Celebrating Mother Teresa

We always knew Mother Teresa was a saint, but now it’s official. This week Pope Francis, representing the whole Church, formally recognized her life of heroic holiness, through her dedication to the poorest of the poor, the abandoned of Calcutta.

Not long after her death, letters to her spiritual director were published, as required to review her cause for canonization. To those unfamiliar with the journey of the the spirit, it was thought that Teresa had “lost her faith” when she described her experiences of  apparent abandonment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Her persistent service to the poor, in spite of her lack of inner consolation only served to prove her heroism.

There’s an important trait of Mother Teresa’s that we don’t hear much about, but which is, in my humble opinion, an essential aspect of holiness: a sense of humor, the handmaid of fidelity. This anecdote illustrates Mother Teresa’s ready wit.

About 30 years ago, I was watching newswoman Diane Sawyer interview Mother Teresa on TV. By that time, reports written by journalist Malcolm Muggeridge [author of Something Beautiful for God] had brought Mother Teresa to world wide attention. Diane Sawyer was clearly in awe of her. In quite a breathless voice, she asked this question:

“Mother Teresa, is it true that you talk to God?”

With a chuckle and a big smile, Mother Teresa made the motion of picking up a phone and said, “O yes! I say, ‘Hello, God!”Mother Teresa

Poor Diane! I can’t remember a thing that was said after that exchange. May we always joyfully remember that the Gospel is Good news.

To hear Mother Teresa’s acceptance speech of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, follow the link.

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How to Pray

 we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
(Romans 8:26)

I was sure I didn’t know how to pray. Others described a “method” that I simply couldn’t grasp. This was dreadful! Prayer, after all, is the first essential in how to grow in intimacy with God, how to grow in knowledge of God.

Thank God, I had a spiritual director who rescued and calmed me. He told me how an elderly nun had described her prayer: simple, heartfelt, personal, loving and direct. It was something like this:

No, I don’t know how to pray:
How to sit at attention,
My senses in suspension.

One must not move,
One must not slouch.
Say politely, “I praise you!”

This is God, after all, and not
Your next door neighbor.
He won’t favor a lowly dot
of nothing.

No, I don’t know the words
To that hymn the angels sing
Everlastingly around the throne.

No, we have no words,
And none are even too many!
So we just look,

And smile at each other.

I carry Him,
And He carries me
All day,
All night.

No, I don’t know how to pray:
How to sit at attention,
My senses in suspension.
How to sit still and simply say:

“I love you.”

All Things Work Together

. . . for those who love God.

“I worry so about my past life and how many bad judgments I’ve made,” said the young woman sitting in front of me.

     “You know,” I said, “I used to have as neighbor a woman who was very creative in the domestic arts: painting, crafts, needlework. One item she showed me made a lasting impression. She had made a full-size quilt that featured a variety of cloths and designs, each related to an important event in her life. She had a piece from one of the children’s “blankie;” jeans she wore on her first date with her husband, and part of a shirt left in the laundry by her son who had just run away from home.

mixed quilt     “From all these remnants commemorating both happy and catastrophic events, she had made a work of art. Bound together by solid dark blue strips framing each square, she had created a kind of book of her life. It was beautiful! And besides, it served a very useful purpose in her home.”

This is what St. Paul means in his letter to the Romans (8:18): For those who love God, all things work together unto good. To that marvelous statement, St. Augustine added the words … even sin. All events, all actions, thoughts, omissions, whether joyful or sad, whether “productive” or empty – all are, in God’s hands, the stuff of our life, all put to use to ultimately shape us into the image that God has of us.

For there is nothing in our life that God cannot put to good use. Our profound and loving Teacher uses even our “mistakes,” not as stern lectures directed at us, but as gentle reminders of his mercy, as sturdy lengths of thread that draw us to him, binding us to himself into one work of art.

The Assumption of Mary

An Ancient Tradition

Crypt in Church of the Dormition, Jerusalem
Crypt in Church of the Dormition, Jerusalem

The Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) celebrate the “Dormitio” or Dormition. When time had come for the Theotokos to pass from this life to the next, the Apostles including St. Paul traveled, gathered, and briefly spent time with her. Thomas arrived three days after Mary had fallen asleep (a term we use when someone passes into death) and wanted to see her. When they went to the tomb where she was placed, they found that it was was empty. An angel of the Lord appeared to them saying that the Theotokos was assumed into Heaven.*

“It was fitting that the most holy body of Mary, God-bearing body, receptacle of God, divinized, incorruptible, illuminated by divine grace and full of glory, should be entrusted to the earth for a little while and raised up to heaven in glory, with her soul pleasing to God.” (Bishop Theoteknos of Livias Sermon, 600) 

Continue reading “The Assumption of Mary”

The Transfiguration

Jesus prefigures our transformation.

transfigurationFor me, the narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most mysterious in the Gospels. What was the message? and why wasn’t this vision offered to the other disciples?

Yes, Jesus certainly had established a hierarchy among his apostles. Peter, James and John were taken into confidence on more than this one occasion. Most notably, they were the three whom Jesus asked to follow him into a more hidden recess of the Mount of Olives where he prayed prior to his arrest.

At the top of Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John are allowed a vision of Jesus, along with major prophets of the Old Testament: Moses and Elijah. For Jesus to be in the company of these two prominent figures was to make him at least their equal, for he was not bowed down in front of them but was in their very center. Furthermore,  the center position proclaimed his authority, as one was on his right and the other on his left. This amounted to a bold and brave declaration of the supreme holiness of Jesus. No wonder the apostles were astonished.

They had already, through Peter, announced their belief that Jesus was the promised one of God: the Messiah, Emmanuel. The Transfiguration vision cemented that belief.

Nonetheless, no sooner had they come down to earth (literally) than Jesus plunged them into the horror story of his arrest, disgrace and execution. Even though he also added the positive and glorious ending, it was upsetting enough for Peter (having been emboldened by providing the right answer just a short while ago) to declare, “Heaven forbid that any such thing should happen to you!”

Clearly, the apostles themselves experienced no miraculous change.

So what is the lesson in this for me? The evident one is that there is no glory without pain. The reverse is true: there is no pain without glory. They must go together. Pain and death are not the end of the world. These truths are so obvious as to be commonplace. That is, until they actually occur and we experience the pain we thought we had eliminated from our life.

But there may be another aspect.

Jesus, fully human and fully divine, allowed his apostles to observe his divinity. What they were also observing was their own future transformation into beings that were to become the very image of the divine.

Why did Jesus counsel them to tell no one of this event, until after the Resurrection?

I think that this was because to hear of the process of divinization would have been too much for pre-Resurrection, pre-Pentecostal people to understand or accept. We, ordinary mortals, are to be transformed into beings who truly resemble God? Who can accept that!

And yet, “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” So said the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner (in Theological Investigations XX, 149). Mysticism, he wrote, is “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

We aren’t meant to spend our living years with our eyes shut, stumbling through an often hopeless world. There’s too much that we’re missing if we do not open our hearts to the everyday experience of God of which Rahner speaks.

In her book, Days of Deepening Friendship, Vinita Wright  lists 15 common experiences of the divine such as “becoming acutely aware of God’s presence through an overwhelming sense of peace, gratitude, love, awe, or joy.”

A constant and growing awareness, produced by a constant and growing search on our part, is what will bring about our transformation into the divine, into the union Christ prayed for and showed to his disciples at the Transfiguration.