When an email from the Missionaries of Charity in San Francisco came into TOBI, requesting a speaker to teach a TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion Course to their novices and professed Sisters, I felt a desire spark in my heart. It was not only a desire to share TOB with them, but it was also a desire to experience their ministry to the poor. Like many of us, I have admired their charism of ministering to the poor, the sick and dying, and those whom the world doesn’t see as valuable. As excited as I was to share TOB, I had a feeling that I would learn much more from them, than they would from me!
Thanks to a few generous TOBI donors, I was able to venture off to San Francisco to spend a week with 50 novices and Sisters. I had no idea how this week would change my life and how TOB would become even more alive in my heart. As the Sisters brought me to the home where I would be staying for the week, I learned that it was one of the homes they run for homeless women who are pregnant or have a child. The home gave shelter to 6 women (3 of whom were pregnant) and 5 children. Five Sisters lived in the house and ministered to the women and children, as well as staffed a soup kitchen for homeless men and women. Each evening, I would eat dinner with the women and children. I would learn, firsthand, of their poverty in the material world, but also of the poverty of the men in their lives who were not able to love them as God was calling them. I listened to and laughed and cried with these beautiful women from all over the world, who may not have known their dignity as a beloved daughter of God, but who, so deeply, hungered for love. “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” (Mother Teresa)
“The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” (Mother Teresa)
Each day began very early with Mass at the novitiate. I arrived before the sun came up on the first day of teaching, to be greeted by the novices (novices are dressed in all white habits – the professed Sisters wear the white and blue habits like Mother Teresa). As they walked into the chapel and knelt down, the words that sprang to my joy-filled heart were, “here are the brides of Christ!” Following Mass, the Sisters showed me to the library where they had made a special table for my meals and set up a little bed for the hour of rest each day (A habit I may institute at TOBI!). The library was filled with images and inspirational quotes of Mother Teresa, cabinets of items she used when she visited the novitiate, and relics of many saints. This room provided me with much inspiration and prayer as I prepared my two, 3-hour teaching sessions each day.
As I entered into the classroom, a bit too small for 50 novices and Sisters, but perfect for me to be up-close-and-personal with all of them, I noticed a very large image of Mother Teresa on the wall in the front of the classroom, an image of Mother Teresa and Pope Saint John Paul II in the corner, an image of Jesus crucified behind me and a beautiful statue of Our Lady next to me. Until this week, over my 10+ years of teaching TOB in one form or another, I had never taught TOB to a group of religious women, so I was thankful to be surrounded by the heavenly support! As I stood before a sea of novices and Sisters, I prayed that the Lord would give me the words their feminine hearts needed to hear, that I would be an instrument of His love for them and that they would grow deeper in love with their Bridegroom through learning the Theology of the Body.
As I began to walk them through Pope Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and shared myself with them, I watched their minds and hearts open more and more to the teaching and to Christ. I watched as they made connections with their vocation, their prayer, their relationship with God as His daughters, their relationship with Jesus as His Brides, their service to others, and so much more. Their joy and love for the Lord was so beautiful and contagious. “A joyful heart is the normal result of a heart burning with love. She gives most who gives with joy.” (Mother Teresa)
I watched as they brought their workbooks to our holy hour each afternoon and earnestly brought what was being taught, into their relationship with the Lord. They asked very beautiful questions about applying the teaching to their vocation and ministry – not only to the women in the homeless shelter, but also to the women living with HIV/AIDS in another shelter, to the teens in a parish they serve who are growing up in a culture that doesn’t value sexuality as God created it to be, to the homeless men and women to whom they serve meals… the list goes on and on. As Missionaries of Charity, they not only take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, they take a fourth vow, to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” This is the “total gift of self” we are all called to in TOB.
This “total gift of self” was so evident to me, not only in the charism of their religious order, but also in their personal vocation as a bride of Christ. “It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” (Mother Teresa) It truly was a joy to share in the love of Jesus with their feminine hearts. They truly long to love Jesus with a personal, bridal love, through their love and care for the poorest of the poor. When I thought about all the things they see and experience with the poor each day, I wasn’t so sure I wouldn’t fall into despair, but here they were, filled with joy, love, and hope.
This total gift of self became more real to me as I walked into their chapel each day to see the memorial they had set up for four of their Sisters who had been murdered by ISIS in Yemen, just 10 days before I arrived. “At the moment of death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we have done, but by the weight of love we have put into our work. This love should flow from self-sacrifice and it must be felt to the point of hurting.” (Mother Teresa) I sat there in the chapel, seeing these young novices and Sisters kneeling before the Lord and I thought, “Each one of these brides would sacrifice their life for their Bridegroom.” There wasn’t a holy hour I experienced that week that I didn’t leave in awe. In awe, not only of Jesus in the Eucharist, but in awe of the love He has for each of them and the love they have for Him. The question that remained with me each day was, “Am I willing to sacrifice my life for my Bridegroom?” The only answer I could give was that I deeply desire to be able to, but that it is only possible with God’s grace and perfect love.
“At the moment of death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we have done, but by the weight of love we have put into our work. This love should flow from self-sacrifice and it must be felt to the point of hurting.” (Mother Teresa)
As my week came to an end, it was a bittersweet goodbye. As much as I longed to stay amidst the joy of the community to share TOB with them, I knew their joy came from serving Jesus in the poorest of the poor, and they desired to leave the classroom of learning TOB to bring it to each person they served. As Missionaries of Charity around the world serve the poorest of the poor, they are living TOB, not only in giving their gift of self to the poor, but also in their care for the sick and dying. They are caring for the bodies and souls of those society has thrown away. They wipe their tears, cleanse their wounds, feed and clothe them. They uphold their dignity and see the invisible reality of each person, made in the image and likeness of God, made visible through their bodies. – “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” (Mother Teresa) My time with these beautiful novices and Sisters changed my heart and it deepened my love for the Lord. I pray that in my life and in my work at the Theology of the Body Institute, I, too, can say, “I serve, because I love Jesus.”
“I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” (Mother Teresa)
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Daily Prayer of the Missionaries of Charity – Radiating Christ
Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our souls.
Let them look up, and see no longer us, but only Jesus! Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as You shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from You; none of it will be ours. It will be You, shining on others through us. Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You without preaching, not by words but by example, by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear for You. Amen.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Jen serves as Managing Director of the Theology of the Body Institute. She has been part of TOBI since 2008 in various capacities, including Certification Course Manager and Director of Programs for the Internship, Certification, and Clergy Enrichment Programs. She has Bachelor and Master degrees in Theology and Parish Ministry from Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa. Jen worked in religious education and adult faith formation for 15 years before joining the TOBI staff, teaching Theology of the Body throughout the country.