Confession: I am still learning to love the saints. Maybe that’s not something you’re supposed to say when you’re a Catholic writer for a Catholic publication, but it’s true.
Of course, I haven’t been Catholic very long — just shy of five years. Prior to my conversion I was a Protestant Christian, having grown up in a rural evangelical-style church, and then spending a few years dabbling in Presbyterianism. But after becoming convinced that the Catholic Church is the fullness of the faith, established by Jesus Christ and maintained down through the ages a la Apostolic Succession, my husband and I were received into the faith. On Reformation Sunday, no less.
And so it’s been quite a learning curve. I do not, for example, have an excellent working knowledge of all of the feast days and saint traditions like many of my Catholic friends do. These are things that will hopefully come more easily to my children, who unlike my husband and I are growing up amidst Catholic culture. And I imagine that I will get better at it, too — at least, I hope so!
There is however (aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom I loved even as a non-Catholic, and Pope Saint John Paul II, whose writings played a HUGE role in my initial exploration of Catholicism) one notable exception, one saint that I DO feel a particularly strong connection to. And that is Saint Teresa of Calcutta. I have long admired her work among the poor and the dying because, hello, it’s Mother Teresa. I have four adopted children, including two sons who we were told most likely lived for a brief time at her Missionaries of Charity orphanage in Ethiopia. I respected her boldness when she would speak out about the grave injustice of abortion. And, I loved her attitude towards her work: whether a person was Catholic or not, she invited them to come and give and be a part of what she was doing. And whether a person was Catholic or not, she served and cared for them.
So when the book Come Be My Light was released in 2009, I knew I had to get my hands on it. Although she was openly criticized in many Protestant circles (because of her Catholic, “works-based faith” — Heaven forbid a woman DO things as the result of her beliefs!), I wanted to get to know her better. I figured she’d probably have some good things to say, even though I myself hailed from a different faith tradition.
And, she did. But not in the way that I expected. Yes, her work around the world (though especially in India) was incredible and yes, she was even more selfless than I could have imagined. Yes, she was courageous and driven and yes, she cared very much about orphans like my children once were. But what leaped from every page (and what ultimately dominated the entire volume of her writings) was her incredibly profound and abiding love for Jesus. Even when she struggled inwardly for many years with a “darkness of the soul”, she kept loving, trusting, and following Christ. It was apparent that it was her relationship with the Lord (something that Protestants like me very wrongly and unfairly believed Catholics did not have) that fueled, well, every single thing she did.
The book was admittedly a convicting, inspiring read for me. Saint Teresa, as a Catholic, knew and loved Jesus in a way I, and my Protestant brothers and sisters, could only dare hope to. She was most famous for her radical humanitarian work, yes, but at the end of the day she was merely a nun. Committed to living out her vocation of sharing Christ’s love with whomever she encountered. She was “sold out for Jesus”, as some evangelicals might say.
So it was Saint Teresa, in addition to the aforementioned addresses and writings by Saint Pope John Paul II, who got me wondering if the Catholic Church might just be a good place for folks who love Jesus. I knew very little about Catholicism at that time, but I knew enough after reading the work of those two saints to know that men and women of incredible character, who wanted nothing more out of life than to live in friendship with God, were counted among its followers.
It was enough to spark a journey that would culminate in my becoming Catholic two years later.
There is an old photograph I’ve seen online, of Saint Teresa and Pope Saint John Paul II together. I don’t know what the occasion would have been (remember I’m a convert, and I’m still learning!), but every time the image crosses my path it makes me smile, and say a prayer of thanksgiving. God used them to lead me and my family to the truth, and into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
For which I will be, quite literally, eternally grateful.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!