I love learning about the Catholic Church. We’ll be celebrating my 5-year confirmation anniversary in the spring, and the more I’ve lived the faith and studied it, the more I fall in love. It might sound silly, but many times it feels like I’m stepping into the warmest hug in the safest arms when I go to Mass, or study theology, or even see the effects of my faith slowly but surely overcoming my own tendencies towards selfishness and sin. The depth, the beauty, the history, the Truth–it’s all there and it often leaves me in awe.
There were a couple of areas of faith that were a bit more difficult for me as I made my transition. Understanding Mary’s role in the church took a bit more time. And so did my appreciation of the Saints. I used to tell JP that the Saints intimidated me, half as a joke and half as a serious comment.
For some reason, the Saints seemed so out of reach. It was tough to think that people existed who walked this earth let God fill them so much that there wasn’t room for anything else. Meanwhile, I felt so far from that. I lose my patience so easily, and tend to seek my own comfort, and am prone to anxiety and worry about things I can’t control. I feared that I’d read something by a Saint and be frightened off…of what, I don’t exactly know. But I didn’t trust that it would be helpful, at least not for a while.
My Walk with Saint Teresa of Calcutta
In the end, I want to grow in holiness no matter how uncomfortable it feels, so I decided it was time to read my first official work by a Saint. Since Mother Teresa of Calcutta (now Saint Teresa) was my confirmation Saint, it made sense for me to start there. I received a couple of books for my confirmation, and they’d been staring at me from my bookshelf for far too long. I read Where there is love, there is God over the course of about two weeks. It’s more a collection of things Saint Teresa wrote and said than a book she wrote from start to finish, but I got such an intimate glimpse into the person she was through it. I could see her simple, yet poignant theology in the stories she repeated, in the phrasings she came back to time and time again.
A few points that have particularly woven their way into my heart:
Humility is to accept humiliations. Wiping my baby’s diaper. Letting someone say something short to me without saying anything back. I had never really thought of humility like that before, and it was refreshing and rang so true.
Love starts in the family. This was especially meaningful to me. I struggled for many years if staying home to raise my kids was ‘meaningful enough’ work according to some mysterious earthly standard. We have a framed piece of art in our living room with a quote from Mother Teresa, and we look at it every single day.
Seeing her broader perspective on this sort-of Theology of the Domestic Church, encouraged me in the truth I’ve been coming to accept more and more as time goes on: that my work here is vitally, beautifully important. Jesus says that when you feed the hungry and clothe the naked, that you’re doing it to Him. Saint Teresa helped me grow to understand that the little children living under my roof are the hungry one and the naked one too, and that by loving them, I’m also loving Jesus.
I also see my own sin the most at home in my family life, because I show it the easiest here. They’re the ones I lose patience with, or snap at if I’m stressed out. Because my interactions with them are such a clear mirror to my heart, they’re also the ones who give me the best chance to become a Saint. They’re the ones who I can learn to love well and patiently and fully, no matter what. They’re the ones I can most often offer dignity to in the big things and small, because they’re the ones I’m most often with.
Jesus thirsts. On the cross, Jesus said “I thirst.” While I’ve learned there have been different approaches to understanding His words, Mother Teresa’s is my favorite. Those words are displayed in each chapel of the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa’s saw Jesus’s “I thirst” as a deep expression of how much he desires each and every one of our love, our souls, our all. And, therefore, she concluded, every act of love that we do is, in some mystical way, quenching the thirst of Jesus on the cross. It begs the question: have I quenched Jesus’s thirst today?
For love to be real, it has to hurt. This isn’t about staying in an unhealthy or unsafe situation, but it is about self-sacrifice and what it means and what it takes. We have the ultimate example of Jesus on the cross, because that was His love, full and true, given for us. And it hurt. My opportunities to love until it hurts are frequent but so much smaller than that- getting up when I’m exhausted to comfort a crying child, admitting that I was wrong and apologizing for it. The world has it so backwards when it comes to love- the world tells us that love should make us feel good, that it should serve us well. But it’s really the other way around. Realizing that to truly love means that I hurt because selfishness and sin is being put to death in me, well, it changes everything. I’ve been familiar with this way of looking at love for a while, but Saint Teresa put it so beautifully, and it made such an impression on my heart.
Do small things with great love. I think many of us have heard this quote from Saint Teresa a time or two. My three year old asked God to help her become a Saint yesterday, and a few minutes later I asked her to pick up a blanket from the floor and put it on the couch. She wasn’t sure she wanted to help, but I had the thought that she could probably understand what the idea of “small things with big love” meant. So I told her that one way to become a Saint was to start doing small things with really big love. Like even picking up that blanket for her mother. If she does that little thing with big love, then she’s letting God’s love into her heart more and more. Mother Teresa’s life was marked by some really big moments, but it was filled with many more small moments where she fed a hungry person, or washed a dirty person, or smiled at someone who needed to be seen. Even washing a dish or sweeping the floor can be done with love. That was a challenge to me, in a good way. It’s something small but significant that I can do in the dozens upon dozens of small, seemingly insignificant tasks set before me through the day.
Simple, Yet Profound
The funny thing is, Saint Teresa didn’t even feel close to God for most of her life. She felt his absense from her, but loved him with all of herself regardless of that. She used that sense of absence to unite herself with the lonely and abandoned in the world and to fuel her love.
And her theology was fairly simple compared to some. JP is reading the Summa Theologica right now, and it’s quite a bit heaftier both in weight and in wording than what I just read. But I think that’s one of the really amazing things about the Saints. Saints have been made from all kinds of people, all over the world, with such a diverse array of experiences. The Saints didn’t all start out holy, but they proved that it can be done. Here, now, while we live on earth. If they could do it, then maybe there’s hope that we can, too.
Turned out, reading Saint stuff wasn’t that scary at all. In fact, it was lovely, and challenging and inspiring. I haven’t fully decided who I’ll read next, but I’ve got my eye on Saint Zelie. We named our youngest after her, and I know I’m inspired by her life as a worker, mother, and wife. I think we have a lot in common, I’d love to gain some deeper insights into the person she was.