This past week, one of my classes watched a movie about the life of Mother Teresa. At one point, right after Mother Teresa had left the Loreto convent, she was shown clearing out her room at a host family’s house. The owner told her they had a lot of spare furniture she was welcomed to use during her time with them. She responded by saying that she needed simplicity so that nothing would distract her from her work with the poor.
I don’t know if that scene happened exactly like that in real life, but her words struck me. Even if she didn’t say that, her life showed that she lived that reality. Perhaps even more impressive, though, was the idea that simplicity gives freedom. It wasn’t a new concept to me, but it was a new concept when I considered it in light of the saint of the slums. Mother Teresa needed poverty in order to be committed to caring for the poor. That may not seem profound to you, but hearing those words evoked a question within me: what makes me think I have more discipline than Mother Teresa?
Her God-given mission was to help the poor. Knowing her own humanity, she knew she had to give up creature comforts in order to remain focused on her mission. Her life of poverty provided the freedom to be generous and sacrificial with her life and time. Material items distract. Compelled by the love and thirst of God, Mother Teresa knew she could not afford to be distracted by lesser things. She created space in her life that could be filled by the presence of God. Fewer possessions crowding her heart yielded greater room to the concerns of the Lord.
When I scroll through Facebook, it is difficult to not feel at least a little discouraged. My mini-world of online Catholic life, neatly curated based on my interests, is overflowing with article after article of questions, deception, and Church hierarchy. I haven’t joined the fray and posted yet another reflection on the duplicity found within some of the Church’s most elevated ordained men. It didn’t seem necessary after millions of words have been spilled over it and it doesn’t seem to help the hurting. Despite not posting about it, I feel the increasing weight of the problems and wonder what will happen next.
My faith isn’t shaken–it wasn’t rooted in bishops or the Holy Father to begin with. I don’t feel compelled to even consider leaving the Church–She is my home and I would not want to be an orphan in this crazy world. I do, however, ache for the hurting and I frequently consider how this must look from the perspective of my students. When hypocrisy is so blatant, it is a struggle for them to see why one should belong to such a fragile, sinful institution.
Despite the fact that I am unshaken in my desire to remain in the Church, the Lord gave me a generous gift. Yesterday, the Lord gave me what I didn’t know I needed.
I attended a Theology on Tap.
I know the coordinator pretty well (she is my sister, after all) and so I have known about the progress of the launch of this new program every step of the way. Yet when I walked into the gathering space, I was surprised at the number of people already present. And as the minutes continued to pass, I was soon blown away by the number of people who came streaming in. An event that initially had aimed for fifty people and then optimistically raised its hopes to seventy or eighty, eventually rounded out at about 150 people.
The attendees? They were young college kids, adults in the first decade of “adult” work, middle-aged parents, and grandpas and grandmas. A gentleman at my table graduated from high school in 1956. A priest stood behind me. A co-worker sat next to me. My parents were nearby. A couple sat on the floor near the bar, all available seats having long been snatched up.
“I don’t think God would send someone who loves Him and follows Him to Hell.”
A conversation about exorcisms somehow veered into a free-for-all rapid fire of questions. As I’ve said before, though, if my students ask questions about the faith and they are interested, I have a difficult time telling them no.
“I don’t believe the Church teaches that,” I told the student.
“But if I don’t go to church on Sunday, the Church says that is a mortal sin. I don’t believe that if I love God and He loves me that He would send me to Hell for missing one Mass on Sunday.”
Understandably, this is a question I hear quite often. My students find it difficult to accept that missing Mass is a grave sin. They aren’t skipping it maliciously, I believe, and so I get where they are coming from with their confusion. Usually, it is out of laziness or boredom or busyness.
So I did what I generally do–I tried my best to explain why the Church teaches what she does.
“I think if we understood what the Mass was, then we wouldn’t ask this question. God is asking us to go to Mass to encounter Him and receive Him. He is offering His very self to us out of love. And if we love Him, I don’t think we would say that we aren’t able to come for one hour once a week. The bare minimum in having a relationship with the Lord is this one hour. We couldn’t say no to encountering the Lord and letting Him live in us if we truly loved Him.”
The answer seemed to touch a chord and we moved on to other questions.