on a bumpy Mexican bus I saw something that challenged my most treasured presuppositions about God’s love, seeing its simplest and purest form in the life of a Catholic nun – the last place I ever expected to find it. This was the first lesson I learned from Mother Teresa . . . but it would not be the last. As I worked, I took away seven more important lessons from the life and writings of this great lady, which we will examine more closely in the coming days. I’ve written eight daily posts, to take us from the canonization of Mother Teresa to the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

 Lesson #2: Take Mary with You.

Lesson #3: God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small.

Lesson #4:  God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers

Lesson #5:  Faithful Love Sweetens Life 

Lesson #6: God Transforms Our Pain

Lesson#7: God measures “success” differently than we do.

Lesson #8:  Joy, Like Love, is a Choice.

 

If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.

[1] Mother Teresa, One Heart Full of Love. Edited by Jose Juis Gonzalez-Balado (Ann Arbor: Servant, 1988), 9.