How 'Failure' Transformed the World

The Inner Life of Jesus: Pattern of All Holiness by Romano Guardini (Sophia Institute Press, 1998 134 pages, $12.95)

Blessed Are You: Mother Teresa and the Beatitudes edited by Eileen and Kathleen Eagan, OSB (Ignatius Press 1999 152 pages, $9.95)

Since the first day of his papacy, John Paul II has asked the world to “open the doors to Christ,” always reminding contemporary men and women that in Jesus Christ we find the highest expression of human life as God intended it. Jesus “reveals humanity to itself,” the Pope says. “He is the norm by which the Christian life, and indeed all human life, is to be judged” (Redemptoris Hominis, No. 1).

Encountering Jesus Christ and finding in him the norm for life is precisely the point of two significant books reprinted recently.

Father Romano Guardini's The Inner Life of Jesus first appeared in German in 1957 and in English in 1959. Now Sophia Institute Press has given us these 13 meditations anew and they still seem as fresh as if they were written yesterday.

Wanting to bring us face to face with Jesus, Father Guardini says, “We do not know very much if we carry a picture of Him in our mind as a ceremonial, somewhat unreal, indefinite figure with long hair and a robe of many folds.” There is something else quite different to meet in this God-man. “His whole being must ring in our hearts with blood and bone. We must follow Him. We must strive to penetrate into the heart of His mystery, to what He really is.”

To take us to that encounter Father Guardini first imagines a different story for Jesus: “Suppose … we were to see Him as a man of eighty, or a hundred. How wonderful that would have been! Jesus as full of years as Abraham; Jesus as old as Moses. What a fullness of wisdom, what a mighty power of love, what capacity to act, what majesty would there be personified!”

But that's not the real Jesus. His is another story: “Instead of all that, just two short years. All those tremendous possibilities ruined. This marvelous being constantly thwarted, closed in. And finally, when His active career had hardly begun, He was destroyed.”

To meet Jesus as he is, Father Guardini wants us to see what he looked like to his contemporaries. “The abiding figure of Jesus'life is failure, defeat. … Unless we open ourselves to this fact, the figure of our Lord and His earthly life may appear trivial and idyllic, and its immense majesty will escape us.”

But it's not as if some colossal mistake has happened. Jesus'failure from a human perspective “signifies a choice already made for a particular mode of being.” But why would Christ choose a life of failure? Father Guardini answers that it is precisely Christ's failure that “points the way … to the understanding of His intimate self.”

It is in his failure that we find the “most interior part of Jesus' identity … [that] Jesus is love.” For when real love comes into our fallen and unloving world it must first appear here as failure. Then, and only then, can love be seen in the depths of its mystery.

When Jesus himself sought to open our eyes to this real love, he taught the beatitudes, those curious words that everyone finds so inspiring yet so “unrealistic” for everyday life. Is there anyone who dares say the opposite — that these words are, after all, “realistic?” Enter Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity.

Eileen and Kathleen Eagan succeed in unfolding the life of the Missionaries of Charity as a display of the beatitudes in Blessed Are You, Ignatius Press' updated reprint of the 1992 original.

Eileen Eagan first encountered Mother Teresa in October 1955, five years after the founding of the Missionaries of Charity. Using words with which people often describe an encounter with Christ, Eagan says, “After that day my life was never the same.” She had met someone who embraced the beatitudes as the way to life as God meant it to be lived.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. And by now most people know what Eagan found — Mother Teresa and her followers were seeking to be as close as they could to “the poorest of the poor.”

“Daily, forsaken human beings were brought to the home to have the filth and spittle of the gutter washed away, to have their sores cleaned and dressed,” Eagan reports. “I saw with what infinite patience the Missionaries of Charity nursed the spark of life in near-corpses,” she said.

“‘How can you do this day after day?’ I asked Mother Teresa.”

“They are Jesus,” she replied. “Each one is Jesus in a distressing disguise.”

The poverty of the Missionaries of Charity was meeting the poverty of the streets of Calcutta, both sides showing the face of Christ to each other.

One by one, the Eagans unfold the rest of the beatitudes in the lives of the Missionaries of Charity. Each of the stories they tell, and each of the words they quote from Mother Teresa, take the reader more deeply into the “most interior part of Jesus' identity.”

In 1990 Mother Teresa and Eileen Eagan were thinking back on the progress of the Missionaries of Charity, who by then had opened over 400 houses around the world. Eagan was struck by Mother Teresa's summary of all that had happened. “What wonders God has done with nothingness,” she said.

Here we come full circle. It is Jesus' chosen life of nothingness and failure that opens us up to divine love. In the same way, the world in our times has been privileged to see divine love in the chosen life of nothingness of Mother Teresa and her followers.

Gerry Rauch is an assistant editor of the Register.