Saturday, September 8, 2018

We Are All Called To Be "Missionaries of Charity"

Seriously?

We are all called to be "Missionaries of Charity"? Hey, wait, whoa...!!

This is the congregation founded by (Saint) Mother Teresa, that vows poverty, chastity, obedience, and wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. The MCs really go to the margins, and beyond the margins. It's an awesome and totally radical life, dedicated in a visible way—a prophetically significant way—to Jesus in the Eucharist and in the most desperately poor, unwanted, forgotten people.

The MCs are utterly unromantic. They don't have illusions about what it takes on the natural human level (in terms of physical, psychological, and emotional strength) to live and endure their form of life. Good foundations for the development of such strength (with the help of grace) are ordinarily necessary, but of course they are not sufficient.

In fact human strength is utterly incapable of laying hold of the divine dimension of this calling. Thus there are also other ways to adhere to Mother Teresa's great "movement" (e.g. as co-workers, volunteers, or through the offering of prayer and suffering). It is still possible to participate profoundly in the grace of this charism if you are specifically drawn to it, even if you have a constitution that prohibits you from developing the ability to live in any kind of place, eat any kind of food, be moved somewhere else in the world at a moment's notice, do whatever difficult physical or mental tasks are required by the harsh environment of a slum, a war zone, etc.

Clearly, not everyone is called to the specific form of consecrated life that is the Missionaries of Charity.

Vocations are tested extensively, and many good-hearted people who try to join the MCs are told (sometimes after a period of trial) that "this is not where God is calling you." And that is not a judgment against their character; it is realism about the nature and grace of the MC vocation.

The women and men who live for God through the vows of the Missionaries of Charity live in the heart of the Church and at the most desperate extremities of the world. They live the mystical reality of charity (caritas, agape), which is the kind of love that is ultimate and decisive for existence.

"Charity" in the proper sense of the term indicates the love given by the Holy Spirit—the love that is from God and for God, the supernatural love that we Christians all receive in baptism, that empowers us to live as children of God in Christ. It is also the mysterious hidden reality offered to every human being, and communicated (somehow—perhaps by an "implicit baptism by desire") to those who seek faithfully to do the will of God, the ultimate Goodness, insofar as they understand it. Through grace and charity the Spirit guides and shapes the life of human beings toward the fullness of the recognition of Jesus Christ.

Every human person has been created to receive and to give this love.

Charity is the love that endures forever. The MC vocation is to live this charity in an intense, visibly dedicated way, to all the ends of the earth, wherever there are human persons in need of love.

It is an intense life.

I have been a volunteer with the MCs at various times in my life, and for a consistent period when I lived in Rome. Just volunteering was overwhelmingly intense for me. But I'm glad for what I learned from the experience.

By the very clarity and radical nature of their dedication, the MCs are witnesses to the love that we are all called to live in our own circumstances with the people who are "near" us (our "neighbor").

"Love your neighbor." Everyone agrees with that, right? Nevertheless, it's the hardest thing in the world to do, concretely, day in and day out. 

We can't love one another consistently and in the fullest sense without the grace of Jesus Christ. Those who love others with charity are moved by His grace even if they don't know His name yet, or have not yet inwardly perceived the significance of Him in a way they can articulate to themselves, due to unavoidable misunderstandings, psychologically entrenched preconceptions, or other factors about the human personality that are beyond our understanding.

We all need to know Him better. For this we need witnesses. The MCs are witnesses to the love of God in Christ for every human being. Their witness inspires us to want to love more, to grow in love.

We are drawn to a deeper conversion, to greater worship of the Lord, with gratitude and humility, with a more vital spirit of prayer. And we ask the Lord to give us more generous hearts, more open hearts so that He can give His love through us.

Then by helping one another, and even by just living ordinary life with that prayer, that desire, we ourselves become witnesses, "missionaries of charity" (small "mc") wherever we are.

Mother Teresa spoke often of the "smile," a simple thing: "Peace begins with a smile." This doesn't mean fake smiling all the time, nor is it merely the naturally spontaneous gesture of a cheerful disposition. It means becoming (patiently, day by day) the kind of person who smiles from the heart.

Something from the depths of us where God dwells can appear on our faces, maybe not all the time but sometimes, and perhaps more and more as we grow and experience healing.

Even clinically depressed people can give and receive this smile, or suffering people, people in "dark nights" like Mother Teresa herself. It is the joy of Christ. It changes the world, one gesture at a time, person to person.

This is the mission of charity that is entrusted to each one of us.

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