Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Calcutta All Over the World

“There is Calcutta all over the world for those who have eyes to see.” ~Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Mother Teresa and Me, the first-hand account of Donna-Marie Cooper O'Boyle about her ten year friendship with the Saint of the Gutters, is a deceptively slender volume, deceptive in that it is truly a powerhouse of a book. Every page is rich with spiritual insights, simple yet profound, in the manner of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Although I have heard and read of Mother Teresa from the time I was a child she has never come fully alive for me until now, for through the book I feel that I have met her. The author deftly communicates her own experiences to the reader, from the time she first encounters Mother Teresa after Mass while visiting with the late Fr. John Hardon, to the transformation of her spiritual life and those of others through her long correspondence and further meetings with the saint. Most of all it recalls to mind that the world is unaware of the suffering and starvation, both material and spiritual, that goes on everywhere. Lazarus still begs at the gate.

Donna relates several dramatic incidents in her personal life when Mother Teresa intervened with prayer and consolation, leading eventually to the author's vocation as a Lay Missionary of Charity. The strong Marian aspect of Mother Teresa's spirituality, which she conveyed to everyone who came in contact with her, is described throughout the book. As Donna expresses it:
The Marian dimension of Christian prayer was central to Mother Teresa’s prayer life. Just like Pope John Paul II, she had a deep love for and intimate relationship with the Blessed Mother; we can say that she lived under Mary’s mantle. She didn’t only pray to the Blessed Mother seeking her help; she was also consecrated to her. She put her trust and confidence in Mary, and believed that Mary was truly present in her life. She actually abandoned her life into Mary’s hands and heart, believing that Mary would take care of all her needs and the needs of the poor. Who could understand us and know all of our needs better than the Mother of God?

Just as Pope John Paul II was a great fan of St. Louis de Montfort and his formula for a consecration to Mary, Mother Teresa was as well. She encouraged others to get close to Our Lady too, believing that a healthy devotion to the Blessed Mother was essential to a committed Christian life. (p.91-92)
Only a vigorous prayer life can enable us to see and help the poor. Donna gives many examples of how the Marian consecration bore fruit in Mother's life and in her own.
Mother Teresa’s actions spoke even louder than her words. We know she devoted her entire ministry, at least fifty years of her life, to caring for the poorest of the poor. The poor that she came into contact with were in worse than dire straights. Some of them were dying in the streets, never having known the shelter of a roof over their heads. The poor for whom Blessed Teresa cared sometimes were infected with maggots or covered with leprosy. She put herself in harm’s way of all kinds of diseases and illnesses. Mother Teresa often said that we must seek to understand the poor. We don’t have to run off to Calcutta to encounter the poor. They exist in our own neighborhoods. The poor in our own areas may not have leprosy. They may not be homeless. But they may suffer from what Mother Teresa considers to be a worse disease – the disease of loneliness or of being unloved....

When the rich decide to help the poor by donating something, Mother Teresa lamented that it was often expired foods and unwanted clothing. “We treat the poor like they are a garbage can,” she said. She also pointed out that the most valuable thing we can give the poor is our time. When Mother Teresa counseled us to take care of the poor who reside in our own homes, she wasn’t talking about homeless persons we have taken in. She meant that there may be someone in our family who feels neglected or unloved. We need to be sure that their needs are seen to before rushing off to help the poor outside the doors of our homes. (pp.102-103)
In order to bring Christ to the poor of the world, we need to draw upon the resources of grace that are to be found in prayer and meditation. How can this be done in the chaos of modernity? In the author's own words:
We are surrounded by noise. We live in a world of distraction. With so much overstimulation, it is difficult to settle down and find any peace and quiet, within or without. Sometimes even our own thoughts can prevent us from being quiet in our souls. When there is a momentary pause, we quickly fill it with something. We think about yesterday, we worry about tomorrow, and we have great difficulty staying in the present moments of our lives.

People today seem to crave noise as well as more and more activity. Some of us cannot travel without headphones or a bluetooth on our ears, listening to music or carrying on phone conversations constantly. Our technological world has made the search for silence much more complex. Are we afraid of our own thoughts? Do we have such a need to distract ourselves with activity and racket that we miss the graces that our Lord wishes to bestow on us through silence?...

Even amid our crazy lives, we can discover silence. We should certainly search for silence, even when we are busy with our daily tasks. We can train ourselves to be silent in the depths of our souls. When we ask our Lord to teach us to pray more fervently and more wholeheartedly, he will show us the way to enter the inner oratory of our hearts where we can go to pray often. We can train ourselves to seek silence deep within our hearts.

A mother can find silence even within the noise of her household – in the busyness of caring for her children, folding laundry, cooking a meal, or washing dishes – when she looks inward and offers her heart to God. I am not suggesting that she become oblivious to what she is doing, especially when caring for children. This is a different kind of silence. While folding a load of laundry, cooking her family’s dinner, or nursing a baby, a mother can become meditative, raising her heart to God and thanking him for the privilege of serving him as she serves her family within her vocation of motherhood. (pp. 129, 135)
One comes away from Donna's book with the reinforced conviction that the love of Christ is more powerful than all the evil in the world, no matter how the media portrays the times. How a single life can illuminate the darkness! And each one of us is called to participate, even in a small way.
Most of us are blessed with some sort of suffering; it’s the reality in this life. However, Christ offers us all the graces we need to endure (and even shine) in the midst of our pain, giving us the opportunity to be an example of Christian love to others. When we give all of our pain to him, he sanctifies it and give us peace. Let’s not forget to ask the Blessed Mother for her help as well. I will never forget the prayer Mother Teresa shared with me and which I offer to you: “Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a Mother to me now.” I pray it often and hope you find comfort in it too.
We are burnished and polished with fire sometimes but never without sufficient grace to endure and to shine. Through the sanctification process, self-knowledge unfolds and becomes visible to us in our daily experiences, thus providing us with ongoing opportunities to change our attitudes and offer our lives even more fully to God.

I am absolutely awestruck by the fact that this one woman’s “Yes” to God has affected millions of people around the world. Blessed Teresa’s willingness to embrace poverty of spirit so completely and to blindly trust God with her life transformed her soul and opened wide her heart to the plight of the poor. Her simple message of love reached “the ends of the earth,” one person at a time. She opened our eyes to see the poor all around us.

While most of us are not called to travel to Calcutta to serve the poor, we can remember what Mother Teresa said: “There is Calcutta all over the world for those who have eyes to see.” Maybe our evangelizing to the ends of the earth will actually mean to the ends of our household or our workplace. We can continually expand our reach to needy souls in ever-widening circles in our local communities and beyond. (pp. 182-183)
Our participation in the Passion of Christ, standing beside Mary His Mother at the foot of the Cross, can change lives and save souls, perhaps not as dramatically as Blessed Teresa did during her pilgrimage on earth, but in hidden ways, known only to God, and powerful nonetheless.

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