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Seeking Mother Teresa (and God) in Calcutta

I needed to know, "How did she have so much faith?"

KOLKATA, INDIA:  Indian nuns of Missionaries of Charity gesture as they sing rhymes standing beside a big potrait of the late Mother Teresa while taking part in a prayer to observe her 8th death anniversary, at Mother House in Kolkata, 05 September 2005.  A few hundred nuns with a good number of volunteers took part in the morning prayer to mark the day.    AFP PHOTO/Deshakalyan CHOWDHURY  (Photo credit should read DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images)

DESHAKALYAN CHOWDHURY/AFP/Getty Images

(Practicing Mercy #38) Take a few minutes during the week to stop at a church and sit before the Tabernacle simply to be with Christ, the Merciful. If you cannot do that, meditate upon the crucifix.

The first time I felt the nudge, I was kneeling in St. Mary’s Church in Krakow during World Youth Day. I was still processing everything that I’d experienced that week, when Mother Teresa came to mind. She had so much faith, so much trust, I thought … and look where it led. As I left the church, I couldn’t shake my musings about the intensity of her faith in spite of the challenges. How does one get that kind of faith?

I needed to know.

That question led to the next: “Why not go to Calcutta for the canonization of Mother Teresa and see what can be learned from those who knew her best?”

And so the adventure began…

More to read:  6 Things to read to get to know Mother Teresa

It turns out traveling to India isn’t as easy as getting on a jet, sipping a Martini, and getting your passport stamped. You need a visa and vaccinations … not to mention money.

But even before all that, I needed to contact the Missionaries of Charity to see if they would allow me to join them in Calcutta. This was what I thought would be the biggest hurdle, as they seem to prefer remaining under the radar and away from media coverage. But after a few weeks of correspondence, they agreed to let me join them. I was ecstatic! “This must be God’s will!” I figured.

But as I pressed on with the planning, I began to hit roadblock after roadblock: visa troubles, money troubles, vaccination troubles, trouble troubles. It began to look so bleak that I wondered if, in fact, it really was God’s will.

This got me questioning. How do you know what God’s will is in anything? Where is the line between waiting for the phone to ring, and picking it up and making the call yourself? Where and when are we supposed to “let go and let God”? How much work does God want us to do ourselves, and when does that become about us and our will, replacing God’s will? My head was spinning.

Just how hard should I fight for this?

So, I prayed … and prayed … and prayed. And a few things were revealed.

First off, it’s a lot easier to be directed by God when you’re close to him. Like a child holding the hand of his father, when you’re connected there’s never any doubt about where Dad’s going or what he wants you to go. Translation? If we want to know God’s will for us, we need to be in a close relationship with him. The closer we are, the clearer things become.

Another thing I discovered is that doing God’s will isn’t a comfy ride. Sometimes there can be herculean challenges, but these challenges should drive us to grasp even tighter to the hand of our Father, bringing us even closer to him. Understanding, or discerning, something can only come from being close to Christ’s heart, close enough to hear his heartbeat. This of course, is the greatest challenge. It means letting go of attachments and the things we cling to in life. We need to turn from sin, which is the letting-go of God’s loving hand. And we need to spend time with him, which is what every father wants with his child.

In my prayer, the question changed from “How do I know God’s will?” to “How can I get closer to God?” — because in doing the latter, the former answers itself.

I had an assignment that brought me into New York City yesterday. I was invited by my dad to meet up with him and my son Michael — ironically, to pay a visit to the Missionaries of Charity in the Bronx. Due to my work schedule, it was pretty inconvenient, but I agreed …

We arrived at the nondescript house on 135th Street and were joined by a Sister who sat at a simple table with us. As a Missionary of Charity, she’s far from the distraction of devices. The presence of her presence drew us in. She undoubtedly had plenty of things to do, but she was there — just to be — with us.

It came up that I was striving to get to Calcutta to experience the canonization from the place it all began. The Sister stopped, turned toward me and smiled. Her eyes locked on mine and something happened. I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be — that it was no accident or coincidence that I was in that house, with those Sisters, with both my father and my son (a minor miracle in itself). Sister asked if I would like a relic of Mother Teresa to carry with me on my journey to Calcutta, so that the saint would be close to me as I traveled. It was as if Sister already knew I’d be on that plane …

A little later we were ushered into a chapel where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed. The windows were open, revealing the grates and bars behind, and all the smells and sounds of the city came through — a complete contrast to the heavenly peace that filled the room.

A solitary Sister seated on the floor in the middle of the chapel was gazing at Jesus in the Eucharist. Her face revealed the peace and joy she was experiencing. She was looking at him … and he was looking at her … I can only imagine what his gaze looked like. You could feel the Presence of God in that room.

As I knelt down with one question on my mind, ”Why am I here?,” I got the answer: “To be here with Me.”

Things are falling into place and it looks like I will be making it to Calcutta, but that’s not what’s most important. What’s important in what I’m learning on the way …

[Aleteia will be transmitting Jeffrey’s images and experiences from Calcutta as they come in. Stay tuned. -Ed.]

Andrew Garrett

Jeffrey Bruno

Jeffrey Bruno is art director for Aleteia.org.
http://www.jeffreybruno.com