A Teenager, Mother Teresa and Cardinal Newman
I saw the saint (Mother Teresa) on three occasions. No, not Mother Teresa of Avila, but another giant like her. The encounters if one could call them such were very short and also very powerful.
The first occasion was when I was about to start sophomore year in high school in Philadelphia in 1976. The archdiocese celebrated a Eucharistic Congress attended by Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997). Pope Paul VI was ill and unable to attend but he addressed the congregation via satellite. A papal legate represented him, and Card. Wojytla, later Pope John Paul II, also attended with other Polish bishops as well as Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
My sister, who volunteered at the diocesan youth department, helped to organize the meeting with youth. We had a Youth Mass at the Spectrum Sports Arena, and for some reason Mother Teresa washed the feet of a few youth – I was one of them. I don’t remember much, but I know now that a saint touched my feet. Here is the link to an excellent piece on that memorable Eucharistic Congress.
Earlier in the week Mother Teresa spoke of Jesus, the Bread of Life, and of the St. Francis Prayer Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Years later, as a college student, wandering through the streets of Rome, I turned a corner of a narrow street and was almost run over by a group of thirty or so people, and trailing them was a small nun. She passed very close to me, and she was looking with kind and penetrating eyes, as she did. We did not speak, but the chance encounter was another memorable moment in my life.
The third time I saw Mother Teresa was, shortly afterwards, at the Basilica of Santa Sabina (named after a noble woman and convert martyred in the year 125) on the Aventine Hill. The church was filled to the brim, mostly with youth, and the little nun came up the podium. For thirty or so minutes she spoke slowly and deliberately about Christian love – about love for those around us and for the poor, and how God provides when we give to those in need.
She lived a holy life and she is now a saint in heaven. Pope Francis will canonize her on Sunday, September 4, 2016. We too are called to live holy lives, weak and sinful as we are but trusting in God and striving to love more each day. Jesus wishes to shine in us and through us.
There is a prayer that sums up a lot of the spirit lived by Mother Teresa. She had her sisters pray it each day after Holy Communion. The prayer, addressed to Jesus, was originally written by Blessed John Henry Newman (1801-1890). An adapted version reads:
Help me to spread your fragrance wherever I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
that my life may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with
may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise you in the way which you love best,
by shining on those around me.
Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do,
the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you. Amen.
(Adaptation from Mediations and Devotions)