“Joy is prayer, joy is strength, joy is love, joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.” -St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Throughout history, mankind has endured plagues, wars, and all sorts of crises that threaten our existence and make the day to day seem unbearable. In these past several months, the world has experienced the global effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Our country is also facing ramped up civil unrest. However, as Christians we are called to persevere with joy. As James 1:2-4 exhorts us: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance and perseverance must complete its work so that you will become fully developed, complete, not deficient in any way.” We can look back over two millennia and witness the hope that has always been present in the darkest of circumstances. Over and over, God our merciful Father remains with us, equips us with strength, and encourages us to dwell with Him in order to endure all things with joy. Furthermore, we have many examples of holy men and women who have stood steadfast in faith through great trials as joyful ambassadors of God’s love and mercy.
During these times, I have felt the pangs of doubt, discouragement, and fear. I am completely aware of my smallness and my vulnerability. I keenly recognize that I need help so that I can find peace amidst hardship and uncertainty, and I daily choose to pray for guidance and courage to walk in faith. I am grateful for parents who raised me in the Church, taught me the power of prayer, and nurtured me in an environment of faith. I am grateful for my parish family who stand together to build up the Body of Christ in our community. I am grateful for a stalwart husband who shows me daily how to immerse myself in the loving arms of Jesus by attending Mass, reading Scripture, praying devotions, and asking for the divine blanket of protection and provision that only comes from Him. I am grateful for my married children who witness their sacramental love to all by living their marriage covenant. I am grateful for children who share their gifts to fill our home with laughter, creativity, and beauty. I am grateful for grandchildren who are joyful and full of curiosity and excitement and so easily make me forget about the troubles of the world. I know that I am puny, weak, and small, but God made me for love and reminds me through all these people—and many more—that He is always with us, giving us what we need to gallantly march through the nitty gritty of life. This gives me cause for great joy!
How we behave determines the success of our mission as ambassadors for Jesus. We are told in Scripture to remain in God and to use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to navigate the messiness of this life. We are commanded to love God, others, and ourselves no matter the circumstances. The fruit of living in love is a joyful countenance. When we practice surrendering our doubts and fears and choose to act in faith and love, peace is a direct outcome. When we live out of an attitude of peace, we are unbound and able to exhibit joy in all things. St. Teresa of Avila encourages us: “Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you, all things are passing, God never changes. Patient endurance attains to all things. Whoever possesses God is wanting in nothing; God alone suffices.”
As Christians, we are called to be the living reflection of our Lord and Savior. As we traverse this particularly troubling time, we strive to be beacons of hope to those despairing, lost, and without a foundation of faith. We are all commissioned to share the love and mercy of God to all we come in contact with. It is not a suggestion, but a mandate from our baptism. No matter how inadequate we think we are, if we surrender to God’s will, He will supply all we need to make any situation bearable and even joyful. There may be uncertainty, strife, devastation and hardship around us, but the heart of Jesus, who is all love, is within the soul of each of us. We are called to make it manifest through our acts of kindness, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and service. Each of us, one individual at a time, has the power to bring peace and joy to others as we continue to navigate the day to day. Below are some practical tips for remaining steadfast in faith and witnesses of joy:
Together, each of us mere mortals can build an environment of joy—a joy which will make all the difference in our hurting world.
Growing up, I experienced the excitement of living in a predominantly male household. My brothers and I would regularly tap into some wellspring of energy within ourselves and cause all sorts of trouble for my poor mother to sort out if we somehow didn’t already exhaust ourselves. Now that we’re older and (hopefully) more mature, I find myself wondering 1) where did that incredible energy go? and 2) how did my mother ever put up with us? It certainly takes a special type of person to remain steadfastly patient and loving in the face of such chaos; mothers are a wonderful example, but what about those who are not parents (and would not be obligated to do so) who look after the young?
St. John Bosco, whose feast we celebrate today, is similarly venerated for dedicating his life to the betterment and education of street urchins, juvenile delinquents, and other disadvantaged youth. Born in Italy, “Don Bosco” was first the chaplain of a girls’ boarding school in Turin called the Rifugio (“Refuge”). His other ministries included visiting prisoners, teaching catechesis, and assisting at the country parishes. While visiting the prisons, Don Bosco was troubled to see so many adolescent boys and became determined to prevent them from ending up there. Finding traditional methods of parish ministry inefficient due to the urbanization-driven influx of migrants, Don Bosco developed another form of apostolate: meeting the boys wherever they were in life—be it offices, shops, or marketplaces. While society might have looked the other way or written off these little ones, Don Bosco would unceasingly offer help to those he encountered throughout his ministry.
I could focus on the well-documented efforts of the saint’s ministry, such as the establishment of permanent youth centers (which he called oratorio), contracting dignified jobs for the unemployed and obtaining fair conditions for those who held jobs, caring for the boys’ health, or instructing those willing to study after the work day, but I’d like to dwell on the special aspect of his numerous dreams which helped to reveal God’s will for his life. In one particularly, the Blessed Mother led Don Bosco into a beautiful garden, bidding him to pass through a rose arbor after removing his shoes. Shortly after doing so, his feet were cut and bleeding from the thorns of the roses on the path he was taking, yet he refused to turn around. Observers in the dream remarked, “How lucky Don John is! His path is forever strewn with roses! He hasn’t a worry in the world. No troubles at all!” They attempted to follow, but many who had been expecting an easy journey turned back—only some stayed with him. Finally, after successfully enduring the journey, he found another incredible garden where a cool breeze soothed his torn skin and healed his wounds.
I agree with Don Bosco’s interpretation: the path was his mission, the roses were his charity to the boys, and the thorns were the distractions and frustrations that obstructed his efforts. The message of the dream was clear to the saint: keep going, do not lose faith in God or His calling! For Don Bosco, challenges would always remain, such as financing. Don Bosco kept going and did not lose faith in God. His mother, a 59-year old poor peasant, even left her house and sold her jewelry to become a mother (“Mamma Margherita”) to those her son took in, eventually numbering 800! Acts of faith such as these reflect the fact that human works are very limited; it is God who is able to do the impossible. One can see this also evident in the efforts of St. Mother Teresa in the streets of Calcutta, the witness of the shepherd children who saw our Lady at Fatima, or the strength and determination of Mother Angelica in the founding of the Eternal Word Television Network.
In surrendering ourselves to be like “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God,” as Mother Teresa referenced in an interview, and not worrying about human measures of success, we can follow the example of saints like Don Bosco who effected great change in both society and the individual lives of those they served. The saints never worked for their own sake, but simply did the work they were guided to do by Providence. To echo the words of Don Bosco, “I have done nothing by myself. It is the Virgin Mary who has done everything.”
I have always admired Mother Teresa and her incredible mission, along with her reflective heart. I am so happy that I can now call upon her as St. Teresa of Calcutta, as she was just canonized on September 4, 2016! As I have studied and learned more about her, it seems as if St. Teresa of Calcutta would have dreaded knowing of her public canonization! She never wanted her writings or her work to bring attention to herself, but rather, she only desired to bring hearts to Jesus Christ. In her honor, I want to reflect on how her understanding of the world can bring our focus less on her and bring our hearts to Jesus.
St. Teresa of Calcutta taught us that God is in every living thing. She wrote, “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, all the time, and his hand in every happening; This is what it means to be contemplative in the heart of the world. Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor” (St. Teresa of Calcutta, In the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers).
Furthermore, St. Teresa of Calcutta taught us to seek Christ in every person we encounter. She recognized that each human being is created uniquely and beautifully. Each person is the face of God calling us to serve God by serving them. As Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me’” (Matthew 25:34-36).
When we love through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as St. Teresa of Calcutta did, we are better able to see God more clearly in others. Imitating Christ by practicing the works of mercy also invites us to and see him more clearly in the Eucharist. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist was essential for St. Teresa of Calcutta, as she knew Jesus was the fuel to teach her how to love others better and bring more souls into God’s embrace. She recognized that Christ’s love lives on in his humility of becoming our Eucharistic food and in the hearts of the poor, which includes the physically, mentally, and spiritually poor.
Bringing souls to Christ was a deep mission of St. Teresa of Calcutta. She consistently reflected over two of Jesus’ last words of his Passion – “I thirst” – and had them written next to the crucifixes in the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity (the religious order St. Teresa of Calcutta established in 1950) to remind her sisters that their mission was to satiate Christ’s thirsts for souls. When going to Jesus at the Cross, St. Teresa of Calcutta wanted us to feel his thirst and love for us. She believed that Christ wants us to rest in his love.
St. Teresa of Calcutta left behind a deep legacy of letting the world know just how loved and treasured we are. Her message teaches us that God loves us deeply and thirsts for us. When we know we are deeply loved by God, we can endure any suffering because we know joy is possible in the midst of carrying our own crosses. St. Teresa of Calcutta felt the pain of Jesus’ Passion deeply in her work in the slums of Calcutta and in the contemplations of her heart. She witnessed suffering first-hand taking care of the poorest of the poor and also experienced feelings of desolation and dryness in the spiritual life. Throughout it all, her joy remained full and she devoutly loved the Lord. St. Teresa of Calcutta is a beautiful witness of the mystery of suffering with Christ joyfully.
As we contemplate the great love, faith, and work of St. Teresa of Calcutta , we can pray with one of her favorite prayers: The Memorare. With such deep trust for God, she was consistently confident in the Lord’s ability to work miracles. Often, she prayed an “emergency novena,” praying nine Memorares in a row and a tenth in thanksgiving to God for a holy request. With confidence in our Lord, and thanksgiving for the testimony of St. Teresa of Calcutta, let us run to Jesus through Mary, that we may become steadfast in holiness, find joy in suffering, quench the thirst of Christ, and be confident in the good work that God is doing within us!
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thine intercession was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Alyce Shields is a teacher in Washington D.C.
Just like Rebecca discussed in her post last week, I also had the privilege of attending the Catholic Leadership Conference at The Catholic University of America. While at the conference, there were a number of presentations about how our Catholic faith impacts leadership. One of the key aspects that truly underlines all decision-making is prayer. Prayer can be just about anything, and that constant dialogue with God can help fortify any sort of decision that we have to make. The keynote speaker of the conference, Col. Larry Morris, dedicated a decent portion of his address on his own personal prayer. He discussed how he began and ended every day in prayer. Being a military man and lawyer, he found that structured prayer was his way of findings God's support for the day.
Prayer is an essential part of faith that allows for heaven and earth to interact on a very personal level. The Church puts great emphasis on prayer and how it penetrates every aspect of life. The Church has even devoted the fourth and final section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to prayer and what prayer means. Mother Teresa often spoke about payer and how prayer affects the individual. She once said, "Prayer makes your heart bigger, until it is capable of containing the gift of God himself. Prayer begets faith, faith begets love, and love begets service on behalf of the poor."
Prayer can transform the heart in ways that are inexplicable. It is done in such a way that it can be perceptible and communal. While prayer is that moment of personal connection with God, it is still part of our community within the Church. We pray as a Church, and that sense of community can come in a number of different ways. The most evident example of this is in the celebration of Mass. Mass is an opportunity where the physical and divine can meet; it is where Jesus physically is present within us. Mass is where the community of believers can come together wherever they are and be united in that one moment. The second example comes from other common prayers of the Church, such as devotions, novenas, and other prayers that have developed over the centuries. Here the same words of prayer are expressed all across the world in hundreds different languages and, in a similar manner to the Mass, they unite us all. The final example is our own personal prayer that often occurs with no structure or sometimes, even without words. This personal prayer is a part of the common desire to speak with God that unites the world.
When prayer gets brought into decision-making, the process instantly changes. Instead of making quick decisions based on outside forces, prayer helps guide us to the decision with a certain amount of comfort. Daily prayer can help answer the small day-to-day decision. Prayer is also a great resource when major decisions come up. We will each face major decisions in our lives, and the types of decisions are unique to us. When we bring it prayer, we can make a clearer and firmer decision.
Pat Fricchione is the Research and Production Associate for the Catholic Apostolate Center
"Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."
-Blessed Mother Theresa
Growing up attending Catholic schools my entire life, the life and teachings of Mother Theresa were always something that I was familiar with. There is something about an Albanian woman who gives up her life to serve the poor and dying in the slums of Calcutta that makes people stop and evaluate their own lives. It’s incredible to imagine one person completely uprooting their own life and going to try to combat the extremes of poverty in India. Mother Theresa embraced Catholic Social Teaching on the dignity of the human person and went above and beyond in her ministry. In theory, we would all like to have as much of an impact as Mother Theresa. However, the average person today recognizes his or her own inability to make such an extreme lifestyle change. We are comfortable in our lives today and uprooting them like Mother Theresa did is something we are not prepared to do. Making a huge impact, while desirable, is not usually possible for most of us.
Even Mother Theresa recognized that her decisions were extreme, and not something most people are prepared to do. She knew that not everyone could do what she did with her life. Her words remind us that even if we can't make such an extreme life-change, we can still impact the world on a smaller, but still meaningful, scale.
In this last week, these words have taken on a deeper meaning for me. Having just finished over a week of training to be a Resident Assistant at my university. I am exhausted and excited, but mostly, inspired. One of the main points that our supervisors made during our training is that we as RA's have a tremendous impact in the smallest ways possible. Mother Theresa's words are a good reminder to me that being a presence with my residents is the most important thing I can do. Sometimes, all a student needs is someone to listen to them, no matter how insignificant their problems may seem. College students can make poor decisions, and the role of an RA is often to discipline those decisions and enforce rules that many of these students disagree with. We are seen as students with nothing better to do than get our residents in trouble. The reality is, I enforce the rules and document my residents because I care about them. I recognize that very often it will feel like a thankless task, my residents will blame me initially when their decisions result in disciplinary sanctions. But I hope that even when I do have to have these harder conversations and confrontations, they will eventually come to realize that I do my job out of love for them.
In our daily lives, we often forget how even the smallest gestures can make the most meaningful impacts. If we live our lives as Mother Theresa suggests, doing the small things with great love, our lives might have even more of an impact than we realize. In the gospel this past weekend, we heard the “greatest commandments” from Christ himself: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37,39). Love can take many forms, and the smallest gestures can be the biggest examples of love.
Rebecca Ruesch is Blog Editor at the Catholic Apostolate Center.
In 1979, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, then Mother Teresa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition of reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Below is a portion of her Nobel Lecture in which she speaks of the joy in her work of enkindling charity and the call we have to pass on this joy to others.
And so here I am talking with you - I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door-neighbor - do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long- do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children- their eyes shining with hunger - I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her - where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew- and who are they, a Muslim family - and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins- at home…
…And I know well that you have not given from your abundance, but you have given until it has hurt you. Today the little children they have- I was so surprised - there is so much joy for the children that are hungry. That the children like themselves will need love and care and tenderness, like they get so much from their parents. So let us thank God that we have had this opportunity to come to know each other, and this knowledge of each other has brought us very close. And we will be able to help not only the children of India and Africa, but will be able to help the children of the whole world, because as you know our Sisters are all over the world. And with this prize that I have received as a prize of peace, I am going to try to make the home for many people that have no home. Because I believe that love begins at home, and if we can create a home for the poor- I think that more and more love will spread. And we will be able through this understanding love to bring peace, be good news to the poor. The poor in our own family first, in our country and in the world.
To be able to do this, our Sisters, our lives have to be woven with prayer. They have to be woven with Christ to be able to understand, to be able to share. Because today there is so much suffering - and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again - are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.
And so let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love, and once we begin to love each other naturally we want to do something. So you pray for our Sisters and for me and for our Brothers, and for our Co-Workers that are around the world. That we may remain faithful to the gift of God, to love Him and serve Him in the poor together with you. What we have done we should not have been able to do if you did not share with your prayers, with your gifts, this continual giving. But I don't want you to give me from your abundance, I want that you give me until it hurts.
The other day I received 15 dollars from a man who has been on his back for twenty years, and the only part that he can move is his right hand. And the only companion that he enjoys is smoking. And he said to me: I do not smoke for one week, and I send you this money. It must have been a terrible sacrifice for him, but see how beautiful, how he shared, and with that money I bought bread and I gave to those who are hungry with a joy on both sides, he was giving and the poor were receiving. This is something that you and I- it is a gift of God to us to be able to share our love with others. And let it be as it was for Jesus. Let us love one another as he loved us. Let us love Him with undivided love. And the joy of loving Him and each other- let us give now - that Christmas is coming so close. Let us keep that joy of loving Jesus in our hearts. And share that joy with all that we come in touch with. And that radiating joy is real, for we have no reason not to be happy because we have no Christ with us. Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor that we meet, Christ in the smile that we give and the smile that we receive. Let us make that one point: That no child will be unwanted, and also that we meet each other always with a smile, especially when it is difficult to smile.