Eleven years ago, my husband and I were peeling potatoes for a dinner for the residents of Gift of Peace, a home for the dying in Washington, D.C. Gift of Peace is one of the many homes scattered across the world that were founded by Mother Teresa and staffed with the loving presence of her sisters. The sisters responded with warm enthusiasm when they learned that I was pregnant. They decided to say a rosary—to accompany the work on the potatoes—for the child growing in my womb.
About two years later, our young son Gabriel was sitting in his stroller, surrounded by a large crowd of adults who had overflowed into the hallway outside the chapel at Gift of Peace. As volunteers at their home, we had been invited to attend a Mass in honor of some of the sisters who were making their final vows. Mother Teresa was present for the occasion. When she caught sight of the youngest person in the crowd, she paused with a broad smile lighting up her face. Gabriel is thrilled to be able to tell people today, "Mother Teresa smiled at me!"
Meetings with Mother. Over the years I have run into several other people who have had personal encounters with Mother Teresa. One of my college roommates sought to join the Missionaries of Charity after having obtained a medical degree. Mother Teresa discouraged her from doing so, reasoning that her degree would be better used elsewhere. Since then, my friend has put her skills to use with medical missionary groups.
Another friend I met in graduate school spent some time in Rome, discerning his vocation. A brief conversation with Mother Teresa during that time pointed him toward the calling he now enjoys as a husband and father and a college theology professor. I know a priest who met Mother Teresa several times and visited her homes in India. He likes repeating the jokes she told him and talks about how boisterous the laughter was that he heard emanating from the sisters' dining room.
These personal anecdotes match some of Mother Teresa's favorite themes: the importance of joy, the preciousness of children and family life, contemplation in the world, the urgency of prayer, and fulfilling your purpose. Experiencing Jesus with Mother Teresa includes these themes and a dozen other topics in a format intended to foster prayer and our own life in Christ.
The Eyes of Love. Running throughout the whole book is the central place of love. For Mother Teresa, this love is first experienced in Jesus' love for us. Once we experience it, we want to love him back; we can do so by loving those around us. While her own calling was to love Jesus in the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa constantly reminds us that we are called to love those God has given us in our ordinary circles of families, neighborhoods, and workplaces. She is adamant that all are called to holiness, and that holiness has everything to do with love. Likewise, she emphasizes that it is not how much one gives that really counts, but how much love one puts into the giving.
Each chapter in Experiencing Jesus includes numerous quotes from Mother Teresa, stories from her life, and Scripture passages on the theme. At the end of each chapter are questions for prayerful meditation. These model a wide variety of prayer methods, and readers are encouraged to choose those that best help them experience Jesus and address the issues he wants them to face.
Using this book in prayer, I was reminded of what my friends and family and I experienced when we encountered Mother Teresa—encouragement to seek out the unique, personal, specific ways by which we are to reveal the loving presence of Christ to others. "We must become holy, not because we want to feel holy but because Christ must be able to live his life fully in us."
Experiencing Jesus with Mother Teresa is particularly timely in light of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "God is Love." In it, Benedict mentions Mother Teresa three times, using her to illustrate how our capacity to love others grows out of our experience of Jesus in prayer and the Eucharist. As he writes, her example shows us "that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service." This encounter with Jesus in prayer becomes "a communion of will, even affecting my feelings, but from the perspective of Christ." In this way, Benedict notes, we are able to meet others' hunger for love: "Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave."
Katherine Yohe has a doctoral degree in theology, with a focus on spirituality. An author and speaker, she has taught at LaSalle University and Catholic University.
Experiencing Jesus with Mother Teresa, by Jean Maalouf (paperback, 160 pp.) is available from The Word Among Us at 1-800-775-9673 or online at wau.org.