Monday, September 5, 2016

Nothing is Impossible: The Cross of St. Teresa of Calcutta

“Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:27)

Too often we toss around the term impossible to make excuses for we cannot or are not willing to do.  Sometimes we look up to heaven when burdened by a great cross and say, “Lord, this is impossible.”  Impossible is a human word and not part of God’s vocabulary.  “Nothing is impossible for God,” the Angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary when announcing the birth of Christ.  We use this word as a crutch, an excuse, or as an escape clause when everything seems to be falling down around us.  We use this word at times when God asks of us what we deem “impossible.”  Today in the gospel, our Lord is quite frank in saying that whoever does not carry his own cross to come after him cannot be his disciple.  So many times we leave our crosses on the side of the road when things get tough and then realize we get lost because that very cross that seemed so heavy was our compass to lead us to where God wants us to be.

On this day in which we celebrate the canonization of Mother Teresa, we recall her own call to take up the cross unexpectedly given to her by our Lord to take care of the poorest of the poor.  Why another call?  At the time, she was already a nun teaching girls.  She had already consecrated herself to Jesus as his bride when she answered the call to be a nun, but as the first reading tells us “who can conceive what the Lord intends? (Wisdom 9:13)”  No one.  Not even a future saint.  So after a long struggle with her superiors, she one day left the secure confines of her convent to go into the streets of Calcutta.  If you haven’t seen the movie “The Letters” about Mother Teresa, I highly recommend it (it is currently available on Netflix).  The film does a beautiful job of depicting this transition of Mother Teresa from the convent to the unwelcoming streets of Calcutta to embrace this “impossible” vocation.  Impossible? Because the saints are so close to God, this word also does not exist in their vocabulary while they journey with us here on earth.  But here is probably what is most remarkable about St. Teresa answering this new call from the Lord: as she ventured out to care for the sick and the poor, at times she felt abandoned by God.  Yet she persisted.  She continued to carry her cross even though she felt at times that she was carrying alone.  Every day she spent an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament even when she felt she was not being accompanied by He who called her.  In carrying out her God given mission to reach out to the poor, St. Teresa showed us was is truly possible when we surrender to God even when we feel abandoned by Him.  It’s not Him. It’s us.  We’re the ones that can’t perceive his presence at times, and we’re the ones who toss around the word impossible.  This little nun captivated not only our Church but the entire world with her actions and even some of her words when she would pause to speak.

On this concept of surrender, St. Teresa once said: “Total surrender consists in giving ourselves completely to God, because God has given Himself to us.  If God owes nothing to us and is ready to impart to us no less than Himself, shall we answer with just a fraction of ourselves?  I give up my own self and in this way induce God to live for me.  Therefore to possess God we must allow him to possess our souls.”  In another instance the saint proclaimed: “Let God use you without consulting with you. Let the Lord catch you…Let yourself be caught by Him and then let Him dispose of you utterly.”  And these were the things this holy woman was saying while she was going through a “dark night” as we have recently discovered.  This is why nothing is impossible for God.  He took this imperfect little pencil, this tiny Albanian nun who experienced her own dark night of the soul, and made her nothing less than a saint here on earth.

So the next time you are about to toss around the word “impossible,” ask yourself if you have totally surrendered to God and his will.  Christ says we cannot be his disciples if we don’t take up our cross and go after him.  St. Teresa left everything to do just that.  She carried her cross faithfully, even through the night, and that cross broke down doors that were impossible to open.  Where is your cross?  What is your impossible calling?  Surrender yourself completely to God: not just a part of you but your entire self.  Let Him catch you, let Him live in you, and let him dispose of you as He wills.  It is not impossible, for this tiny nun showed us that this word does not even belong in the vocabulary of a Christian. 

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.