Papal Household Preacher's 3rd Meditation for Advent 2003 (Part 1)

Love for Jesus Drove Mother Teresa

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VATICAN CITY, DEC. 22, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Here is Part 1 of the third Advent meditation that the Papal Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered last Friday in the presence of the Pope and members of the Roman Curia. Part 2 appears Tuesday.



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Father Raniero Cantalamessa
Advent 2003 at the Pontifical Household
Third Homily

"Do You Know the Living Christ?"

1. Jesus, Sense of Mother Teresa's Life

Mother Teresa's confessor, Jesuit Father Celeste Van Exem, has said of her: "The meaning of her whole life was a person: Jesus."[1] After studying her life for years, and the writings and testimonies of others about her, the general postulator of her cause of beatification concludes: "If I have to say, in synthesis, why she is raised to the honor of the altar, I reply: because of her personal love of Jesus which she lived in such an intense way as to consider herself his bride. Hers was a Jesus-centered life."[2]

The most significant testimony in this respect is the letter that Mother Teresa wrote to all the family of the Missionaries of Charity from Varanasi, during Holy Week, on March 25, 1993.[3] "Such a personal letter," she said at the beginning, "that I wished to write it by hand." In it, she says:

"I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus -- one to one -- you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel -- but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus -- not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? ... Never give up this every day intimate contact with Jesus as a real living persons -- not just an idea."[4]

Here one sees how for Mother Teresa Jesus was not an abstraction, a collection of doctrines, of dogmas, or the memory of a person who lived at another time, but a living Jesus, someone to look at in his own heart and to allow oneself to be looked at.

Mother explained that if until then she had not spoken so openly it was out of a sense of reserve and to imitate Mary who "kept all things in her heart," but that she now felt the need, before leaving them, to tell them what for her was the meaning of her whole work: "For me it is clear: everything in the Missionaries of Christ exists only to satiate (the thirst) of Jesus."[5]

To the question: "Who is Jesus for me?" she replies with an inspired litany of titles.

"Jesus
Is the word to be spoken.
He is the Life to be lived.
He is the Love to be loved.
He is the Joy to be shared ...
He is the Sacrifice to be offered.
He is the Peace to be given.
He is the Bread of life to be eaten ..."[6]

Love for Jesus assumes spontaneously the form of spousal love. She herself recounts: "Because I talk so much of giving with a smile, once a professor from the United States asked me, 'Are you married?' And I said, 'Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because he can be very demanding.'"[7]

The majority of trees with tall trunks have a main root that descends perpendicularly in the earth and is like the continuation, under the earth, of the trunk. In Italian it is called the "fittone" (vertical root). It is the one that gives some trees, such as the oak, that unshakableness that not even the most impetuous winds succeed in uprooting. Man also has this vertical root. In general, for one who lives according to the flesh it is his own "I," disordered self-love, egoism; in the spiritual man it is Christ. The whole path to holiness consists in changing the name and nature of that root, until one can say with the Apostle, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20). Thanks also to the long purification of her dark night, Mother Teresa brought to completion this process to which all of us are committed.

2. The Fruit of Love Is Service

One of Mother Teresa's best-known sayings is: "The fruit of Love is Service and the fruit of Service is Peace."[8] The two things -- love for Jesus and service of the poorest of the poor -- were born together, as a torrent of lava, in the soul of Mother Teresa, at the moment of her second call on September 10, 1946. She said to her daughters:

"I Thirst and You Did it to Me: Remember always to connect the two, the means with the Aim. What God has joined together let no one split apart. ... Our Charism is to satiate the thirst of Jesus for love and souls -- by working at the salvation and sanctification of the poorest of the poor."[9]

"You -- did -- it -- to -- me": Mother Teresa pronounced these words distinctly on the fingers of one hand and said it was "the Gospel of the five fingers." For Mother Teresa, Jesus who is present in the Eucharist, is present in a different way but equally real, "in the distressing disguise of the poor." The litany in honor of Jesus recalled above continues to say without pause:

"Jesus is the Hungry to be fed.
He is the Thirsty to be satiated.
He is the Naked to be clothed.
He is the Homeless to be taken in.
He is the Sick to be healed.
He is the Lonely to be loved."[10]

We all know to what level she was driven in her service of the poorest of the poor. At a meeting, a religious remarked to her that she spoiled the poor and offended their dignity, giving them everything for free, without asking them for anything. She replied: "There are so many congregations that spoil the rich that it is not bad that there is one that spoils the poor."[11] According to Mother Teresa, the head of the Social Services of Calcutta understood better than any one else, the spirit of her service to the poor. One day he said to her: "Mother, you and we do the same social work but there is a difference: We are doing it for something, you are doing it for Someone."[12]

There have been those who have seen in this a limitation, not an appreciation of Christian love for one's neighbor. Does to love one's neighbor "for Someone," namely for Jesus, not instrumentalize one's neighbor, reduce him to a means in view of a different end which, taken to the limit, can be that egotistical one of earning merits for paradise?

This is true in every other case, but not in that of Jesus, because it is contrary to the dignity of the human person to be subordinated to another creature, but not to be subordinated to the Creator himself, to God. In Christianity there is an even a stronger reason. Christ identified himself with the poor. The poor and Christ are one and the same: "You did it to me." To love the poor for the love of Christ does not mean to love him "through a third party," but to love in person. This is the mystery that was impressed in the life of Mother Teresa and of which she prophetically reminded the Church.

The love of Jesus drove Mother Teresa, as it did other saints before her, to do things that no other motive in the world -- political, economic, humanitarian -- would have been able to make her do. Once, someone watching what Mother Teresa was doing with a poor man exclaimed: "I wouldn't do it for all the gold in the world!" Mother Teresa answered: "Neither would I!" Which meant: for all the gold in the world no, but for Jesus yes.

Mother Teresa was able to give to the poor not only bread, clothes and medicine, but that of which they have greater need: love, human warmth, dignity. It shocked her to recall the episode of a man found half-eaten by maggots in a rubbish dump who, after being taken home and looked after, said: "Sister, I have lived like an animal on the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for,"[13] and he died shortly after saying with a big smile: "Sister, I am going to God's house." Mother Teresa with an abandoned child in her arms, or bending over someone dying is, I believe, the very icon of the tenderness of God.

3. "I Am Among You as One Who Serves"

And now the compelling question: What does this aspect of Mother Teresa's life say to us? She has reminded us that true greatness among men is not measured by the power exercised but by the service rendered: "Whoever would be great among you must be your slave" (Matthew 20:26).

No one is dispensed from being committed in some way in service of the poor, but the service can assume different forms, as the needs of man are many and diverse. Paul speaks of a "service of the Spirit," "diakonia Pneumatos" (2 Corinthians 3:8) of which the ministers of the new covenant are in charge. Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, speaks of the "service of the word" proper to the Apostles, more important for them than the service of the table (Acts 6:4). The exercise of authority and the ecclesiastical magisterium also form part of this service. "I am among you as one who serves," Jesus said to the Apostles (Luke 22:27) and in what did this service consist if not in instructing, correcting and preparing them for the future mission?

What Mother Teresa reminds everyone is that every Christian service, to be genuine, must be motivated by the love of Jesus. "For what we preach," the Apostle said to the Corinthians, "is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). It is also possible for someone who works in the Curia to put into practice that which Mother Teresa called "the Gospel of the five fingers": "You did it for me." To do everything for Jesus, to see Jesus in those one has been called to serve, even perhaps with a bureaucratic practice.

But in this circumstance the Papal Household Preacher feels the need to abandon the parenthetical tone of "what should one do," to assume, instead, the joyful tone of thanksgiving for that which already is. I cannot let this occasion pass without joining my very small voice to that of the whole Church. It is 25 years now that, under our very own eyes, a man is consumed in the "service of the Spirit." In John Paul II the title "Servus servorum Dei," Servant of the servants of God, introduced by St. Gregory the Great, has not been one among others, but the recapitulation of a life.

This service, as Mother Teresa's, has also had its source in the love of Jesus. How many times the Holy Father has repeated the phrase of the Gospel that presents the pastoral service of Peter as an expression of love of Christ: "Simon, son of John, do you love me? Tend my sheep" (cf. John 21:15 ff.). Sign that this word has been the inspirational motive of his pontificate, and that which still drives him to spend himself for the Church. Mother Teresa often said that "love to be true has to hurt"[14] and in truth it cannot be said that suffering has been absent all these years from the life of the Successor of Peter ...

Nor has a tenderness been absent that recalls that of Mother Teresa. Many of us were moved the other evening when we attended the first showing of the documentary entitled "John Paul II, Witness of the Invisible," in Montecitorio palace. Among the most telling scenes are those where the Pope hugs and kisses children or the sick. It made me think of the words of God in Hosea: "I took them up in my arms" (Hosea 11:4).

[Your] Holiness, in the New Testament there is a passage that seems written for you to pronounce to the whole Church and I take the liberty to read it, more for us than for you. The Letter to the Romans speaks of a "consolation that comes from Scripture" which helps to "maintain our hope alive" (Romans 15:4): I believe that the only thing that justifies my having held this office for 24 years is to transmit some of this consolation that comes from Scripture. The passage in question is Paul's farewell speech to the Church of Ephesus:

"You yourselves know how I lived among you ...
Serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials ...
How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, teaching you [and] testifying ...
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the Gospel of the grace of God ...
I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the Church of the Lord which he obtained with his own blood ...
And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:18-32).

That day, Paul made a mistake in only one point and this calms us: He said that they would not see his face again, and this made all those present weep. But it was a fear, not a prophecy. From the pastoral letters we know that he saw the Church of Ephesus again two years later, at the end of his first Roman imprisonment (cf. 1 Timothy 1:3).

If I have done wrong in taking the liberty to speak this way, Holy Father, reprove Mother Teresa because it is she who suggested that I do so with the love that this new Catherine of Siena had for the Successor of Peter.

[Tuesday: A Jesus-Centered Spirituality]

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[1] In L'Osservatore Romano, Special, Oct. 19, 2003, p. 19.

[2] Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, ibid., p. 12.

[3] While awaiting its publication, the document was kindly made available to me by the postulation of Mother Teresa's cause (henceforth abbreviated: Varanasi).

[4] " I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus -- one to one -- you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel -- but have you seen with eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus -- not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? ... Never give up this every day intimate contact with Jesus as real living person -- not just one idea."

[5] "For me it is so clear -- everything in Missionaries of Charity exists only to satiate Jesus" (Varanasi, cit.).

[6] "Jesus is the Word -- to be spoken. Jesus is the Life -- to be lived. Jesus is the Love -- to be loved. Jesus is the Joy -- to be shared. Jesus is the Sacrifice -- to be offered. Jesus is the Peace -- to be given. Jesus is the Bread of life -- to be eaten": in "A Fruitful Branch on the Vine, Jesus." First book of Mother Teresa of Calcutta edited by Missionaries of Charity, St. Anthony Messenger Press, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2000 (collection of authentic prayers and sayings of Mother; henceforth abbreviated: "A Fruitful Branch").

[7] "Because I talk so much of giving with a smile, once a professor from the United States asked me, 'Are you married?' And I said, 'Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because He can be very demanding -- sometimes'": from Mother Teresa's address at the National Prayer Dinner, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 1994, by kindness of the postulation of the cause (henceforth abbreviated: Washington).

[8] "The fruit of Love is Service. The fruit of Service is Peace": in "A Fruitful Branch," cit . p. 36.

[9] "'I Thirst' and 'You did it to Me' -- Remember always to connect the two, the means with the Aim. What God has joined together let no one split apart. ... Our Charism is to satiate the thirst of Jesus for love and souls -- by working at the salvation and sanctification of the poorest of the poor' " (Varanasi, cit.).

[10] "Jesus is the Hungry -- to be fed. Jesus is the Thirsty -- to be satiated. Jesus is the Naked -- to be clothed. Jesus is the Homeless -- to be taken in. Jesus is the Sick -- to be healed. Jesus is the Lonely -- to be loved": "A Fruitful Branch," cit. p. 36f.

[11] Mother Teresa's commentary on the topic "Charity, Soul of the Mission," Letter to Cardinal Tomko, Jan. 23, 1991, by kindness of the postulation of the cause (henceforth abbreviated: Commentary).

[12] "Mother, you and we are doing the same social work but there is one difference. We are doing it for something, and you are doing it for SOMEONE " (Commentary, cit.)

[13] "Sister, I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die as an angel, loved and cared for" (Washington, cit.).

[14] "Love to be true has to hurt": "A Fruitful Branch," cit. p. 26.

[Translation by ZENIT]