Tuesday, November 25, 2008

As For Me, I'll Be Spending Advent with Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa's Secret Fire by Joseph Langford

This isn't a review because I'm only on page 91 of this 300 or so page book. However, I can tell this is one I'll be reading into Advent and sharing with y'all.

I feel as if I'm being haunted by Mother Teresa (or is that "hunted"?).

Not that other people probably don't feel as if they bump into Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (her "other" name) everywhere they turn. She is a saint for our time, one whose actions spoke to us more personally than any other about the preciousness of each human being, whether man gave value to that soul or not. She spoke also to our poverty of spirit in the West, where we may wallow in material riches but be bereft spiritually, bereft of any true love. Plenty of books have been written about her and doubtless will continue to be written.

In my own case, I have never felt particularly attracted to Mother Teresa. I have never felt like reading about her. Certainly, I have never wanted to know as much as I now do about her life and ministry. Oh, I acknowledged her saintliness, her goodness, and all that. However, I never felt drawn to her or her message in the way, say, that the author of this book, Father Langford did. Early on, he was drawn to a photograph of her, then to the goodness radiating from her work, and then to the words painted on the wall of the convent in Calcutta, "I thirst." Pondering these, he eventually met her and wound up helping found the Missionary of Charity Fathers.

I remember at my in-laws house long ago I picked up Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge. I never had heard of him and had only the slightest acquaintance with the details of Mother Teresa's ministry. I had brought a book with me to read but wound up devouring this one. I actually wound up more interested in Muggeridge to the extent of noticing quotes by him and finding out that he converted to Catholicism due to his encounter with Mother Teresa.

Later I read Revolution of Love by David Scott. Honestly I read that only because I had become friends with David by that time and he sent it to me. Never has an obligation of friendship been more richly rewarded than the many ways I have since been able to see the crying need for Mother Teresa's influence in our society and in our world. That book is very underappreciated and I urge you to seek it out.

Like so many I was sent a copy of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light and I was definitely curious to read about a modern saint's experience of the "dark night of the soul" as St. John of the Cross called it. What I didn't expect was how it would expand my horizons not only about Mother Teresa but about simple human nature and God's love.

I looked at Mother Teresa's Secret Fire in The Catholic Company's list of items reviewers could choose and thought, "No way. I have read enough books about Mother Teresa, thank you very much." It took a very nice and flattering email from Our Sunday Visitor's PR person to make me rethink reading this book (yes, I am sadly susceptible to flattery just as much, if not more, than the next person).

Last night I was reading and came across this in her "Varanasi Letter":
Be careful of all that can block that personal being in touch with the living Jesus. The hurts of life, and sometimes your own mistakes -- [may] make you feel it is impossible that Jesus reeally loves you, is really clinging to you. This is a danger for all of you. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesis is really wanting, waiting to tell you.

Not only He loves you, even more -- He longs for you. He misses you when you don't come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don't feel worthy. Even if you are not accepted by others, even yourself sometimes--He is the one who always accepts you. ...
Somehow it clicked. I understood on a level that was hard to verbalize, hard to grasp fully. I connected with that feeling of "the beloved," of being newly in love and yearning to be with your beloved so much that it hurt whenever you were apart.

Shaken, I was thinking of this and began flipping through the pages of the book toward the end (something I never do). I came across Appendix Three which points out that Mother Teresa is merely the latest in a long line of witnesses to Jesus' thirst for us. St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Padre Pio, Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and very many more ... even the Catechism of the Catholic Church ... all attest to God's thirst for us.
2560 "If you knew the gift of God!" (Jn 4:10). The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God's desier for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God's thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him...
I was further shaken. I never knew of this far-reaching testimony to the sheer depths of Love's desire ... thirst ... for the true fullness of reciprocated love, and all for the sake of those God loves. I suddenly felt very little. Not that I felt less. But little in the face of the overwhelming thirst of Jesus for each and every one of us. Including me.

There is much more than that in the first 91 pages alone and I do not want to rush this. Therefore, I present this as a long introduction to what I will be contemplating during Advent. Rest assured that along the way I will be sharing the nuggets I feel can stand somewhat alone.


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