If there’s one thing on which all Christians agree, it’s that the Gospels are at the heart of our faith. These are the stories of the Son of God: his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
And if there’s one thing on which all Christians seem to disagree, it’s in how the Gospels should manifest in our lives, how we can live out their mandates.
There’s a group of people who don’t seem to be concerned with the “how,” because, for them, living out the Gospels is simple and direct. They take Jesus at his word. They do what he tells them to do. They don’t argue or make political points or disagree with what they read: they just live the life Jesus called them to. And because that’s such an obvious and yet extraordinary response, we call these people saints.
One person who took Jesus at his word was Teresa of Kalkota. “By blood, I am Albanian,” she said. “By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”
Teresa joined a religious community, the Sisters of Loreto, when she was quite young and was sent as a teacher to India. On a train ride to a retreat site, however, Jesus let her know there was something else he wanted her to do. “He revealed his pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of him and his longing for their love. He asked Mother Teresa to establish a religious community, Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor,” says her official biography.
In other words, Jesus was asking her to take the Gospels seriously. Nurse the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted. Sell all that you have and give to the poor. Go forth and preach to all nations. Turn the other cheek. Return good for evil. Love God, and your neighbor as yourself.
And she did. The whole of Mother Teresa’s life and labor bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of friendship with God.
And yet even this soul, who was in constant friendship with Jesus, had long periods of doubt and fear. We see this through her letters to a spiritual confidant, in which she expressed an aridness in her spiritual life, a dryness and darkness that must have been truly terrifying. Some people have found this contrary to the religion she followed and have used it to attack her faith and her good works. Yet it is perhaps within that darkness that we find Teresa being utterly faithful to the Gospel. Jesus didn’t promise lightheartedness. He didn’t promise that anything would be easy; to the contrary, he said that the Way he was showing would divide families and cause estrangement, pain, and even death.
Teresa knew that going in. She chose the more difficult path within the faith, she made the decision that confronts us all: do we take Jesus at his word? Are the Gospels merely myths and legends, or are they meant to be a blueprint for our lives? Teresa had an answer: she chose to take Jesus at his word. He told her to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and care for the poor, and that’s what she did. He told her to do it without a promise that she’d ever get anything back, without any earthly reward, and that’s what she did.
Perhaps that’s why there are so many books written about this extraordinary woman, because she challenges us just as Christ challenges us. Through her life, she asks uncomfortable questions. Through her sainthood, she indicates a difficult path to follow. Through her doubts, she assures us that when we don’t “feel” spiritual, we’re not alone.
And every Catholic is left with the challenge: How can I live the Gospel? It’s a good question to take with us as we move into Lent this year.
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.