Let Others Be Constantly Evangelizing Us

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Soon to be Saint Teresa of Calcutta was never without wise words, or memorable aphorisms. When she would be asked by someone how she finds the strength to keep doing all the great work that she did, Mother Teresa would often grab one of the person’s hands, and grabbing onto one finger at a time she would say “you-did-it-to-me” (Mt 25:40).  Mother Teresa was adamant that whomever she was serving, she was encountering her Christ who was crying out for mercy.

This is amazing considering another well known dynamic to her spiritual journey. It is said that for more than fifty years, Mother was without divine consolation and doubted the reality of God, and her salvation. Despite this, she persisted on her journey towards the margins and was nurtured by the poor who were placed on her path. This seems counterintuitive to some, especially when we so often predicate our participation in worship and ministry on emotional responses. Mother Teresa is offering us a model of discipleship that seems to challenge a feel good religious experience. Like so many saints and mystics of our tradition, Teresa persisted in hope, and served humanity out of a love for Jesus regardless of personal satisfaction or reward. In the faces of the poor of Calcutta, she found the consolation that was lacking from her personal spiritual journey.

To bring this closer to home, I have seen this kind of self-emptying service and dedication for many years at the ministry I at. At the Port ministries in Chicago, we may not be picking up sick people from the gutters and allies, but we certainly face other forms of sickness and oppression, namely street violence and rampant poverty. I was once speaking with a young man who comes to our open gym on Friday evenings about why the Port was so important to him, and why he came here every Friday evening to play basketball. He told me, “The people here are nice. I can come here for just a few hours and feel safe and loved, no questions asked.” Perhaps this was a place that Mother Teresa would have liked to visit. The staff and volunteers that work at the Port maintain a singular focus of promoting the dignity of every person that we encounter. Much like all of our Capuchin ministries, we believe that we encounter Jesus in a unique way in the faces of those who are deemed unworthy or unclean. We are confident, like Mother Teresa that whatever we do, even the smallest gesture of goodness, is being done unto Him.

In his exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis makes it clear that the good news is already alive and active in every culture, person, and place. If we engage in ministry with this assumption, with these eyes, then we can “let others be constantly evangelizing us” (EG, 121). Perhaps this was the consoling force for Mother Teresa, our soon to be saint. Please, Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.