I (Gratefully) Blame You, MT

I blame Mother Teresa for one of my more irresponsible life choices.

As today is Saint Mother Teresa’s feast day, I contemplate why it is that I love her. It goes back to my first real encounter with her in the book, A Simple Path

A group of people enamored by Mother Teresa’s life of love in action set out to learn more about her. What was it about this small-in-stature woman that attracted so many, Christians and non-Christians alike?

Mother Teresa agreed to meet with this group of film producers and storytellers. She said, “I can tell you about my path, but I’m only a little wire – God is the power. Talk to the others, the sisters and the brothers and the people who work with them. Some are not Christians, talk to them. You will know what it is when you see it. It is very beautiful.”

So simple that she carried it around as a “business card” and so beautiful in its ability to change your life and mine, this is her Simple Path:

 

The fruit of silence is

PRAYER.

The fruit of prayer is 

FAITH.

The fruit of faith is 

LOVE.

The fruit of love is

SERVICE.

The fruit of service is 

PEACE.

 

When I first encountered Mother Teresa’s Simple Path, I was in the spring semester of my senior year at the University of Notre Dame. Like others, I was occupied with my future, applying for post-grad programs and jobs. I wanted to do a year of service after leaving Notre Dame before applying for Masters programs. As I set up interviews, something wasn’t quite right. I was in love with Ian, and I knew working with a service program that would place me where they needed me would mean extending our already long-distance relationship.

As a loving mother and companion, Saint Mother Teresa encouraged me to seek God in the silent whisperings of my heart. In that space began a real encounter with God. An encounter of honesty, of conversation, of listening, of sometimes hearing nothing, of being nudged where I didn’t think I would go, of waves of peace and clarity. That type of authentic encounter is what we call prayer.

And through prayer, something happened. Things like purpose, confidence, and hope came alive in me. I began to walk as a person of faith. 

Now to my irresponsible decision. I graduated from the University of Notre Dame without a solid plan. I had no job, no year of service solidified, no internship.

What God spoke to me in the silence of prayer, and in discerning conversations with others, was that I had a choice. I could choose to trust him, move closer to Ian, find service work where I went, find a job to pay the rent, or I could invest in a program that would put more distance between Ian and me.

While some advised that I was being irresponsible and we would probably just break up in the end, I chose to trust what God was speaking to my heart.

As a person who is tempted to invest much in being seen as capable, responsible and generally on top of her stuff to the outside world, I was flabbergasted by what I was doing. And yet, I felt joy and peace. I knew God was directing me and would be with me.

Soon after graduation, Ian and I got engaged. I moved to Austin, TX where a generous family offered to put me up in their home. They introduced me to a friend who was opening a store, and needed some help. Looks like I had a job. I searched for different nonprofits and churches that I could serve intentionally with. I found a home of service with a hospice organization and with a high school youth group at a local Catholic Church. This all took but two weeks to manifest. I recall looking around and within, in awe at God’s faithfulness.

This is my love of MT. I love her because she held my hand as I looked around, not knowing where to go. She encouraged me to seek God in the silence. To be brave enough to hear the voice of God that is not an obtrusive shout or unsolicited advice, but accompanying consolation. She continues to mentor me in both the humility and confidence of faith. Something that this world rarely understands, let alone praises. I thank God today for gifting me and gifting our world with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Saint Mother Teresa, pray for us!

Trying to Live a Wide-Awake Life

I recently overheard one of our high school students reflecting on her life and faith. She felt bored in life, and asked God to give her some challenge so that she could grow. As I passed by, I couldn’t help but think (actually, say out loud to myself), “Oh, girl, you don’t know what you are asking for. Life will hit you with plenty of challenges sooner than you’d like.”

We go through seasons where life seems to be a school in our frailty and incompleteness as human beings. As I move through life right now, I have many dear to me who are deeply struggling. There are darknesses of disease, both physical and psychological, unemployment, infertility, instability. And, as we live together and love each other, we take on each other’s burdens in certain ways. Sometimes physically, and often in thought, emotional energy, and through prayer. 

I work during the summertime, but there is a different pace with fewer students on campus. So, when I saw a morning of prayer – Discovering our Sacred Stories- at the Loyola Institute for Spirituality, I jumped on the opportunity. I wanted the time away from work and anticipated a potentially nice spiritual refresh. God wanted more.

As I walked onto the campus, I was met by a breeze streaming through the garden that hit me with peace. I looked around at the planned but not fully manicured space and felt calm joy. God wanted me here today.

When our incompleteness is met with gentleness. God’s mercy.

Our morning was based on the Examination of Consciousness, which I would highly suggest trying if you aren’t familiar with it. It is a beautifully simple and pragmatic form of prayer given to us by St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. 

As we eased our way into prayer, we began with words I had not heard for a time, but needed to hear. Patient Trust by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ. He begins, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” And ends, “Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” 

I needed this affirmation- God is at work in me; and, I am incomplete and feel so. It is the marriage of these two realities that is potentially life changing- God, help me to be present to your Presence in my life. I don’t see how you are working, and I don’t understand your ways. But, help me to believe in and look for your slow work.

When we look around, believing in the slow work of God, we begin to see that there is always life coming forth. Even in darkness, there is growth; there is newness, there is movement; there is Someone working within us.

As we sit and work and walk and wait today, let’s do so with eyes open, trying to live a wide-awake life.

What is your main thing?

Sometimes we have days or weeks when the hardness or complexity of life socks us in the gut and pries open our minds and hearts. This was one of those weeks for me with the collision of my children getting quite ill, learning of the death of a too-young good woman, and reflecting on the story and image of a father and his two-year-old who drown in the Rio Grande, looking for life.

My reaction to encountering these realities was frustration, bordering on irritation, with how much time we (myself included) spend on things that don’t matter. How many hours do we spend day-dreaming about things we don’t have; how many conversations are spent speaking judgingly or enviously of others; how much time dedicated toward self-improvement for the sake of feeling good about ourselves and fulfilling only own our needs; how much money put toward accumulation of things that will give us only momentary delight.

I am not saying that we should not enjoy life, because certainly, life is meant to be enjoyed. Why else would God give us each other, the absurd generosity and beauty of creation, the ability to make delicious food, the creativity to make music and write.

But, here is my question- How much of what we do really contributes to life-giving freedom, and how much of what we do enslaves us to all that the world wants us to believe will make us feel free?  

In the first reading today (Gal 5: 1, 13-18), Saint Paul says, “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love.” 

How often do I use my free will for things that actually make me free? True freedom is choosing the good. Choosing that which brings us into closer and more loving relationship with ourselves, each other, and God.

And how often do I use my free will ways that enslave me to my insecurities and temporary things? How often do I use my free will in ways that inhibit true intimacy in relationships, and lead me away from the source of Life and Love?

On the night of our rehearsal dinner, my father-in-law gave a speech wherein he told Ian and me to “keep the main thing the main thing.” I don’t know if he expected it to stick as much as it did, but “keep the main thing the main thing” has became a family motto of sorts. It is simple, but it speaks truth to how to rightly orient our hearts, minds, and bodies. It speaks truth to how to answer God’s call to freedom.

What is your main thing, and how central are you keeping it in the way that you live?

How ’bout a little mystery?

When was the last time you were satisfied with something being unknown in your life?

Personally, I am not always great at dwelling in the mystery of things (even as someone who studied theology i.e., faith seeking understanding). When I am confused about something that I’m going through in life, it’s more of a “What the heck is going on? Where is God in all of this?, and When will it end so that I can get on to a more fulfilling version of life?”

Maybe it’s a human thing to not like uncertainty. But, I think it’s harder for us at this point in history. With some device never too far away, we have access to information whenever we want it. It’s not always reliable information, but it’s there, and it gives us a sense of control.

This challenges living a life of faith. Not because God is not reliable. God is more reliable than whatever is on our smartphones. But because God is not as easy as picking up a phone and searching for something on Google. We have questions for God, but our information-on-demand style isn’t quite how God works. And, honestly, that isn’t how life works.

How many times in life have you been unsure about what is happening, facing something that no article or social media post will fix? It’s part of the rhythm and story of life- unemployment, injury, illness, death, becoming a parent, breaking up, periods of transition.

While we want to validate God’s usefulness based on quantifiable evidence or immediate results, God isn’t a click-and-deliver kind of deal (at least not most of the time).

I was praying with a devotional earlier this week, and this was part of the morning prayer, “Lift up your voices to glorify the LORD/ as much as you can, for there is still more./ Extol him with renewed strength,/ do not grow weary, for you cannot fathom him” (Sirach 43: 28-30).

And I remembered something that I love and often forget about God. God is so much greater than I am. God is mystery, but that mystery is not bad and does not disqualify God. That mystery is worthy of awe and praise. In God’s mystery, a child is being knit together in my womb right now. In God’s mystery, I was formed in my mother’s womb. In God’s loving mystery, I met my spouse at an awkward freshman orientation dance when he was a college senior and I a college junior. In God’s mystery, we go through trials, but are given compassionate people who revive in us hope and strength. In God’s creative mystery, the sun rises every morning and sets every night.

If I’m being honest, the parts of my life that have at one point been mystery to me or that came to me without my doing are the most beautiful. And that is a total gift.

So, let’s invite God’s mystery into our lives and remember that the One we are entrusting ourselves to is Love itself, Creator of all. There’s nothing to fear.