Last month, we noted that a disciple is one who “sits at the feet” of Jesus, learning from Him and receiving His grace through prayer and the sacraments. The disciple is then able to “go out” as a missionary, bearing faithful witness to Christ and His Church.
It would be hard to find a better example of this than St. Teresa of Calcutta and the order of sisters she founded. Let’s begin with their very name—the Missionaries of Charity. Their missionary work is to carry God’s love, His charity, to the “poorest of the poor.” Putting Faith in action, they bear witness to Jesus’ words, “Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me.” (cf., Mt 25:4) All over the world, these dear sisters feed the hungry, visit the lonely, tend to the sick and comfort the dying.
How are the sisters able to sustain this without burning out? This is where the discipleship part comes in. Mother St. Teresa made sure that, intertwined with their care for the sick and the suffering, each day the sisters would devote four hours to Mass, prayer and eucharistic adoration. It is because they “sit at the feet” of Jesus and receive Him in the Eucharist that their smiling faces can shine on the poor day after day. It is precisely because they are such faithful disciples they can be such effective, loving missionaries.
This is a law of the spiritual life, as absolute and unbreakable as the law of gravity. It applies to us as much as to the Missionaries of Charity. Whatever good works we may be doing–helping with religious education in the parish, volunteering at the local food pantry or homeless shelter, assisting at a crisis pregnancy center, or changing the diapers and guiding the steps of our own children–we must be sustained by the inner flame of grace or our light will grow dim.
Or, to turn to another metaphor favored by Jesus in the Gospels, only a healthy tree can bear good fruit. But to be healthy, we must be planted in good soil made fertile by frequent encounters with Christ in prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. We need to be pruned through the sacrament of reconciliation and through humble acceptance of the unavoidable crosses that come our way.If we commit our lives to Jesus in this way, He will fill us with His love, and it will pour out of us. We will be missionaries of His charity. We all know people like this in our own families and our own parishes. Their first focus is not on “doing good works,” but on knowing and loving Jesus, from whom the works of love flow. They are not seeking praise or trying to justify themselves. They are simply responding to the impulse of love that comes from deep within, and so there is a naturalness, an ease, about them. These men and women are true missionaries because they are true disciples. In ways, both simple and profound, they are shining examples of Jesus words: “You are the light of the world. … Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” (Mt 5:14, 16)
Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns
Published January/February 2021 Catholic Life Issue