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, God 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.
As 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.
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.