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The young woman prays: Jesus, my own Jesus – I am only Thine – I am so stupid – I do not know what to say but do with me whatever You wish – as You wish – as long as you wish. [But] why can’t I be a perfect Loreto Nun – here – why can’t I be like everybody else? Jesus responds, I want Indian Nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children … You are, I know, the most incapable person – weak and sinful but just because you are that – I want to use you for My glory. Will you refuse?
Who was the young woman? She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, but she is now known as the Saint of Calcutta – Mother Teresa. That prayer dialogue she told to her superior in 1947. In 1948 she was given permission to begin her ministry in India. She started out alone, a small woman in her white and blue habit. When she died in 1997, the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, consisted of 610 missions in 123 countries including the US. In 1979 she won the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. She donated the $192,000 cash prize to the poor of India. Let’s face it, when we get to heaven and are standing in line waiting to get through the pearly gates, she really is the one that we do not want to find ourselves behind.
Now, let me share another prayer with you: “Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? … Where is my Faith – even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness … I am told God loves me – and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Heaven means nothing.” Those sound like the words of someone who has lost their faith and left the church. Someone who no longer believes in God, yet that are also the prayer of Mother Teresa.
God called her to serve the poor in India, but for the fifty years that followed, she reports that she felt spiritually dry. Empty. She later would find comfort in the words that Jesus spoke from the Cross, “My God, My God. Why have you forsaken me?” She came to understand that in his distance, God was keeping her humble, so that she would not take pride in her successes, but that still did not make it any less painful.
When I read of these revelations of Mother Teresa’s life in one of her biographies, Come be My Light, I couldn’t help but think of a passage from the Song of Solomon: “My lover tried to unlatch the door, and my heart thrilled within me. I jumped up to open the door for my love, and my hands dripped with perfume. My fingers dripped with lovely myrrh as I pulled back the bolt. I opened to my lover, but he was gone! My heart sank. I searched for him but could not find him anywhere. I called to him, but there was no reply.”
The young woman knew the thrill and beauty of her lover, but now he was gone and lost to her. The same was true for Mother Teresa, she knew the love of Jesus deep within her heart. She had spoken to him, had visions of him, but then he was no where to be found.
We all experience these dry empty seasons, when God seems to have completely turned away and forgotten us. I don’t know how well I would do if I had to endure fifty years of it, but during those times, the most important thing we can do is follow the example that Mother Teresa set, and that is to remain faithful to what God originally called you to. Do not see these dry spells as God abandoning you, but see them as God trusting you and the Spirit he has placed in your soul. He has faith in you to persevere in good times and… not so good times. When all else fails, be obedient as Jesus was — “obedient unto death, even to death on a cross.”
2 Replies to “Sermon: St. Teresa of Calcutta”
This was a great word for me! I was contemplating this very thing this morning, about why it feels like I am on a roller coaster of sorts on my spiritual path. One morning I will wake up and feel so connected to God and feel Him working through me and I have a really great day and then the next day or two I feel so disconnected, conflicted, and useless. I always wonder what the heck happened! But you answered my question and now I think I understand a bit more. Thank you for this great word.
Thanks. This is a topic that we should also discuss on a Sunday, because so many folks struggle with it.