Monday, September 9, 2013

"I Thirst"

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's Feast Day: September 5th
Last summer, my oldest daughter lived and worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Memphis.  My family and I had a chance to join the sisters for a Saturday morning Mass in their chapel, and it was a most memorable experience indeed!

As you may know, one of the trade-marks of the community founded by Mother Teresa is that, whenever they start a new outreach to the poorest of the poor, they adorn the walls of their chapel with Jesus' words from the cross:  "I thirst."  In fact, they paint them on the wall next to the Crucifix, and it seems as if Jesus is speaking these words all over again, day after day, here and now. 

The Sisters, of course, take Christ's words to heart in just this way.  After all, this was the pivotal insight of Mother Teresa's "call within a call"--her realization that Christ continues to thirst for our love, particularly through the cry of those who are most weak and vulnerable, those who are most marginalized.

In his recent encyclical, The Light of Faith, Pope Francis lifts up both Blessed Mother Teresa and Saint Francis of Assisi as exemplars of how the light of faith opens our eyes to the sufferings of this world.  He comments:

"In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil.  Faith is not a light which scatter all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey.  To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light.  In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it." (n. 57)

The lamp of faith guides our steps; it helps us follow the "accompanying presence" of Christ as he shares the path of those who suffer or endure evil.  Wasn't it wonderful when our Holy Father Francis recently called for a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria?   Isn't it time for Christians across the U.S. to learn the lessons of the 20th century: namely, that resorting to warfare throughout the bloodiest century in the history of human civilization has only spawned an even more fractured and potentially more lethal 21st century?  As people of faith, isn't it time to take Jesus at his word, when he says that we need to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us--not to mention when he says that it is the peacemakers who will be blessed?  (And isn't it time to be honest enough to admit that peacemakers don't justify the use of warfare as a means of achieving peace?)  In short, isn't it time to practice what we preach to our children--two wrongs don't make a right, and might does not make right?!? 

Pope Francis reminded us that our deep-rooted tendency to resort to violence as a solution to problems can be re-channeled only through prayer and fasting--that is, through authentic conversion.  The lives of the saints bear witness to how we should put the Gospel into practice in a violent world:  St. Francis of Assisi was willing to lay down his life at the hands of Muslims who were at war with Christians, rather than justify killing the alleged "enemy"; St. Padre Pio, St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross and St. Maximillian Kolbe never called for a military solution in the face of international conflict and evil ideologies; Blessed John Paul II helped bring down the Soviet empire by promoting non-violent resistance and once said he would crawl to Baghdad on his knees to prevent war in Iraq. 

The question for today is whether we will respond by "loving until it hurts," as Mother Teresa so often said, or by once rationalizing and justifying our use of violence.  Christ's message is clear, though it requires courage and determination:  Peacemakers need to make peace, not war.  Isn't it impossible to imagine Blessed Teresa of Calcutta calling for bombs to fall from 20,000 feet? 

The Nobel Peace Prize winner knew that, even as Christ continues to say "I thirst" to each of us today, he is clearly not thirsting for more violence and bloodshed. 

Prayer for the Intercession of Our Lady of All Nations

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Father,
send now Your Spirit over the earth.
Let the Holy Spirit live in the hearts
of all nations, that they may be preserved
from degeneration, disaster and war.
May the Lady of All Nations,
the Blessed Virgin Mary,
be our Advocate. Amen.
Check out this link for more information about Syria or to take action;
you can also follow the Catholic response to the Syrian crisis with the hashtag #Fast4Syria.