We’re always happy to share the good news about new books, and even more so when the books come from amazing friends of CatholicMom.com. Over the years, Heidi Hess Saxton has shared so much good inspiration here at the site. This Advent season, we’re celebrating the launch of her latest book, Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations. As you’ll see in my conversation with Heidi, she has been so greatly inspired by the life and legacy of the amazing woman we all call “Mother”. Today, Heidi invites us to ponder how journeying with Mother Teresa this Advent season can draw us ever closer to Christ.
Q: Heidi, congratulations on the release of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations! The book is so beautiful! It’s been such a joy over the years to watch your writing career and ministry flourish. And of course, we’re always grateful for your ongoing support of CatholicMom.com. Before we dive in, please give us a little update on your family.
Thanks, Lisa! I’m so grateful for you – and friends like you – who have been so supportive over the years. Craig and I are living with our children (Chris, 16, and Sarah, 14) near South Bend, Indiana. Everyone is doing well, and the kids are working hard at high school. I’m currently freelancing as a writer and editor, speaking and blogging about my two latest “literary children” meditation books published by Franciscan Media, Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations and Lent with St. Teresa of Calcutta (available January 2017).
The September 2016 canonization of Mother Teresa provided a wonderful excuse to explore the life and writings of one of my favorite saints. Like me, Mother Teresa experienced a “mid-life correction” at the age of thirty-six, when God called her from her life as a teaching sister to work among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. As I read about the life of this remarkable woman, I saw themes that are particularly suited for reflection during Advent: starting over, waiting in darkness, and loving Jesus who often comes to us in most distressing disguises.
Like many of us, Mother Teresa experienced motherhood alternately as a source of great blessing and of terrible isolation and darkness. She knew that God had called her to do what she was doing, yet she couldn’t always experience a sense of God’s presence in her life. So she proceeded in simple obedience, out of love for God, to do even the most unpalatable tasks, simply out of love for God. I think many women can relate to this. I know I can.
Q: How has the writing of this book impacted the way you personally will pray Advent this year?
Saint Teresa wrote:
The season of Advent is like springtime in nature,
When everything is renewed and is fresh and healthy.
Advent is also meant to do this to us –
To refresh us and make us healthy,
To be able to receive Christ
In whatever form he may come to us. (Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta, xiii).
This idea of renewal, of starting over, is particularly on my heart this year. Just a few weeks ago I lost my job (along with several others) at Franciscan Media due to corporate downsizing. While it came as a bit of a shock, I also see this as one of the ways God closes one chapter of life in order to open another one. These past few weeks have been dedicated to launching Advent with St. Teresa of Calcutta, and revisiting the stories of how she responded to the spiritual and physical needs of all she encountered. This Advent, it has been a great blessing to be reminded of the fact that – job or no job – I can always contribute to the needs of others.
At times I’ve also been on the receiving end of grace, which can be hard but is also important to embrace sometimes. I’ve been amazed, and deeply touched, at the expressions of sympathy and solidarity that have come from author friends and others . So many have tried to encourage me with reminders that God has a plan – and of course, they are right. In the meantime, I’ve been staying busy – last weekend, I made 10 gingerbread houses with the high school youth group at my parish, and helped to host the Secular Franciscan Fraternity Profession. The quickest way to get out a slump is to look for a way to help . . . and fortunately, those opportunities are always plentiful if we know where to look!
Q: Why is it so critical that we take “A Moment to Reflect” and “A Moment to Pray” during the busyness of the Advent season?
All authentic prayer is a two-way street. We have to practice the discipline of silence in order to hear God speak to us. The questions I pose in “A Moment to Reflect” are meant to help the reader ponder the ways God has been at work in their lives, speaking to them through Scripture, through circumstances, and even through other people. “A Moment to Pray” is a simple way to continue the dialogue with God and the saints. In good times and bad, each time we acknowledge the presence of God and the communion of saints, we find the strength to do, as Mother Teresa called them, “Small things with great love.”
Q: For many, Advent and the Christmas season are filled with challenges and trials. How can basing our Advent devotional prayer time around the life and message of Saint Teresa perhaps be a balm for those who suffer during this season?
So many people experience or recall great losses during this joyful season, and it can be tempting to pull within ourselves in our suffering. Mother Teresa was a terrific model for rising above suffering, allowing it to stretch and soften our hearts so we can be more compassionate. She taught us not to rely on our feelings, but to obey and trust in the perfect love of the Beloved. Above all, she taught us to follow in the footsteps of Mary, and to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere we go, to everyone we meet. When we do this, the fragrance sweetens our lives as well.
Q: For busy moms, how do you recommend carving out time for extra prayer during these next few hectic weeks?
If you have a copy of this book, the readings are VERY short – just a few paragraphs. You can light one of the candles on the Advent wreath and get through the reading before your toddler has a chance to fling a fork on the floor. The book is also very small, and can easily be slipped in your purse for when you have a moment in the car, or find yourself at church a few minutes before church starts. I find it most helpful to make it part of my morning routine, taking a few minutes while my computer fires up in the morning. For many of us, finding a few minutes here and there may be all we can do … Though when you are going through a rough time, extending that time in God’s presence can be a great mood enhancer!
Q: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to share with our readers.
When I think of Mother Teresa, the word that immediately comes to mind is “acceptance.” She loved, regardless of the religious or cultural makeup of the person in front of her. The holidays can be a time when religious and cultural beliefs can have a divisive effect on family members. Yet Mother Teresa taught that “The neglect to love brings spiritual poverty. Maybe in our own family we have somebody who is feeling lonely, who is feeling sick, who is feeling worried. Are we there? Are we willing to give until it hurts in order to be with our families, or do we put our own interests first? … We must remember that love begins at home and that ‘the future of humanity passes through the family.’” If we want to “spread the fragrance of Jesus wherever we go,” we must begin at home. What can we do today to begin?
About Heidi Hess Saxton
Heidi Hess Saxton is a Catholic wife and mother of two teenagers, and is a writer and editor. When she isn’t freelancing, baking gingerbread, or wrestling her Chiweenie into winter gear, Heidi blogs for adoptive, foster, and special needs families at “A Mother on the Road Less Traveled” (https://heidihesssaxton.blog), with a dedicated page on Facebook (AMotherontheRoadLessTraveled). Her next book, Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, will be published in January 2017.
Copyright 2016 Lisa M. Hendey