Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Time I saw Blessed Mother Teresa

Today is the tenth anniversary of Blessed Mother Teresa's hearing these words, from Jesus,
" Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."Matt. 25:33-40

Her portrait adorns our living room, and I think I have read every book, and seen every video out there about her. Last night, I saw the second Petrie sisters video about her, including clips from her funeral. Why am I so devoted to Mother Teresa? Because she is the clearest feminine example of the Gospel in the past 100 years. As a mother, I can more easily follow Mother Teresa's example when she cleans a dirty baby, feeds a sick person, or cuddles a disabled child. When she cleans a filthy bed with infinite patience, knowing that she is serving Our Lord as clearly as when she prays in front of the Blessed Sacrament or addresses the Harvard graduation, I can relate to her, and imitate her. She reminds me that my difficult family members are 'Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor', and that the purpose of my life is to be, ' a pencil in the hands of God', letting Him use me to bring about the Kingdom of God. I admire her moral courage, standing a few feet away from the Clintons and Gores at the National Prayer Breakfast, and telling them, "the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. If a child in his mother's womb is not safe, then no one is safe anywhere".

True holiness is simple, and easy to follow. No advanced degrees are necessary.

In June of 1986, I was fresh out of college with my Bachelor's degree in Psychology, working as a social worker for Catholic Charities. During a morning cup of coffee, the Indian Psychiatrist, Dr. Saba, casually mentioned that Mother Teresa would be addressing the seminarians of our diocese in St. Agnes Cathedral that day. I sprang into action, begging my boss for the day off to see Mother. Permission granted, I drove the hour to Rockville Centre, three hours before she was to appear, to get a seat up front. The cathedral was already beginning to fill up, buzzing with anticipation.

When she entered, the first thing that struck me was her diminutive size. Her face could just barely be seen over the top of the ambo, yet she commanded the rapt attention of her large audience for nearly an hour. Here is some of what she said, "I got very nervous when your Bishop invited me to lunch". Imagine the Nobel Laureate, international celebrity, being humbled by a bishop, that shows her respect for the Church. Mother told one of her stories, about the blind man living in darkness, who never lit his lamp, "because nobody ever comes to visit me". Mother visited him, lit his lamp, and told him that her sisters would be coming to visit him, so he must keep his lamp lit. He later sent word to her, "tell Mother the lamp she lit in my life is still burning". She reminded us to see Jesus in the poorest of the poor, who are sometimes the members of your own family. She received a standing ovation. Read more about her visit to St. Agnes Cathedral here.

There was to be a reception for Mother, but she declined, perhaps because the poor aren't invited to receptions, so the last I saw of her was her hand pressed against the window of the car, as if to say she was sorry she couldn't be with us.

My second encounter with Mother Teresa was in 1990, when I was learning Spanish to be a better English as a Second Language teacher. I was considering a Spanish immersion course in Antigua Guatemala, and thought of spending some time as a volunteer in the Missionaries of Charity home in Guatemala City. I had seen the original Petrie sister documentary, Mother Teresa, which featured Mother's struggle with Guatemalan bureaucrats to obtain the building. So I wrote Mother, explaining my desire to volunteer there.

Her response, typewritten on an old manual typewriter, with her signature and a holy card, was surprising. She sent me to serve the poor in her home in the Bronx, and gave me the contact information for her convent there. She also said that she would look for me when she came to visit. The letter ended with "put your hand in Mary's hand, and she will lead you to Jesus".
Her signature yellow card read,

"The fruit of silence is prayer,

the fruit of prayer is service,

the fruit of service is love,

the fruit of love is peace. "

I did visit her convent in the Bronx, (who says 'no' to Mother Teresa'?) and though I didn't discover a religious vocation, I was forever touched by that experience. I posted on it here.
Mother Teresa was mother to the entire world, and will always be my spiritual mother.

No comments: