Having already read five or six books about Mother Teresa, when I was offered Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire by Joseph Langford, M. C., I accepted it but doubted that I was going to learn anything new.  How wrong I was!  This is a marvelous book, abounding in insights into Mother Teresa and her prayer life.

Father Joseph Langford is the priest who founded with Mother Teresa the Missionaries of Charity Fathers.  Thirty years ago (1979) Mother won the Nobel Peace prize.  Before that, in 1972, Father Langford first “met” her when he chanced upon a book in a bookstore near St. Peter’s Square.  The picture of Mother on the cover of Something Beautiful for God by Malcolm Muggeridge drew him into a personal quest.  “Who was this woman?  How had she managed, in an instant, to touch the deepest part of me?  How had she suddenly brought me to the end of a lifelong search, when I wasn’t even aware that I was searching?”

From that time on Father Langford made it his business to learn as much as he could about Mother Teresa’s life, especially about her transforming encounter with Jesus on the train to Darjeeling (September 10, 1946) when Jesus  gave her the “call within a call” that caused her to leave the convent and start picking up people in the streets of Calcutta.  Father Langford was also especially intrigued by the signs Mother posted in the chapels in all her houses reading, “I thirst.”  What did these words mean to Mother Teresa?  What do they mean to us?

Following the great grace Mother received on the train, she also received in 1946 and 1947 a series of internal communications and tableaus showing her the poor and their neediness.   As Jesus explained to Mother, “They don’t know me — so they don’t want me.”   The poor, of course, were not only in Calcutta but in our modern society that does not know God. Mother Teresa was to show them God’s light.   However, anyone who has read the recent book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, by Father Kolodiejchuk, knows about the long, long years of spiritual darkness she herself suffered once her visitations by Jesus ceased.   Yet, as Jesus did not come down from the cross, “Mother Teresa never sought respite or escape – only the means to continue.”   “Her dark night was a school of the spirit, where she learned to cling to God even in her pain – all the while serving the pain of others, rather than being lost in her own.”

Mother Teresa chose to be poor herself, rising at 4:40 AM, with fasting and penances in order to share the plight of the poor.  She slept on a hard prison bed, with no fan, in a tiny room which was both sleeping space and office.  She had a table and stool for furnishing, without radio or TV.  She taught that silence was necessary for the prayer of the heart in which we can open ourselves to God.

Mother  recorded a conversation with Jesus following the life-changing event on the train.  She told him how sinful and weak she was, how afraid she was of suffering, how much she loved comfort.  She reports Jesus as saying: “You are I know the most incapable person – weak and sinful, but just because you are that – I want to use you for My glory.  Will thou refuse?”

She answered Christ’s question with her life.  In Father Kolodiejchuk’s recent book, mentioned above, it is said that when Mother was dying in the hospital she was overheard to say, “Jesus, I never refused you anything.”

God’s love for us is unconditional.  Our bad behavior does not cause him to love us less.  The “hound of heaven” is always seeking after us.  He always thirsts for our love.  “The only thing God ‘hates’ is sin (never the sinner); and that, too, is entirely out of love – as a grieving mother “hates” the cancer eating away at her dying child.”

I have often wondered how the God who is infinite and unchanging can be described as tender, compassionate,  longing, thirsting, or grieved.  Father Langford’s explanation goes thus:

There is something essential to the nature of love – and therefore to the nature of God – that makes the lover vulnerable to the one loved, not out of need or lack, but out of free and sovereign choice.  A mother does not “need” her newborn child in any essential way, but by her freely chosen love she makes herself vulnerable to the child, to his needs, to his pain, to his love.  Love and vulnerability, love and sensitivity, go hand in hand ….. Mother Teresa taught insistently the importance and significance of our poor human love to the heart of God – that God not only welcomes our love but yearns to be loved by us…In the words of St. Augustine, ‘Deus sitit sitiri” (God thirsts to be thirsted for.)

It is never too late to for God to use us.  I’ve been blogging for a year now and  I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised to find myself, an old lady, thinking maybe this is what God wants me to do for the time being.  As Fr. Langford writes:

When [Mother Teresa] first stepped out alone into the slums, leaving behind her familiar existence, she was almost forty years old.  Later, she would launch a pioneering network of AIDS shelters at the age of seventy.  And by the time our community of priests was approved, she was already eighty-two.

What does Jesus’ thirst mean to us?  “God is waiting for us; God is longing for us.   God is ‘lonely’ for us.  But remember, God waits for us in those who are helpless; God longs for us in those who seek for comfort; God is lonely for us in every human heart.”

Father Langford says writing this book was an effort to pay forward all that Mother Teresa gave to him.   He has included three beautiful meditations in the book as well as four appendices with quotes from Mother Teresa, Scripture, and other spiritual writers.  If I had  to choose only one book about Mother Teresa, this would be the one.

It’s all here.  This book contains the secret to becoming the saint that God calls you to be.

~~~

If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. – John 7:37

Be holy.  Holiness is the easiest way to satiate Jesus’ thirst – His for you and yours for Him. — Mother Teresa

Yesterday has gone; tomorrow has not yet come.  We have only today.  Let us begin.  – Mother Teresa.