Sunday, February 14, 2010

"From Calcutta with Love"

The story of an American mother’s ten-year friendship with Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

(PHOTO: Mother Teresa with one of Donna-Marie's children)

February 15, 2010. There are not many women who can say that their lives and families have been illuminated by a friendship with a saint of Mother Teresa’s stature. Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle can.

Her most recent book, Mother Teresa and Me: Ten Years of Friendship (published by Circle Press), tells the story of a friendship that unfolded in her life as an unexpected gift, bringing blessings of spiritual growth to her entire family and to the people she went on to serve in her many apostolates.

It is a book well worth reading, full of personal words of advice from Blessed Mother Teresa, and sprinkled with stories of the many miracles, small and great, that flow from a life of authentic prayer and surrender to Jesus.

The start of a friendship

It all began with a hug. Donna-Marie and her three small children were attending Mass at the Missionaries of Charity convent in Washington, DC.

(PHOTO: One of Mother Teresa's letters to Donna-Marie)

When Mother Teresa saw her six-year-old daughter Chaldea making her little genuflection before Jesus in the Eucharist, she swooped down on the child (who was about her height) to embrace her.

Later, as the family stood outside the chapel, Mother Teresa appeared again and greeted the young American family. As they were chatting, the two-year old Jessica squirmed out of her mother’s arms and “made a beeline for the nun.” To Donna-Marie’s astonishment, Mother Teresa and the child held hands and simply gazed at each other for a long time.

“That was when Mother Teresa told me that Jessica might become a sister of the Missionaries of Charity one day,” writes Donna-Marie.

That was also the day a friendship was born. Over the years, Donna-Marie wrote letters to Calcutta, sharing personal situations, including some heavy crosses and trials. Mother Teresa always wrote back in her carefully typed letters, written on the same antique typewriter.

For Donna-Marie, each of those 21 letters—[editor's note: 22 letters] and the handful of personal meetings [note from editor: over a dozen personal meetings] that followed— was a beacon of hope, an encouragement on her own path toward holiness.

(PHOTO: Mother Teresa and Jessica gaze at each other)

A mission to encourage

But beyond the letters, there was another form of communication at work: the exchange of prayers, and the sense of communion in the mission to live the Gospel. Not surprisingly, Donna-Marie’s own spirituality was deeply influenced by Mother Teresa’s example. Before too long, an apostolate of writing and speaking was born alongside the works of mercy that she had long practiced with her family.

“God has given you many gifts—make sure you use them for the glory of God and the good of the people. You will make your life something beautiful for God. You have been created to be Holy,” wrote Mother Teresa. “Keep the joy of loving Jesus ever burning in your heart, and share this joy with others.”

Mother Teresa and Me does just that. In a world that yearns for heroes, for true saints who live the Gospel authentically and honestly, it is deeply encouraging to read the story of this friendship and of the many miracles and graces that have flowed from it.

At the same time, the story of Donna-Marie’s journey of faith sends another message: we are all called to holiness. Each of us has a mission in life, a role to play in God’s plan, a task that begins with prayer and is consummated in acts of love. As Mother Teresa used to say, the poorest of the poor are not only in Calcutta. They are all around, and each of us is called to be “Jesus with skin on.”

Mother Teresa and Me is an inspiring push toward that goal of holiness, a reminder that God has big plans for us… if we let ourselves be led by him.

(Also see story here)

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