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Mother Teresa’s Special Law of Love

WEB Mother Teresa Painting 001

Denise Krebs

Heather King - published on 05/13/14

Jesus isn’t going to ask if we memorized our Catechism, but if we were willing to share our last crust of bread.

In solitude on the Central Coast of California recently, I read a book called The Love That Made Mother Teresa by David Scott. Scott happens to be Vice Chancellor for Communications at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the book is subtitled “How Her Secret Visions and Dark Nights Can Help You Conquer the Slums of Your Heart.”

The book is simply written, accessible, and anecdotal. Scott beautifully captures the strangeness and paradox of the life of a saint. Mother Teresa lived to see the global reach of the internet and social media, yet the biographical details of her own youth and even adult life remain shrouded in mystery. She shunned the limelight but suffered the intrusions of photographers and TV cameras, offering up her discomfort for love of the poor. She kissed the leper, and she also dined with and accepted money from dictators.

Like Christ, in other words, she resisted identifying herself with either the right or the left. Like Christ, she fed the poor and she also knew that man does not live by bread alone. “Visiting one of her missionary outposts in Nezahualcóyotl, Mexico, a slum where people lived in huts of corrugated metal and plywood and breathed the foul stench of factory waste and diesel fumes, she asked the people what their greatest need was. One man spoke for the rest. ‘La palabra de Dios,’ he said simply—the Word of God.”

Like many of us, perhaps, I struggle with the meaning of the New Evangelization. Evangelize to what? I sometimes wonder. Evangelize to whom? What does conversion even mean? I can be following the rules to a T, but when was the last time I wept at the trill of a bird, or a branch against the sky at dusk, or an unfurling leaf? When’s the last time I forgave someone? When’s the last time I apologized to someone? How intensely does my heart yearn? How willing am I to suffer? Those are things that can’t be measured or analyzed or reduced to a stat.

As a person who writes, blogs, and speaks of my faith I have to take care that, in an effort to get readers, I don’t try to make religion “palatable”: respectable, homogenized, non-threating, non-stimulating, safe, secure, an extension of and indistinguishable from the culture at large. I get to call people to an adventure. But to do that, I have to be living the adventure myself. I have to be living in a certain kind of precariousness.

Mother Teresa owned little more than a sari and a Bible. Clearly, she was squarely behind, with, and grounded in Christ. Yet in one of the most striking passages of the book, Scott notes:

Making converts to Jesus, however, was not her focus. Rather, she tried to make converts to love. Only God can change a person’s heart, she would say. Her job was to love—to radiate the love of Christ and, through her works of love, to how people God’s love for them. By her love, she hoped to draw men and women near to God. For there, she said, it’s up to God to take people the rest of the way.

How ego-deflating: We don’t evangelize; God does. Conversion is a mysterious, usually long, slow process that is entirely out of our hands. As soon as we think we’re doing the converting, that we have a special mission to convert, a kind of competitive edge can creep into our thoughts and heart.

Scott continues:

‘We bear witness to the love of God’s presence,” [Mother Teresa] said, ‘and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this reason better men—simply better—we will be satisfied. Growing up in love they will be nearer to God and will find him in his goodness.’

The Way, the Truth, the Life, is love. Not prosperity, or high numbers, or the restoration of health as Mother Teresa, whose Home for Dying Destitutes in Calcutta was hard by the funeral pyre, knew well. The law is love.

I say this for myself because the struggle between self and God is waged daily—hourly. It’s easy to puff up with pride at how many people “liked” my pro-life or anti-war rant. But how do I act when the laptop screen is dark? How kind, attentive, and present am I to the people around me when the combox is closed for the night? How hidden is my real life in Christ?

Mother Teresa reminds us that when the time comes to separate the sheep from the goats, Christ isn’t going to care whether we had five twitter followers, or fifty thousand.  

He’s not going to be terribly impressed that we memorized our Catechism.

He’s going to care whether we were willing to share our last crust of bread.

Heather Kingis a Catholic convert, sober alcoholic, and writer whose most recent book is STRIPPED: Cancer, Culture and The Cloud of Unknowing. She speaks nationwide and blogs at Heather King: Mystery, Smarts, Laughs. For more, see her new About page.

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