During the years I lived and worked with Mother Teresa's Sisters in shelters in the roughest of America's neighborhoods, it was truly a moving experience to watch her words and message come alive before me. Day by day at the shelters, the poorest of the poor were treated with grace and dignity; children without hope were given a shred of it; and the Holy Mass was offered in a way that made Christ painfully real.

Now that I live in a remodeled rectory on the serene prairie of North Dakota and spend my days mothering my three little ones, it's equally touching to see the spirit of Mother Teresa bloom in our family and beyond. Not only was Mother Teresa a phenomenal advocate for the poor, but she also had a passion for building up families. Not many people know about the “gems” that came out of her mouth when she spoke of the beauty of family life. Even though she didn't have to clean up after an ornery husband, go through labor pains, beg God's mercy for her teenage children or worry about what she was going to wear each day, her union with Our Lord was so profound that she was capable of comprehending His plans for family life even though she wasn't living it.

Mother Teresa, who won the Nobel Peace prize, established hundreds of Missionaries of Charity homes all over the world to care for the dying, the sick, orphaned children, lepers, the aged and the disabled, and is now to be a canonized Saint, understood the intricate mystery of familial love. She comprehended that to love one's family members was magnanimous, and that it comes far above the call to love non-family members, even though there is often less glamor involved in doing so.

Mother once said, “Love begins at home. If you really want to be God's love in the world of today, begin to be God's love in your own home first. And then you will become the sunshine of God's love to everyone you meet.”

One of my favorite stories Mother used to tell was about a little child in India who the Sisters came to know. This child spent its days under a tree with its mother, because they had no money or means to live in a home. The Sisters offered to let the child live in their shelter, so that he would have toys, good food, clean clothes, baths, etc. However, soon after the child came to live with the Sisters, he was found to be missing. Distressed, the Sisters came to look for him, only to find him living back under the tree with his mother. The message is this:  children need their mothers. They long for their mothers with a deep yearning, and are normally only at peace when they can be close to them. They will even endure great sacrifices just to be close to them. Where mother is, there is home – even if it's under a tree, at the mercy of the elements of nature. Although Mother Teresa bore no physical children, her extraordinary union with Christ led her to be the spiritual mother of countless children. She was immensely maternal in character; maternal in a sincere way, born from the purity of God's own love.  She had a keen understanding about what motherhood was all about, and once said, “Motherhood is the gift of God to women. How grateful we must be to God for this wonderful gift that brings such joy to the whole world, women and men alike! Yet we can destroy this gift of motherhood, especially by the evil of abortion, but also by thinking that other things like jobs or positions are more important than loving, than giving oneself to others.”

One time when I was working at the shelter, I was helping the Sisters take care of a child whose mother was a prostitute and had borne children with many different men. The mother was so disoriented that she wouldn't change the toddler's diaper for days at a time. As disheartening as it was to see how she treated her children, the Sisters prayed for a change of heart for the mother, over and over, and worked with her, teaching her about the little details of caring for a child. They had such joy and compassion and took the mother and child into the shelter and cared for them the best that they could. Little by little, I believe they helped win the mother over towards being a kinder mother. If they had condemned the mother, perhaps the child would have wound up in much worse situation.

Impressively, Mother Teresa wasn't just a brand-name of “pro-life.” She was relentlessly pro-life to the core, and proved it time and time again, such as by her strong words in front of Clinton and Gore at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. She also knew how to relate the respect for life to the prosperity of the family:

“God has made you and made me for greater things: to love and be loved. We are not just a number in the world – that's why it is so wonderful to recognize the presence of that unborn child, the gift of God. The greatest gift of God to a family is the child because it is the fruit of love... That is why as soon as a child is born, we give it a name, the name God has called from all eternity to love and to be loved... the most beautiful creation of God's love, the gift of God.”

She also wasn't afraid to “tell it like it is” when it comes to the teachings of Mother Church, which are always aimed at our greater good:

                  “We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion. The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once, one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other, and what this poor person said is very true.”

Last but certainly not least, Mother knew that all good works – including the stellar achievement of raising up a Christian family – must be founded upon the wellspring of prayer. “The coming of Jesus at Christmas completed the Holy Family,” she said. “We must bring that presence of God into our families. And how do we do that? By praying. The family that prays together stays together, and if you stay together, you will love one another. If you pray your heart will become clean, and a clean heart can see God.”

During my years with the Sisters, I spent many mornings with them visiting the homes of the sick and the poor, urging their families to pray the Rosary together. Mother Teresa knew that if she could just get a family to lift their souls up to God together, a victory would be won, for now and for eternity.

As we approach the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, let us hear her voice resounding in our hearts, as well as within the walls of our homes, our “domestic churches.” She has volumes to speak to us as husbands, wives, parents, and even children – let's let her.