The Deacon's Bench

Today’s scripture readings are about something we don’t hear mentioned very much.


If you go to “Google” and type in the word “humility,” you’ll get about 8 million entries. But if you then go and type “fame,” you’ll get 83 million – 10 times the amount for humility. That about sums it up. Fame is more interesting to more people than humility.

It was that way in Jesus’ day, too – which is why what he has to say in the gospel is so surprising. Don’t hang around with the rich and famous, he says. Don’t take the best seat at the table. And when you have someone over for dinner, invite the poor, the crippled, the blind.

He is telling us: Be one of them — and make them one of you.

For every one who exalts himself will be humbled. And the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

We’ve just been reminded of someone who did that for most of her life: Blessed Mother Teresa.

Who would have thought that Time magazine’s cover girl would be an Albanian nun who has been dead for a decade?

The magazine published some extraordinary excerpts from her letters – revealing an interior life few had imagined. They are being published the day after tomorrow in a book.

For all the great work Mother Teresa did in the name of God…she questioned whether He even existed.

For all the sanctity she displayed…she was riddled with doubt.

For all the light she gave forth to the poor…she herself lived in darkness.

The dark night of the soul, St. John of the Cross called it.

For Mother Teresa it lasted nearly 50 years.

And yet. Despite the bleakness, despite feeling that God had forgotten her, she managed to transform the world. She drew thousands to her order, ministering in the streets and gutters, and giving hope to lepers, orphans, widows, beggars. The very ones Christ tells us to invite into our lives became a part of Mother Teresa’s life. She gave dignity to the undignified, love to the unloved.

And she did it, it seems, blindly.

Feeling utterly alone. As if God had left her.

In 1946, when Mother Teresa began her ministry to India’s poor, she said that she heard Christ calling her in a very personal way. “Come,” he told her. “Carry me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light.”

And she did exactly that. She gave up everything … her love of the world and existence in the world … to become a FORCE in the world. Like light.

In doing that, she ended up sharing in a profound way in Christ’s own passion. Jesus himself had his own dark night of the soul, when he cried out on the cross: “My God, why have you abandoned me?”

How many days and nights did Mother Teresa join her voice with his? How often did she feel abandoned by the one who called her?

But her life bears witness to the fact that God DIDN’T abandon her. The world saw Him through her. Every child she cradled. Every leper she bathed. Every diaper she changed. It was all done by the hand of God. He was there.

And, in turn, for all the loneliness and spiritual emptiness she may have felt, SHE never abandoned HIM. She held on, instead, to the voice that spoke to her: “Come, be my light.”

Those words are now the title of the book that is being published. People are already comparing it to the Confessions of St. Augustine and the writings of the great doctors of the church.

It’s astonishing to think that the most important work of Mother Teresa – her true legacy – may not have been to the poor in the slums, but to the poor in spirit. Those who every day walk through the slums of their own hearts, feeling deserted and unloved.

This book, I think, will speak to so many of us who are questioning, and searching. It will show just what it takes to be a saint.

It takes more than piety. It takes perseverance: continuing through all the barren deserts of life, and doing God’s will anyway – trusting, somewhere, somehow, that an oasis awaits you at the end.

The painful fact is that all of us at one time or another know that desert. We all have felt spiritually dry, isolated from God. We know the sense of desolation. Mother Teresa’s story speaks powerfully to all of us.

And so, I think, does God’s call to her. Because it is His call to each of us.

“Come, be my light.”

Light was the first thing that God brought forth at the beginning of time.

It was what He needed to continue His creation.

Mother Teresa fulfilled that need.

And we can, too.

“Come, be my light.”

Come, He says. Help me finish what I have begun. Be my hands. Be my voice. Be my light. Give love to the unloved, and hope to the hopeless.

And: don’t be afraid of the darkness.

Because darkness and doubt, even the kind Mother Teresa experienced, make faith matter. A faith that doesn’t question, or feel some uncertainty, is a shallow faith, a kind that will not deepen and grow. Faith should ask hard questions – who is God? What does He want of us? – because in asking those questions it means that we don’t have all the answers.

And that, too, is a mark of humility.

That little Albanian nun with the weathered face and the simple blue and white sari is a powerful example of that.

But there is an even greater example of humility among us right now. It is the Eucharist we are about to receive — when God becomes bread, and bread becomes God. When the exalted is humbled and the humble exalted.

And we who are about to share that mystery, in receiving it, are also exalted — and humbled. Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof. But he does. And we are transformed.

As we prepare to receive Christ as bread, we pray to welcome him with the same humility as Mother Teresa – to answer in some small way Christ’s invitation:

“Come. Be my light.”

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