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Visit Father's YouTube channel to spend Five Minutes with Fr. Satish

"Your Happiness is All I Want"

 (This is the second installment of my two-part reflection on Mother Teresa as she is canonized a saint on Sept 4).

When we think of Mother Teresa, we think of her as someone who brought God’s love, care, and kindness to the most abandoned people in the world. We also think of her as someone who was guided daily by God. After all, her entire endeavor to leave the Loreto Sisters and begin a new order of sisters, was at the personal wishes of Jesus. You would expect that her spiritual journey was one long honeymoon with God. Surprisingly, that was not the case. The book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light — a collection of her writings to her spiritual directors and confessors—reveals an unexpected twist to to her story. These writing reveal that Mother Teresa experienced more than five decades of total abandonment at God’s hands. Let me just read one of her entries. “Lord my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The Child of your Love—and now become as the most hated one—the one—You have thrown away as unwanted—unloved. I call, I cling, I want—and there is no One to answer—no one on whom I can cling—no, Not One.—Alone… Where is my faith—even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness—My God—how painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith—I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart—and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them—because of the blasphemy—If there be God—please forgive me—When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven—there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.—I am told God loves me—and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

As we reflect on Mother Teresa on the day of her canonization, it is impossible to ignore today’s gospel reading (Lk 14:33). It contains the stringiest demands that Christ makes on his disciples. He says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Mother Teresa’s fidelity to the mission that Christ entrusted to her in spite of her sense of abandonment is a great witness to Christian discipleship. What do we learn from Mother Teresa that might help our own discipleship?

1. Discipleship is Not a Feeling. On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance speech she said, “It is not enough for us to say, “I love God, but I do not love my neighbor….” ‘…this is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt. It hurt Jesus to love us, it hurt him. And to make sure we remember his great love he made himself the bread of life to satisfy our hunger for his love. He makes himself the hungry one - the naked one - the homeless one - the sick one - the one in prison - the lonely one - the unwanted one - and he says: You did it to me. Hungry for our love, and this is the hunger of our poor people. This is the hunger that you and I must find….” While there is much more to that acceptance speech, Mother Teresa, in these words was telling us that faith is more than just about “good feelings.” There are Christians who propose the “gospel of prosperity,” — meaning that anyone who follows Christ cannot be poor or suffer. There is also the “spirituality of perpetual high,” — meaning that God must always make me “feel good.” Similarly, it is common for many of us to think of God as a magician who can make our problems disappear. Many a time what we expect from religion is magic - for example, say a prayer and a thousand souls will escape from purgatory.  Mother Teresa teaches us that faith in God and our spiritual life is not a “happy pill.” Faith is the quest to live like Christ as we navigate through life. It involves hard work, conscious decision-making, and die-hard dedication. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus tells us that sometimes discipleship may rob us of the things that are dearest to us - family, friends, and even our own life. The true worth of Mother Teresa charitable work comes from her sense of abandonment. It means that she was not doing this for her own sake or to get some pleasure out of it, or to simply get to heaven. Her faith was not magic. Her abandonment tells us that she was doing her work because she loved God and loved God’s people unconditionally. She loved God and others even when she did not herself feel loved. As she put it, “I have the joy of having nothing—not even the reality of the Presence of God [in the Eucharist].” Yet she would say later, “I accept not in my feelings—but with my will, the Will of God—I accept His will.” This is the kind of discipleship we must strive for.

2. Discipleship is Life from God’s Perspective. Many experts have tried to analyze Mother’s Teresa’s experience of abandonment. Brian Kolodiejchuk, the promoter of her cause for canonization for example, suggests that “She was a strong personality, and a strong personality needs stronger purification.” Dr. Richard Gottelib, a teacher at the New York Psychoanalytic Society and Institute asks, “Could she have imposed it on herself? Psychoanalysts have long said that people of a certain personality type are conflicted about their high achievements and find ways to punish themselves. Both Kolodiejchuk and Gottelib were fascinated by this statement by Mother Teresa: “I want to love Jesus as he has never been loved.” In other words, she aimed high and her abandonment was her way to temper her high goals. I am no expert but the way I look at it, her experience of abandonment has something to do with her work with the abandoned. Her experience of abandonment from God united her to the abandoned in the world. She knew how they felt because of the experience of her own abandonment at God’s hands. Perhaps, this explains why she was able to work with so much zeal for the abandoned. The more she felt abandoned the harder she works to remove people’s experience of abandonment. What does this mean for us? It means that even in time of doubt, God is accomplishing a purpose. Discipleship is learning to look at life from God’s perspective.

3. Discipleship is a Decision. Mother Teresa’s life and ministry affirms today’s gospel reading. Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus’ compares the decision to follow him to a person’s decision to construct a tower or a king’s decision to go to war. Such decisions involve a conscious, deliberate, and calculated decision. Perhaps, this explains Mother’s Teresa faithfulness to her mission in spite of her experience of abandonment at the hands of the very God who called her. Her “second-calling” to leave her Loreto Convent was her conscious, deliberate, and calculated decision to be Christ’s disciple. She loved Christ more than her own life. What mattered to her was fidelity to her calling. This is true discipleship. As we go through life, we realize that life, faith and fidelity to our calling is not easy. Marriage is not easy. Raising children is not easy. Making ends meet is not easy. Relationships are not easy. Conflicts are not easy. A holy life does not mean a life without struggles. A holy life is a life that is lived like Jesus would have lived it. Mother Teresa spiritual life was not easy. Yet she was up every morning at 4:30 and waited for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. She had made a deliberate, conscious to decision to follow Jesus, in spite it all.

One morning, still feeling abandoned, sitting in the presence o the Blessed Sacrament, she wrote to Jesus: “Your happiness is all I want.” And then she stepped out into the world to hold the most abandoned people as if she was holding the Blessed Sacrament. May her life inspire us to make discipleship a conscious and deliberate decision. 

Saint Teresa of Kolkatta, Pray for us! Amen.  

- Fr. Satish Joseph


(This reflection was written for the weekend liturgy for August 28, 2016. Please refer to the scripture readings for the weekend for a deeper reading of this reflection. The reading may be found at: 

Let me begin with a touching story from Mother Teresa’s childhood. Agnes, as she was called before she took on the name Teresa, was born on August 26, 1910. When she was only 8 years old, her father suddenly fell ill and died. Agnes became extraordinarily close to her mother, Nikola. Agnes learnt charity from her mother. Nikola had given an open invitation to the destitute of the city to dine with her family. Her mother would say to her, ”My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.” When Agnes asked who the people eating with them were, her mother would simply say, "Some of them are our relations, but all of them are our people.” In light of this story, let me read the conclusion to today’s gospel reading. “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you” (Luke 14:14) In these words, Christ taught his disciples about humility.” 

As I read today’s gospel, I could not but think of this extraordinary mother who not only put the gospel into practice at home, but in doing so, raised a saint. I would like to offer three practical implications about humility as seen in the life of Mother Teresa. 

1. Humility: Being Formed by the Gospel. The gospel reading, in reality, is a juxtaposition of two life-styles. The first life-style is actively seeking honor. The second life-style is seeking what Christ sought. To seek what Christ sought is to formed by the gospel. I salute the Agnes’s mother who formed her daughter at the early age in the ways of the gospel. The commendable thing about Agnes’ mother is that she taught by example. She did not teach merely by words. She showed her children how to be charitable. The story amply shows us the significance of the home in forming children in the ways of the gospel. Today’s parents face an immense challenge. Between sports, studies, work, technology and media, the home remains an indispensable place where children are formed in the ways of the gospel. Parents, teachers and pastors, Nikola teaches us that it is not enough to teach our children the gospel, but rather, they must see it lived out in our lives, day in and day out. Humility means that we allow the gospel to form us daily. 

2. Humility: An Identity. Agnes first felt a calling to a religious life when she was twelve. When she turned eighteen, she decided to become a nun and joined the Sisters of Loreto.  At her First Profession, she took the name Sister Mary Teresa. A year later, Sister Mary Teresa traveled on to Darjeeling, India. Her primary ministry was teaching poor children in a school run by the Loreto sisters. However, on September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa experienced a "call within a call" that would forever transform her life. She was riding in a train from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills for a retreat when she said Christ spoke to her and told her to abandon teaching to work in the slums of Calcutta aiding the city's poorest and sickest people. After getting the necessary permission from her religious authorities, dressed in a blue-and-white sari (an outfit that she would wear in public for the rest of her life), she left the Loreto convent and wandered out into the city. After six months of basic medical training, she entered into Calcutta's slums to aid "the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” It was in and through the most abandoned that Mother Teresa found her own identity. 

In today’s gospel reading, when Jesus tells his listeners to invite the poor, the blind and the lame for dinner, he is defining humility as the people we identify with. And really, who are the people we identify with? Who are the people we want to be seen with? Who are the people we want in our lives and in our homes? What does that say about us? 

3. Humility: A Choice. Clearly in today’s gospel reading humility is presented as a choice that the disciples must make. Some people sought places of honor at public events. Jesus asked his disciples to occupy the lowest places. Mother Teresa said, “Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.” Mother Teresa was a very powerful woman. She had a free ticket on most global airlines; she was immensely respected by most governments; she could open a home for the destitute at will in any part of the world; and, she was an unparalleled global celebrity. Yet, when she came home to her mother house, she would be working alongside her other sisters as if she was one of them. She never put herself on a pedestal. 

For us too, Jesus teaches us to make a deliberate choice to be humble. And the best way to do so is not to put ourselves on a pedestal. We can all fall into the same temptation - we can be very proud of our humility. 

- Fr. Satish Joseph

It is not normal to include a Sunday Homily in the Discipleship Corner. Yet, the reading for the 13th Sunday on Ordinary time were no ordinary readings. The gospel reading in particular, contained radical sayings about following Jesus. In fact, it is possible to reading all the readings for this Sunday as an invitation to RADICAL DISCIPLESHIP. This is a reflection on RADICAL discipleship. 

(Please be sure the read 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; and Luke 9:51-62 in preparation for this reflection)

It is truly amazing, that in the Bible, scenes from two distant millennia, written by authors from completely different era. for completely different audiences, can be so similar. In the first reading, the young Elisha, who was ploughing his field, is called by the prophet Elijah to follow him as his attendant. Before Elisha follows him, he seeks Elijah’s permission to bid his family goodbye. Elijah concedes to the request. Elisha then offers a sacrifice of the animals he used for farming and used the ploughs to make the fire for the sacrifice. He bids his family adieu and then follows Elijah. This passage has a striking parallels in today’s gospel reading. There were people both looking to follow Jesus, and those that Jesus called to follow him. When one of them asked Jesus to allow him to bury his father, Jesus refused to make the concession, and said, “Let the dead bury the dead.” To another man who wished to follow Jesus, but first say good bye to his family, Jesus, said, "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.’ Jesus refuses to make the concession that Elijah made. 

These sayings of Jesus are very demanding, radical and uncompromising. How can we understand them? I am offering three responses and practical implications.

1. The Hand on the Plough. Jesus’ refusal to allow the man to “bury his father,” or “looking back after putting the hand on the plough,” must be understood as a two-pronged conversation. On the one hand, I am arguing, he was talking to himself. In Luke’s gospel, just before the passage we have today, Jesus had transfigured on the mountain and had just predicted his passion and death. Perhaps he was convincing himself that, “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus himself has set his hand on the plough (read ‘the cross’); he has set his face toward Jerusalem (read ‘calvary’). Many times he would be tempted to avoid his passion and death. Perhaps he will be tempted to turn and look back. But he must “leave the dead to bury the dead,” and move on toward the path of life that his Father had set for him. On the other hand, he is also talking to his disciples. If they have to find their identity in his, they will have to prepare to come after him even though he has “no where to lay his head.” They will have to leave themselves and their egos behind. After Jesus’ resurrection, if the kingdom of God must spread they will have to imitate him. Once they set their hands on the plough there is no turning back.

Today’s readings emphasize the radicalness of Christian discipleship. Following Christ is not for those who like to sit on the fence. There is nothing called “fair weather Christianity.” Either you are all in with Jesus and what he stands for or you are out. The question for us this week in simply this: “In what area of my life do I hear Christ demanding an unconditional, radical, and unquestioned response?”

2. “Let the dead bury the dead.” What does this mean? There are as many interpretations of this saying as there are commentaries. And the interpretations range from simple one’s like “those who follow Jesus have new life and those who don’t are spiritually dead,” or “let the (spiritually) dead bury the (physically) dead,” or to more complex ones which have to do with the Jewish practice of “second-burial.” “Second burial refers to the practice where, after the first burial, the family waited for the body to decompose. This would probably take up to a year. When the body was decomposed, the oldest son would collect the bones, put them in an ossuary. On that day (the son) mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment.  In whatever way we chose to understand this saying, it has implications for us. 

Jesus refused the man the concession he asked for. On the one hand. this saying captures the radicalness of Jesus’ call. But on the other hand, this is also a commentary on human nature. We are always inclined to postpone the inevitable. Just think how many times we postpone paying bills, cleaning up the house, straightening up a broken relationship, going to the hospital, finishing homework or a paper, recovering from an addiction, going to the sacrament of reconciliation or even picking up our prayer life. This can also happen when it comes to preparing for eternity. This can certainly happen when it comes to following Jesus as radical disciples. There is always another day. I have a bumper sticker in my bible that says, “Those who wait for the eleventh hour die at ten-thirty.” So many people die before they have accomplished what they wanted to do. What if we were to die before we put their hands on the plough? Imagine dying before throwing our weight completely behind Jesus; imagine that you always wanted to be a radical disciple and died without ever accomplishing that. I think that Jesus is saying that the time to follow Jesus radically is NOW! Those who postpone may not make it. These are the dead people. Let these dead people bury those other dead who postpone hearing God’s call. But you, yes, you who want to follow Jesus, do it NOW.  

3. For Freedom, Christ has set us Free. In this third point, I will try to bring my first point and second point together. Paul says to us in today’s second reading, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” The context of Paul’s statement is the Law. Paul was saying that it was not necessary to be circumcised, to submit oneself to that Law, in order to experience the grace of God. God’s grace and spirit are not dependent on anything. All one needs is faith in Jesus Christ. But it is the verses right after this statement that is truly enlightening. Paul continues. “For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus earlier had said that the whole law in fulfilled in two statements: “Love God with all your heart,” and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, freedom comes from transcending your ‘self.’ Freedom comes when we have transcended the ‘self’ to love God and our neighbor beyond our self. Unless we transcend the ‘self’, we will keep putting our hands on the plough and look back. Unless we transcend the ‘self’ we will never be radical disciples. Unless we transcend the ‘self,’ we will be the dead burying the dead. Unless we transcend our self, we will be satisfied with ‘religion’ but never take up radical discipleship.

- Fr. Satish Joseph