One of the things Mother Teresa was famous for was radiating joy.
At first glance. the origin of this joy would seem clear. For anyone who has ever served the poor and afterwards “felt good inside,” this would clearly be the answer. She spent her life doing good things for other people, she filled her life with “feeling good inside,” the result of which is joy.
But if you were to suggest this conclusion to her, she would say there is much more to it than what meets the eye.
Commenting on her work to a group of Americans, Mother explained that “many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.”
Mother was explaining that the source of her joy was not her work. Rather her work was the way in which she loved Jesus.
The reality was that Mother Teresa was a living flame of love for God, and joy was the external fruit of this love.
The joy on Mother Teresa’s face was only an external sign of the inward reality of a heart that was consumed by love of her divine spouse, Jesus Christ. (Isaiah 62:5)
Another way of putting it is that her joy was not simply from loving and serving the poor, rather her joy was the result of loving Jesus who is present in the poor. (Matthew 25:40)
And what about this feeling good inside? It may surprise you to find out that this was also not the case.
After Mother Teresa died and the process of her canonization began, it was revealed through previously confidential letters to her spiritual directors that Mother Teresa spent the final 50 years of her life in complete spiritual darkness, feeling completely abandoned by others and by God.
It was not that she simply didn’t experience warm and fuzzies you get when you help people; she was experiencing something closer to hell on earth.
What made this trial even more difficult was what preceded this time of darkness was a period of time lived in intense union with God. This time was so intense that once, while riding a train, Jesus spoke to her audibly in a human voice, asking her to found what would later be her religious order, the Missionaries of Charity.
But how could Mother experience such profound suffering her heart, but radiate such a love and joy?
The answer is that even when everything seemed to be falling apart, Mother never lost her hope in Jesus.
Mother Teresa understood three truths — that God is All-Powerful, All-Knowing, and loved her personally. Mother Teresa knew that nothing happened to her that was not either permitted or willed to happen to her by God for her greatest possible good. That all things flowed from his love. She knew that the only answer was to continue to hope in God and persevere to the end. (Matthew 24:13)
Mother’s joy was authentic because it was not forced or created, rather it was a direct result of her living out the Gospel. Mother Teresa was full of joy, not because her life was perfect, but because she had allowed the Holy Spirit to guide her life and fill her with this joy.
St. Paul puts it perfectly when he prays, “now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)
This Christmas season, instead of looking to gifts, parties, or others to give us the true and lasting joy we so desperately desire, let’s turn to the one who can actually give us this joy, namely Jesus Christ.
Let’s also look to Mother Teresa as an example and witness to a life lived in right order. She loved God first and foremost with everything she had, and she loved her neighbor as herself. (Luke 10:27)
It was in this relationship with the divine that she allowed God to put his joy in her and her joy became complete (John 15:11).
Let us too, ask God to come into our lives in a greater way and fill us with hope. That whatever has happened, is happening now, or will happen in the future is all a part of God’s loving and mysterious providence. That God is guiding all things for our good, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
And that Jesus desperately desires that we surrender to him so that one day he can say to us, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ (Matthew 25:23)
This Christmas season let’s surrender our hearts to the one who simply wants to share with us his joy.
Matthew Montag is Seminarian Intern at St. Columbkille Catholic Church in Wilmington.
This weekly column is provided to the News Journal on a monthly rotation basis by members of the Wilmington Area Ministerial Association (WAMA).