As a young girl growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, watching football and rooting for our hometown team the Philadelphia Eagles was a rite of passage. So was going to Catholic School and praying to patron saints. Saints, we were instructed, would intercede on our behalf and also show the way to God’s Grace. The lives of the Saints would inspire young people to do good and do better. I wanted to make a difference so it made perfect sense to me. And, the Saints would show me the way.
Growing Up Catholic
My family belonged to a small Catholic parish about 30 minutes north of Philadelphia where Rev. Garrett F. X. Murphy, a devoted U.S. Naval Chaplain during the First World War, presided as Pastor. Fr. Murphy was a joyful man and beloved by his parishioners who were grateful that he spent his final years with us. Before the big church was built, our parish held daily and weekly Masses in what was unceremoniously called, “the dugout.” This little chapel of stone, bricks and mortar was command central for faith and inspiration for young and old alike. I remember like it was yesterday: burning candles, stained glass, incense, bells, prayers and Mass recited in Latin which was the practice of the day. What a wonderful, mysterious time it was as young minds tried to find their way in the world.
Looking for Inspiration in the Modern World
My patron saint was Joan of Arc. Like others, I found her life and times fascinating and certainly relevant as I embarked on my own life’s journey. I liked the fact that she stood up and stood out. The life and times of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born American to be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church who founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph also spoke to me and others about the importance of faith, hope and charity in the modern world. I read just about everything Thomas Merton published over the years. Merton has a lot to say to anyone who struggles to live the faith in modern times. Indeed, the exceptional holiness of the Saints and the dedication of other faithful-but-mortal-souls continue to guide my faith and understanding. But, in some ways, Mother Teresa’s difficult and quiet devotion inspired me to look much deeper at my life, faith and the meaning of life.
Mother Teresa’s Example
Who was Mother Teresa? Mother Teresa was born 100 years ago, in 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia where she was the youngest of three children. As a teenager she joined a youth group and later became interested in missionaries. At age 17, she joined the Sisters of Loretto, an Irish order known for its missionary work in India. In Calcutta, Sister Teresa taught geography and cathechism at St. Mary’s High School. In 1944, she became the principal of St. Mary’s but soon after contracted tuberculosis, was unable to continue teaching and was sent to Darjeeling to recover from this devastating illness.
It was on the train to Darjeeling, according to Mother Teresa, that she received a call from God to work with and among the poor. She referred to this moment as her “call within a call.” I always found this to be such a provocative concept. After all, who among us receives a “call” at all in our lifetimes? And, who among us would be open to receiving another “call within a call.” Wouldn’t it be so much easier to ignore it?
Fortunately, Mother Teresa decided to heed the call. In 1952, she opened the Home for the Dying. Over time, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity grew from 12 to thousands devoted to serving the “poorest of the poor” in 450 centers worldwide. Mother Teresa was one of the first to establish homes for AIDS victims and so many others suffering from disease, stigma and poverty. Her life and choices speak loudly about ways one person can make a big difference in this world.
What Have You Really Done With Your Life?
Mother Teresa said, “At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.’ I continue to be inspired by Mother Teresa’s mission to love and help our neighbors, especially those most in need. It’s never easy, and that’s why we need devoted souls like Mother Teresa (who has since been beatified by the Church) to show us the way.
Mother Teresa Of Calcutta Center
ETWN – Global Catholic Network
Official Canonization Site – Mother Teresa of Calcutta