Author and photographer Linda Schaefer shares how her life was impacted by Mother Teresa. Shaefer…
Honoring the legacy of Mother Teresa
My son was born on Mother Teresa’s feast day, and she played a big role in his birth. After days of prodromal labor left me exhausted and in tears, I turned to her go-to prayer, the Flying Novena. When Mother Teresa didn’t have time to pray a full nine-day novena, she simply said nine Memorares in rapid succession and left the outcome to the Lord. She said many times that the prayer never let her down.
As I prayed my own Flying Novena, I felt peace envelop me, and I saw in my mind’s eye the hands of Jesus cradling and slightly shifting my baby. The prodromal labor subsided, and I was finally able to sleep.
Two days later, my water broke, and I went into labor in earnest. It soon became clear that there was a snag — my son was positioned wrong and was stuck in the birth canal. The OB attempted to move him to no avail and made it clear to my husband and I that I was most likely heading for a C-section. She was willing to give us a little time before sending me to surgery, and my husband shook his head when I told him that it wasn’t going to be necessary.
But I had seen Jesus move this baby, and I knew just who we needed to turn to in prayer: the small, stubborn woman whose feast day the Church was celebrating that day, because, of course, there are no coincidences with God. We prayed another Flying Novena, and on the ninth Memorare, I felt my son shift. He was born shortly afterward.
As we approach her feast day this year (Sept. 5), and with it the 25th anniversary of her death, I know that I cannot be the only one trying to think of ways to honor her legacy. Here are a few things I’m planning on doing in this busy season of life with young children. I may not be able to travel and volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity or even regularly serve the poor in my community as she did, but there is still much that I can do — that perhaps we can do.
Up my prayer time
Mother Teresa is known for her life of service, but her service would have been impossible had she not fully centered herself in prayer. In addition to stopping at several points in the day to pray, she and all of the Missionaries of Charity prayed a daily Holy Hour. She once explained: “I make a Holy Hour each day in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. All my sisters of the Missionary of Charity make a daily Holy Hour as well, because we find that through our daily Holy Hour, our love of Jesus becomes more intimate, our love for each other more understanding, and our love for the poor more compassionate.”
As busy as my life gets, Mother Teresa reminds me that if I’m not centering everything around my prayer time, I’m making a mistake. Though I may not be heading out to serve the poor on the streets, I do want to be more understanding, more compassionate and more loving toward the little people I care for all day. When I follow her lead and put prayer first, I become a better wife and mother to my family.
Read her writings
I have always found that by reading what a saint wrote and said (as opposed to simply reading about them), they are most accessible, and I can get to know them best. Growing up, and even into adulthood, I was familiar with Mother Teresa’s works and her famous quote, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love,” but I had no idea that for decades she struggled with spiritual darkness, not unlike that of St. John of the Cross. I was surprised to find in her a source of encouragement and support for the times of dryness I myself experienced.
Speak truth with love
Mother Teresa made waves in the political world with her 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. She spoke on the topic of abortion and was unequivocally pro-life. But, she spoke that truth in love, with no rancor, no condemnations, only an exhortation to do better.
Do I do that? Or do I allow myself to be pulled into the current cultural and political climate with its tendency to view anyone who disagrees with me as an enemy? Am I able to reach out to those who hold different views without insults, anger or overwhelming judgment? Do I pause and pray before I respond to ensure that I am using my voice well, or do I just click on the comment button and make that voice heard?
The honest answer is that I have room for improvement.
Adopt a mindset of dignity for all
On a related topic, one of the most beautiful things about Mother Teresa was that she treated each and every person she met with the inherent dignity that they deserved as children of God. It didn’t matter if that person was a criminal, a drunk on the street, a lapsed Catholic politician or a poor, dying woman. All were deserving of respect and love.
Did that mean she respected and agreed with their life choices? Of course not, but she knew that every one of them was created in the image and likeness of God, and treating them that way helped to remind them of that fact.
As I think about her example, I am reminded to do better in my own interactions, especially with those who have made choices I disagree with.
Teach my children about her
As Mother Teresa holds a special place in our family, it’s important to me that my children learn about her life and her mission. To that end, on her feast day, we read a children’s book about her and look at photos of her in ministry. One of the perks about modern saints is that my kids can see her in color pictures, and it makes her all the more real to them.
Discern my own mission from God
Mother Teresa’s mission began when she heard God’s call to her to join the Loreto sisters. Later, she famously heard him tell her, “I thirst,” and she knew that he was calling her somewhere else.
At each stage, she heard him because she was listening, open, and knew what his voice sounded like. She had spent years cultivating a deep relationship with him. It was this confidence that made it possible for her to say yes and stand firm even when it was tough.
Sometimes I am tempted to look at her and think, well, of course her mission worked; it was Mother Teresa! But in reality, she had many hurdles to overcome and lots to tempt her to go back to her previous life at each stage.
Like Mother Teresa, the mission to which God calls me has and will continue to change with the passage of time and seasons. In her, I find a reminder that discernment is not a one-and-done event but rather the process of continually turning to the Lord throughout my life to seek his will.
What is he calling me to today? What mission is lying heavy on my heart? What work do I need to do to accomplish it? Are there tools or skills I need to acquire in order to do his will? Am I continuing to learn and grow as a Catholic so that I can follow him better? These are all questions that I am bringing to prayer regularly.
And so as we approach Mother Teresa’s feast day, I am leaning into her example and applying the lessons I have learned from her witness. I hope you will, too.
Colleen Pressprich is the author of “Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children” (OSV, $18.95). She writes from Michigan.