Theresa Thomas wrote this article on one of the best known and loved women in the world, and what a homeschooling mother of nine has learned from her. I have read every book I could get my hands on about her, and seen all of her films, as well as her tapes. Her talks are simple, yet profound and bear repeating. She has applied the 'little way' of St. Therese of Lisieux to the horrible twentieth century, for those of us who deal with the 'poorest of the poor' in our own homes. This is no small challenge in my domestic church, and I'm sure it is rough where you live as well. But we must do it.
She once said that the spiritual poverty of the USA was greater and caused more suffering than the unbelievable poverty in India. I spent a day in one of her convents in the Bronx, after receiving a typed letter from her, signed in her own hand, sending me there. (I am STILL praying to St. Anthony to find it, as now it's actually a relic). I had no sense of a vocation, I had simply offered my help for the summer in one of her houses in Guatemala, since I was learning Spanish at the time. No one says no to Mother Teresa, however.
Mother wrote, "you must help the poor in the Bronx, here is the number to my convent there. I will be looking for you when I come." I called the number on the letter, and the sister who answered seemed to be expecting my call. I made a date to visit the convent on a Saturday.
In the morning, as I parked up in the Fort Apache area of the Bronx, two policemen came to me, and said, "what's a nice girl like you doing here?!" I answered that I was going to the convent of the Missionaries of Charity, and they immediately understood.
I attended Mass kneeling on the carpeted floor of the simple chapel, adorned by a life-size crucifix under which were the words, "I thirst". Mother has this in all her chapels as a reminder to the sisters of Jesus' thirst for souls. The chapel was packed, yet silent after mass.
The sisters greeted me warmly, gave me a quick tour of the convent. They all sleep on simple cots in a single bedroom. I counted 40 beds. They share a single, mirrorless bathroom, it was true Evangelical poverty, and I was wordlessly impressed. The sisters then led me to the soup kitchen next door, where I met two other volunteers there, we shared breakfast, and began to chop a bushel of donated vegetables into the biggest soup pot I have ever seen. We were making vegetable soup for the poor's lunch. Three hours later, we were still chopping, and the sisters who had been washing windows while praying the rosary, told me they were going to a wedding of one of their volunteers, and that we were invited as well to help with the elderly.
A young doctor who had been volunteering with them for years, now rented two tour buses to transport the poorest of the poor from the South Bronx, to his wedding. Another example of the Gospel. "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests."
I was to drive the sisters, two by two, to the projects to collect little old ladies, shut-ins, for a big party. As they left my car to bring the ladies, they prayed over me for my safety. I could see dangerous types prowling around these buildings, yet when they saw the sisters, they broke into wide grins, and waved. A thief had thrown a stolen wallet, sans cash, over the fence into the garden of the contemplative sisters, knowing the photos, license and credit cards would be returned. Even hardened criminals know love when they see it.
The ladies excitedly discussed the wedding in my car, none of them, as Baptists had ever been in a Catholic Church, and they were very curious. As we helped them walk to the buses, a tiny Indian sister walked into six busy lanes of Bronx traffic, and help up her hand so they could cross. Traffic stopped instantly. THIS is the power of love!
This memory has stayed with me this clearly for 16 years. Although I didn't have this vocation, I will always remember the joy of those sisters, many of whom I had seen on the Petrie sister's documentary video, Mother Teresa. Although it was a chill 20 degrees, and the sisters were wearing sandals, cotton saris, and cardigans, they joy was warm and infectious. I felt at home, and well-loved. Here is there secret: Mother had sent me a little yellow card with her letter saying,
"The fruit of silence is prayer,
the fruit of prayer is service,
the fruit of service is love,
the fruit of love is peace"