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April 20th, 2009


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.

December 14th, 2008


I’ve never been a devotee of Padre Pio.  Of course, I’ve heard of him; you can hardly be a Catholic and not have heard of Padre Pio.  But I ordered the new book Words of Light: Inspiration from the Letters of Padre Pio as a Christmas gift for a Franciscan friend and have just finished reading it.

It is compiled and introduced by Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa and published (2008) by Paraclete Press.  Father Cantalamessa, also a Franciscan priest, is known as the preacher to the Pope, and you don’t get much more theologically august and respectable than that. Much has been written about Padre Pio but in this book, drawn from his letters, he finally gets to speak for himself.

I thought I might give a thumbnail sketch of Padre Pio for those not familiar with him, beginning with:  Born Francesco Forgione in Pietrelcina, Italy, 1887. Died 1968.  Canonized 2002.  Feast Day September 23.  Then I realized that a thumbnail sketch of Padre Pio is just not possible.  There are so many facets to his life – his joining the Capuchins at a young age, his many health problems, his gifts including the reading of souls, healings, the stigmata, his good works, diabolical attacks, his problems with the church, and on and on.  Wikipedia seems to me to present a pretty comprehensive overview.

I will content myself with the following description written by Padre Pio to his spiritual advisor, Padre Benedetto, about how he received the stigmata — and then a few comments on the new book.

On the morning of the 20th of last month [September, 1918], in the choir, after I had celebrated Mass, I yielded to a drowsiness similar to a sweet sleep. All the internal and external senses and even the very faculties of my soul were immersed in indescribable stillness. Absolute silence surrounded and invaded me. I was suddenly filled with great peace and abandonment which effaced everything else and caused a lull in the turmoil. All this happened in a flash.

While this was taking place, I saw before me a mysterious person similar to the one I had seen on the evening of 5 August. The only difference was that his hands and feet and side were dripping blood. The sight terrified me and what I felt at that moment is indescribable. I thought I should die and really should have died if the Lord had not intervened and strengthened my heart which was about to burst out of my chest.

The vision disappeared and I became aware that my hands, feet and side were dripping blood.  Imagine the agony I experienced and continue to experience almost every day. The heart wound bleeds continually, especially from Thursday evening until Saturday. Dear Father, I am dying of pain because of the wounds and the resulting embarrassment I feel in my soul. I am afraid I shall bleed to death if the Lord does not hear my heartfelt supplication to relieve me of this condition.  Will Jesus, who is so good, grant me this grace? Will he at least free me from the embarrassment  caused by these outward signs? I will raise my voice and will not stop imploring him until in his mercy he takes away, not the wound or the pain, which is impossible since I wish to be inebriated with pain, but these outward signs which cause me such embarrassment and unbearable humiliation. (Letters 1, No. 511).

Padre Pio bore the wounds of Jesus on his hands, feet, and side for 50 years.  Several days before he died in 1968, the wounds of the stigmata disappeared without leaving a single scar.

The excerpts in Words of Light are drawn primarily from Padre Pio’s letters.  He describes his prayer thus:

As soon as I set myself to pray, I immediately feel as if my heart has been engulfed by the flame of a living love.  That flame has nothing to do with any flame in the world here below.  It is a delicate and sweet flame that gives no pain.  It is so sweet and so delicious that the spirit finds a great satisfaction in it, and remains satisfied by it in such a way that it does not lose the desire for it.

But all is not sweetness and consolation:

God remains hidden from the attentive spirit that burns itself up keeping watch for him, that is compelled to seek for him, though the task is exhausting.  Finding itself alone in a desolate solitude the poor spirit goes on consuming itself through the many fears of offending him since it is alone with its ardent character, alone with inner and outer vexations; alone with its natural corruption; alone with the trials of the enemy.  My God, where are you?  I do not know you anymore nor can I find you; but this searching for you is a necessity……

He is attacked by evil spirits:

Padre Pio complained to his guardian angel about the attacks of those “impure apostates.”  His angel said, ‘Give thanks to Jesus that he treats you as one chosen to follow him closely up the steep slope of Calvary.  I see, soul entrusted to my care by Jesus, with joy and emotion inside me, Jesus’ conduct toward you…..    Jesus permits the devil these assaults so that your devotion might make you dear to him, and he wants you to become like him during the anguish in the desert, the garden and the cross…… when your strength is of no use, do not worry, delight of my heart.  I am close to you.’

Whether experiencing  sweetness or desolation, Padre Pio says “I felt the need to offer myself to the Lord as a victim.”

I am prepared to be deprived forever of the sweetness that Jesus makes me experience, I am ready to suffer Jesus’ hiding his beautiful eyes from me, as long as he doesn’t hide his love, which would kill me.  But to be deprived of suffering, I am not able, I do not have the strength.

As the  recent publication of Mother Teresa’s letters disclosed her long interior suffering while living a life of obvious holiness and worldly recognition, so Padre Pio’s letters give insight into the trials of sanctity.  Mother Teresa toward the end of her life was overheard to say, “Jesus, I never refused you anything.”  Padre Pio’s response to whatever came his way was, “But fiat, I repeat always; and I long for nothing other than the fulfillment of this fiat in exactly the way the Lord requests – with generosity and strength.”  “Without reservation.”

Years ago I read that on the road to sanctity one first endures suffering, then accepts it, then embraces it.   This challenged me as I only endured suffering when there was no other option.  Obviously we are not all cut out to be Mother Teresas or Padre Pios.  Perhaps there are gentler ways to God with a lesser cross and a lesser crown?   To willingly embrace suffering in reparation for the sins of mankind must take a Christ-like love and a Christ-like courage.

Perhaps, like The Little Flower, St. Thérèse, who was content to be the smallest little white flower if it pleased God,  it is best to go along whatever path God puts us on.   Here I am, at 85, and not really into suffering. (That is not to say there may not be an opportunity.)  It might be a good idea to leave it up to God and trust that each person’s cross will be exactly the right size for them.

Or heed Padre Pio’s advice: Pray, hope, and don’t worry!


Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24

I rejoice in my sufferings, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ. – Colossians 1:24

September 29th, 2008


The following was published as LOVE AND PUNISH in Marriage: The Magazine of Catholic Family Living in September, 1962, and later re-published as a Marriage Pamphlet titled  Discipline–with Love. Human nature has not changed much in the interim.


Should children be punished?  Why?  When?  How?  One mother, when invited to attend a lecture by a child guidance expert commented:  “I don’t need any lecture.  My kids toe the line or they get the strap.”

Another mother retrieved her two-year-old from the middle of the street and, setting him down on the curb, gave him a smart whack on his well-padded rear.  The child cried for only a minute but the mother’s whole day was ruined.  “I shouldn’t have hit him,” she fretted.  “It’s a terrible thing to strike a child.”

These two women have radically different ideas about discipline.  One considers corporal punishment a cure-all, another considers it an abomination.  One spanks often, confident she is right; another seldom, and then guiltily.  Is there a happy medium?  What have the experts to say? Read the rest of this entry »