by Fr. Peter deSousa
Mother Teresa was certainly one of the most inspiring people of our times and we truly praise and thank God for calling her to found the Missionaries of Charity. The spirit of the Congregation is still alive in her sisters and brothers in many parts of our world.
There are three special aspects of the spirit of the Missionaries of Charity which are based on the Gospel. These are "Loving Trust", "Total Surrender" and "Cheerfulness".
All of us through our Baptism and Confirmation, are also called to be disciples of Jesus. We witness to Jesus, by letting our Baptism and Confirmation come alive in us each day. This is also true of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation, we frequently receive. Now some of us are called to be Priest disciples, Religious disciples, Married disciples or Single disciples in the world. Each one of us is called to be a Missionary of Charity everyday, in and through our particular state of life.
Let us look at these three qualities that specially mark the followers of Mother Teresa and learn from them how to live the Gospel. It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit, that we are enabled to do this and not just by human efforts. So let us humbly call on the Divine Teacher to reveal to us, those truths that are hidden from the wise and the learned and revealed to the little ones.
Around Christmas time, I meet many young bridal couples who are celebrating their wedding day. With feelings of love and trust, they make a gift of themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. They specify in their vows that they will love and respect each other as spouses, in good times and bad, in sickness and health, in riches and poverty. Such a covenant love is unconditional. But where do couples receive the grace to love and trust God and each other, when they actually begin to live together as husband and wife? In the reality of daily life together, they may not always or even often feel loving and trusting towards each other. Hence they need to turn to Abba Father, both as individuals and as a couple, everyday to ask Him for the grace to decide to love and trust each other, even when they do not feel that way. If their faith in God is superficial, they will not perhaps either have such love or trust in God. Love of God, both God's love for us and our love for God, enables them to be channels of such a life-giving love to both their spouse and their children.
As a Priest and Religious, I am aware of the need of a place and time for daily prayer, if I am to be faithful to it, everyday. I am not just speaking of reciting some pious formulae but of the prayer of communion with Abba Father, Jesus Savior and Holy Spirit, my indwelling companion.
Married disciples have many commitments as spouses, parents, employees, parishioners and citizens. They may not be graced with the freedom our Religious Vows or Celibacy give us to love and serve and witness to Jesus in the same way they do. Nonetheless, they are called to be disciples and many of them who are faithful to their calling, will receive even greater rewards. So daily personal , couple and family prayer is essential, to receive the grace to be faithful to your calling dear married friends.
Love and Trust are not just feelings but decisions that all disciples make many times a day. The Priest or Religious is not called to live in the same intimacy as married folk and can retreat to his or her cell to rest and pray. Married people share the same bed and table and are co-responsible for parenting their children and maintaining their home as equal partners. They are male and female models to their children everyday of how to be disciples. Widowed people and those who live separately because of circumstances have to combine the roles and values of both parents.
Most of us grew up in homes with parents from whom we imbibed certain values, whether they were Gospel values or values of the world. Each generation is responsible for passing on these values to another generation. The word used for "passing on" in Latin is "tradere" from which the word tradition comes. So there can be traditions that enshrine values of the Gospel and empty traditions that have lost their meaning with the passing of time. We need to distinguish between these, in openness to the Holy Spirit and God's Word in prayer.
Loving Trust is certainly one such value. "Give us this day our daily bread" we ask Abba Father. By "daily bread" we mean, all that our family needs to live as God's children according to his Divine plan each day. We trust in the providence of God who is Creator of heaven and earth and all that is in it. Mother Teresa is said to have refused a large sum of money that a certain Catholic Organization promised her every month without fail to support her good works. The answer she gave them was that if she was assured of such a sum from them, she would no longer have to rely on Divine Providence. She firmly believed, that it was God who called her for this mission and her sisters had to trust everyday in Him to provide them with all they needed to answer His call.
Married people too, are called and chosen by God on their wedding day, to walk together with Him, as life-companions, in their journey through life. By their love and trust in Him and in each other, they are empowered to be a sacramental sign of His presence and love to their children and to all He sends them to witness to each day. The Father knows what we all need. He will not give us a snake when we ask for fish or a stone when we ask for bread. Read the Gospel of Matthew 6:25-34; 7:7-11. However, in order to have such trust there is a pre-requisite that we find in Matthew 6:24. There lies the rub, many of us face in the materialistic and consumerist world in which we live.
Daily prayer and reflection on God's Word in the power of the Holy Spirit, both as individuals and as couples, will help us to reorder our priorities. Otherwise, we are tempted to pay lip service to the Gospel to ensure us a place in Heaven in the next life by "fulfilling certain obligations" while actually striving to play God in our daily lives, to control, manipulate and manage our own affairs. The Missionaries of Charity may not have their own families to support, educate and provide for but they have great numbers of helpless people who need food, shelter, medical care and education.
When these pass away, there are many more to take their place. The children they care for, do not just grow up and settle down so that they can retire. Many of these children are handicapped and rejected and land up in their homes, to be loved and cared for by them for life.
What then is "Loving Trust" for married people? I have met some truly amazing lay people with large families, whose trust in Divine Providence is remarkable because they are exceptions to the rule, in today's world. They not only had to provide for their own children. Some have adopted children who were handicapped and God blessed them a hundred-fold. God is never outdone in generosity, for after all He is God. Mother Teresa was a most generous person, even when she had little or nothing. She was also a very practical person who did not panic. In God's name she could appeal on behalf of others and no one refused her. Yet for the proud of heart, it is humbling to ask for help and not be self sufficient. They want to be seen as benefactors rather than beneficiaries.
Some people love to advertise their many charities and good works and no doubt they are very generous, hard working and give tremendous help to God's deserving poor. But they have received their reward. (Matthew 6:2-4) Missionaries of Charity are not called to make a name for themselves, but always to point to Jesus. "He must increase and I must decrease"(John 3:30) is what John the Baptist said of Jesus.
Humility goes hand in hand with loving trust. Humility is not to be confused with acting servile. It is the attribute of servant-hood, which is a Gospel value. (Jn 13:4-17) Washing another's feet is not a ritual but a way of belonging to Jesus who chose to be a servant.
Married couples exchange their vows at a Nuptial Mass and everyday henceforth as they break bread together in their home, they live the Eucharist. They are broken in love, to nourish each other and their children. They are chosen to wash each other's feet in the many chores they do in their home. They become aware of Jesus speaking to them, as he opens up the Scriptures to them and explains the meaning of their suffering and sacrifices as He did at the Emmaus meal.(Lk 24: 13-32)
Children born and reared in such homes will receive the values of loving trust in providence and humility in service. Hopefully, they will continue to supply the Missionaries of Charity with many vocations to continue the good work started by Mother Teresa.
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