As a theology major, I earned my degree turning thousands of pages of spiritual reading – reflections of saints, papal documents, and biblical exegesis. I remember highlighting quotations that struck me, whole paragraphs of intricate wording that spoke right to my soul. It’s important to continue being a student of the Catholic faith always, reading the more weighty documents and understanding Church history, but I submit that some of the best theology I’ve studied came packed in simple phrases like Christ’s “…whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). This powerful statement was often quoted by Blessed Mother Teresa when she would compel the world to help others and pour oneself out in service to them.
Bl. Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity subjected themselves to the most grotesque of visions in their ministry, bathing the maggots off of homeless in the streets and feeding those gaunt with starvation. The filthy and sick could not bathe themselves, neither could the hungry feed themselves, so the Sisters did for them. Though there is certainly no denying the greatness of her love with regard to the disgusting state of those whom she helped, if you examine the very basic nature of Mother Teresa’s work, she did what we can do, what we all already do.
The heroism that she showed to thousands of dying people she helped moments before their passing has been shown to me throughout my own life. As a mother of three beautiful kids and a child to two wonderful parents, I learn and re-learn constantly that the small services I offer and was offered in my upbringing require as much self-sacrifice and love. I wonder how many times my parents denied themselves something they wanted so they could buy clothes and food for their growing children. We couldn’t obtain those things on our own and so they did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Similarly, my 10 month old baby boy still gets hungry in the smallest hours of the morning and I would love to tell him to just get out of his crib and grab something from the fridge; but since he can’t do for himself, either Andrew or I crawl out of our warm bed to feed the Hungry for 20 minutes before putting him back down.
And what do you do for your family? The bread winner, the laundry folder, the lunch maker, the money manager, the listener and supporter – often we think that extraordinary service requires extraordinary circumstances, but sainthood is found in the love with which we do what we’re called to do. It is not an extraordinary thing to interact with the same people who lived in your house yesterday and the years before and it might not be as dramatic as the slums of India to serve the family who are so common in your life; but, consider that they are Christ – that to serve them is to serve him. You did it to me. The heroic nature of Mother Teresa’s actions is found in every household where there is common care among the family.
And what’s important to note is that Bl. Mother Teresa herself said that “love begins at home,” which beautifully complements Blessed Pope John Paul II’s words “So goes the family, so goes the world.” We cannot begin to help the world at large without tending to our own domestic church.