Last summer in this space, I wrote about the chain I wear around my neck with two medals attached to it: a four-way medal (with images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. Christopher, the Miraculous Medal and St. Joseph) and a medal of St. Teresa of Calcutta, which the Missionaries of Charity gave to me while I was in Rome for her canonization a few years ago.
I’m constantly inspired by the way she lived her life — selflessly giving of herself and becoming the face of Christ to those around her. In the introduction to her book “Encountering Mother Teresa” (OSV, $39.95), author and photographer Linda Schaefer wrote: “Like so many others, I have known a saint in my lifetime who continues to inspire me to be a better version of myself. … She continues to bring consolation and assistance in our darkest hours. She continues to be a mother who points us on our way to God. She teaches us the Gospel of Jesus. … For all of us, Mother Teresa remains an iconic, motherly figure, inviting each of us to experience our own humanity through acts of joyful service. This tiny woman, who was and is so revered by the world, communicated one simple message: ‘Love until it hurts.'”
I’d love to be able to write that having Mother Teresa perpetually hanging around my neck has helped inspire me to become a radically selfless husband and father, but it hasn’t. I’m working on it, though. Slowly. Really slowly.
Lately it seems that my 9-month-old is getting more benefit from the medal than I am, as the only time I really remember that I’m wearing it is when she pulls the chain on my neck, grasps the medal in her chubby little hand and puts it in her mouth to chew on (she’s teething).
So I needed a spark to reconnect me with this amazing saint, and the other morning at work, I got one.
In his last general audience of January, Pope Francis began a series of catechetical talks on the beatitudes. Recalling the text from the Gospel of St. Matthew, he said, “It is difficult not to be touched by these words of Jesus, and the desire to understand them and welcome them ever more fully is righteous. The beatitudes provide the ‘identity card’ of Christians — this is our identity card — because they outline the face of Jesus himself, his style of living.”
If living the beatitudes is the ID card of a Christian, the saint from India carried it without reservation throughout her life. In the slums of Kolkata, where so many would see a problem much too vast to undertake, with more people needing assistance than they had the means of helping, Mother Teresa knew that while she might not be able to make a difference in all of their lives, she could change the life of one person at a time.
She once said: “I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. … You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ So you begin. … I begin. … I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn’t put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. … Same thing for you. Same thing in your family. Same thing in the church where you go. Just begin. … one, one, one.”
To truly commit to living a life of selflessly serving others, Pope Francis said during his general audience, we must rethink the way we define happiness.
“There’s a difference between pleasure and happiness. The former does not ensure the latter and sometimes puts it at risk.” When he spoke these “new commandments,” the pope said, Christ was not imposing anything; instead, he chose to “reveal the way to happiness.”
This is the happiness that Mother Teresa radiated. Her smile comes not in spite of serving others, but because of it. You see it in photographs of her online or in books.
And now, after the pope’s reminder, I can see it in the medal that I wear every day.
Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.