There is an internet email that most Catholics have seen, that includes a picture of the former pope with the founder of the Missionary of Charity. Both are sterling examples of the vocational life, and in this “Year of the Priest,” ought to be considered study by those seeking discernment, for their solid theological reasoning, their strong body of good works and the total witness they bore through the ends of their lives to their love of our savior, Jesus Christ. Both individuals though not beatified, reveal through the public story of their complete lives, what a total commitment to Christ requires and how that same commitment transforms everything.
“I have loved Jesus in the night.”
For me, blessed Mother Teresa has become a recent close companion. Her admonition to do little things with great love is a daily mantra when I feel taxed by toddlers who move from room to room, finding markers, dumping laundry, ferreting out apples from the refrigerator whenever I let my guard down, attempt to do something outside their eyesight, or take a phone call. But the silence she felt in her prayer life, that closed suffering she endured, was a great gift to the modern world. She witnessed how faith endures and becomes purified, by the silent agony at the foot of the cross.
As a person who loved Christ first and only, she could see her own flaws and how they kept her from her beloved. Every sin, even original sin, keeps us from full communion with Christ. All of our ego must be surrendered if we would enter into the kingdom of God. We must shed everything to be as we once were, in Eden before the fall, and even that requires God’s grace and our willing submission. Our first sin was a fundamental act of disobedience. Mother Teresa understood in her deepest heart, that all sin kept us from Christ. She went through a purgatory of the spirit while living, such that she would be able to begin her work of great love in little things in Heaven immediately. We need her little ways that held such steely conviction despite spiritual suffering. Hers was the model of how we must be the Good Samaritan, how we must embrace the suffering and bring them comfort because it is right. Hers was the quiet answer to the many shouts of atheism that currently are the rage.
She loved Jesus in the night. She was a faithful virgin waiting for the bridegroom, not knowing the hour but knowing it would come.
Likewise, we needed Pope John Paul II’s charismatic rock solid faith. His humility and straight forward capacity to present to the world the model of a Father in love with all of his children was as inspiring as his quiet endurance of his physical sufferings. His was a model of how we should live bravely and speak truthfully and love always, and that these things would even allow one to walk bravely towards death, while all the time holding onto life and embracing the beauty and goodness of this world. He was the faithful servant who understood that taking up one’s cross and following Christ had to be done joyfully if it would be done as Christ directed, and that this included suffering unto death in an unrushed manner.
Modern sensibilities confuse genuine joy as emulated by these two holy people with a Disney Princess type exuberance generated from unfounded optimism based on an ignorance of upcoming trials.. Neither Mother Teresa nor Pope John Paul were unschooled in the brutal nature of our existence or the ways in which the very tasks they were assigned could devour rather than perfect their souls. They knew that all their works could turn to dust, that there would always be more poor, that not everyone would hear what they had to say or embrace it, and still they knew that these works, these tasks, these sufferings were crafted to burn away from them what kept them from Christ. Fully aware of their need for God’s mercy, both Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa put on joy like a cloak for their daily lives’ work. So we are called, to put on joy when we are engaged in the humblest of activities, and facing the most dire of situations. Both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul allowed their vocations to rewrite their lives in a radical manner. That is what a true vocation does; it remakes us in Christ’s image when we consent to wear joy in all that we do.
Let us hope that this year, many fine men take up the call to wear joy.