I am the kind of person who likes to dive right into a book. I fully commit, reading quickly and absorbing the story or purpose in most of my free moments. I enjoy how different… More
I was talking with my father-in-law the other night about tomorrow’s canonization of Mother Teresa. This is a huge event for so many people, Catholic or otherwise. Mother Teresa’s example of love, service solidarity, charity, compassion, mercy, forgiveness, faith, persistence, resolve, (need I go on?) will resound throughout the centuries as generations to come will continue to learn from her and her incredible witness. My father-in-law made a comment I’ve heard many times said by many people in similar words: “Look at her, how can we possibly hope to compare?”
At first I was inclined to agree. Indeed, Mother Teresa is a woman who stands out among women. She dedicated her life to God and actively sought His direction. She followed where God called her, even when it meant giving up comforts and familiar faces. She continued her obedience even when she walked through her dark night of the soul, her belief never wavering even in the midst of an arid spiritual desert.
It is true, Mother Teresa did things that few human beings have done. She was willing to sacrifice what the world holds dear so that she could fully embrace those the world has rejected. It is without question that she is someone to be admired, to be looked up to and to be challenged by.
But, I challenge the sentiment that we need to compare ourselves to her. She can challenge us to live better lives, she can encourage us to detach from the things that keep us from following God and she certainly can call us to improve in areas we fall short of compassion and generosity. However, I am not called to be Mother Teresa. You are not called to be Mother Teresa. I am called to be Kate Taliaferro. You are called to be [say name here]. We each have a unique mission given to us by God to fulfill for the betterment of one another.
What makes Mother Teresa so magnetic, what makes her smiling wrinkled face and worn hands so inspiring, is that she truly became who God had called her to be. When God called, she was listening. When God moved, she responded. When God challenged, she continued to empty herself into His hands so that He could work in and through them.
Mother was always encouraging those she encountered to continue growing in who they are as children of God. A simple Google search offers a plethora of quotes, all which can be applied not to becoming more like Mother, but to growing in holiness on our own paths that God has laid out for us.
If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.Peace begins with a smile..Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls.
We are not all called to Calcutta, but we are called to love each person we encounter in our day. We are not all called to work with the sick or dying, but we all know someone who is weak in spirit, harboring sadness or despair, or struggling through life who is in need of our kindness. We are not all called to walk through the streets feeding the hungry, but we all probably know of a corner where a person in need is waiting for someone to look them in the eyes, acknowledging our common humanity, and offer them a meal. We may not be called to give up everything, but we are all definitely called to sacrifice something that is keeping us from a deeper relationship with Christ.
So I challenge you, like I challenge myself, be who you are called to be. Be inspired by Mother Teresa’s holiness, her faith and her obedience, not intimidated. Be encouraged by her joy, her compassion and her generosity, not disheartened. May her smile be a pathway to the you you are called to be.
So this post opens with a bit of TMI (too much information) but stick with me.
Since she was very young, one of my daughters has had a hard time with going #2. We were even taking her to a pediatric gastroenterologist for a while an hour away because her 15 month old self would hold it for 7 days. Yep, sometimes 7+ days. Yuck, and all sorts of not good.
It’s not surprising that this issue would rear it’s ugly head (or refuse to show itself…sorry bad joke), when we were potty training. As days would stack up, our sweet little girl got crankier and increased her sass level exponentially. No surprise really, she was full it it, literally. Poor girl, nothing we were trying was working. Until Grandma came to the rescue!
Grandma, Ben’s mom, works with elderly folks and their caregivers. When they are having trouble in this area, she always recommends prunes. The individually wrapped ones specifically, so that it almost looks like candy or some kind of special treat. When she was visiting us last winter, we got some and right away in the store she looked straight at my full-of-it girl and said, “Oh look, the commissary has Sugar Plums! Just like in Twas the Night Before Christmas, remember? The kids dream about sugar plums and how yummy they are. This is great! I can’t wait to have one when we get home.” Needless to say, John also wanted one and for the rest of her visit, every lunch, Grandma and John and our trouble maker had a “sugar plum.” To this day, she has one every day and we haven’t had any more issues. These quite literally saved our lives.
Now the funny part, and the purpose of sharing all that quality information with you, is that now we are all trained. No one, not even Ben and I when we are alone, call the prunes “prunes.” They are sugar plums. I write sugar plums on my grocery list. If someone asked me if I had prunes in the house, my first reaction would be to say no. We have completely bought into the idea and have integrated the term into our everyday family language.
The same goes for Wheat Thins. I head once, Jim Gaffigan I think, that families are either Wheat Thins or Triscuit families. We happen to be a Wheat Thin family. However, you wouldn’t know it if you heard us talk about them. In our house they are “simple crackers.” I came up with this gem on the fly when John asked for crackers for a snack when he was about 3. I think he had wanted the peanut butter cracker sandwiches, or maybe graham crackers. I don’t remember, I but do know that we didn’t have what he wanted and all I had were Wheat Thins.
He was at the table and couldn’t see what I was pointing to, so I couldn’t say “I have Wheat Thins” because he wouldn’t have known what those are. So I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have – insert desired crackers – but we do have some plain crackers, are those OK?” His eyes widened to the point I thought they might pop out and his joy surpassed Christmas morning levels. “We have PLANE CRACKERS!” Oh dear, remember his dad is a pilot and our lives revolve around the comings and goings of military aircraft out our back window. This was going to get tragic, fast.
I quickly apologized and said I read the box wrong. They weren’t plane/plain crackers, they were simple crackers. Thank goodness he bought it and wasn’t too broken up about the whole thing. And so it goes, the grocery list says simple crackers, Rosie only knows them as simple crackers, and Clare probably will as well.
These are funny little quirks that every family has, especially with young children. We don’t have special words or phrases to be exclusive, sometimes they are simply are spur of the moment and of the utmost necessity. Or, they are made out of a silly story, like nicknames that people hold onto from that one day on the playground when… Regardless of how we acquire them, our families have a special language entirely our own. Perhaps similar to other families, but still unique to us.
The Church’s language (and other religions as well) functions in a similar manner. We have some funny words and key phrases that to someone not familiar with the Church would find weird, obscure or confusing. We have some practices that to other religions seem different or unnecessary. But without these unique words, this language of significance, we would not be able to fully express who we are and what we believe.
This is the whole point of Baptism and the Sacraments of Initiation. Before you can be in the family, you have to learn about the family. This is especially pertinent to teenagers and adults who are choosing to enter the Church. There is a process, a rhythm, to the rites and liturgies. There is discernment, which takes time. There is learning, which takes time. There is wisdom in not being able to wake up one day, decide to be Catholic, and be baptized that evening.
I guess the reason why I felt compelled to write this post is because of the stories I’ve heard. I know adults who have gone through the initiation process and come out on the other side feeling like they don’t know much more than they did before they started. This is wrong and it is a disservice to them and to the whole Church. Just as important, and especially applicable to my own situation, are the stories of those who were “raised” Catholic without any real training in Catholicism. How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t know the difference between Incarnation and Immaculate Conception? How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t firmly believe that the Eucharist is truly Jesus’ Body and Blood? How can you be raised Catholic if you don’t believe you need to go to Confession?
As parents, it is our job to raise and train our children in their faith. We cannot leave it to others, to wait for a school to teach them or expect one hour on Sunday mornings to do the trick. If you were sacramentally married, you made promises to your spouse and to God that you would not only be open to children, but that you would raise them in the faith. This means giving them the language of our faith as well as teaching them how to live it out. What an incredible gift and challenge. You have before you saints-in-the-making, even if they are covered in flour, play-dough, syrup or paint. Even when they yell back, pout, and whine that “this dinner is not my favorite.”
Your greatest gift to your children is your love for our Lord and His Church. Through your actions, your service and your gift of the language of the Church, you give them this great gift.
When I volunteered to read and review Heather King’s Loaded: Money and the Spirituality of Enough, I did not quite know what the book would be about. Money, obviously. And perhaps something about a Catholic approach to living simply, the beatitudes, or Jesus’ teachings on not worrying about shoring up material possessions.
And yes, all these things were mentioned in the book. However, King’s work is about so much more than that. It is about our relationship with money and how, for many people, that relationship can be somewhat to severely unhealthy and even debilitating. King explores her own rocky relationship with money throughout the book, sharing stories from her life as well as those of others, and experiences of severe underearning, unrealistic expectations and an unhealthy fixation with income. At the start of the book, she describes herself and her situation this way:
My bottom came in the acknowledgement that the way I lived invited me to be “brave” in some ways that were foolhardy, and in other ways not to be brave at all. My primary goal had become not to give all of my gifts but rather to conserve all of my money” (23).
King walks through her steps to recovery in a straightforward, sit-you-down-and-stare-you-in-the-eyes kind of way. You can feel her talking to you, even if you don’t share her same exact struggles. At the end of each section she offers actions and tools to help you work through that portion of the book and the recovery process.
My biggest takeaway by far doesn’t necessarily have to do with money, though that is one of the overarching themes. Rather, I was moved by King’s honesty regarding how we can hoard our gifts the same way we can hoard money, sweaters or collectables. We all have been put in this world with something(s) to give. King observes: “I might not have owed anyone a penny. But I was taking more out of the world than I was putting in. That’s a form of debt: not only to others, but to ourselves” (27).
Loaded is about far more than money, though many lessons can and should be gleaned from it regarding a healthy relationship with both earning and spending money. Loaded is a passionate text which implores the reader to look deeply into their life to discover their inherent self-worth, their capacity for generosity and their God-given dignity as a human person.