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What Do Mother Teresa and Patrick Swayze Have In Common? | Mary Beth Bonacci | Ignatius Insight

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Very little, I suppose. They both had their pictures in the paper a lot. They were both featured in theater-released movies in the 1980's. And right now, they both have me thinking. About life, about death, and about doing God's will.

It started a couple of weeks ago, when I started reading Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta. Most of the talk surrounding this book has been about the spiritual darkness that enveloped Mother Teresa for nearly fifty years. I, of course, found that darkness fascinating (and a little bit disturbing). But I was most struck by the events earlier in her life–the call to found the Missionaries of Charity, and her subsequent determination to fulfill that call, despite great personal sacrifice.

In 1946, Mother Teresa was a 36-year-old nun of the order of the Sisters of Loreto in India. She lived in relative comfort, taught at a school for Indian girls, and ventured into the slums once a week to do what she could to alleviate the suffering of the poor. On September 10th of that year, while traveling by train to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, she received what she believed to be a direct call from Christ to form a religious order of sisters who would live "absolute poverty" and minister to the poorest of the poor.

During the course of that retreat, the call grew stronger as Christ Himself communicated very intimately and very directly with young Mother Teresa. Upon her return, she brought this request to her spiritual director, and with his permission to her Archbishop. Over the next two years, she wrote letter after letter to the Archbishop and to the Sacred Congregation for Religious in Rome, seeking permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and to form the new order.

Reading those letters, it's clear that this was one very persistent woman.

Mother Teresa walked away from her life of comfort and embraced extreme poverty. I've always assumed she did that because she wanted to. Maybe she didn't care that much about comfort. Maybe she didn't like nice things.

But that's not the way it was.

She was persistent–heroically persistent–because she believed that this calling was God's will. She saw that Christ "thirsted" for the souls of the poor. And so she did, too.

But for her part, the personal sacrifice was great. She wrote to Archbishop Perier, "I have been and am very happy as a Loreto Nun. To leave that what I love and expose myself to new labours and sufferings which will be great, to be the laughingstock of so many–especially religious–to cling to and choose deliberately the hard things of an Indian life–to loneliness and ignominy–uncertainty–and all because Jesus wants it . . . These thoughts were a cause of much suffering . . ." Later, in prayer, she wrote "I am so afraid Jesus–I am so terribly afraid–let me not be deceived–I am so terribly afraid. This fear shows how much I love myself. I am afraid of the suffering that will come through leading the Indian life–clothing like them, eating like them, sleeping like them–living like them and never having anything my own way. How much comfort has taken possession of my heart."

And, in February of 1948, she wrote to the Cardinal Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for Religious, "All these years of my religious life, I have been quite happy as a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the thought of leaving it breaks my heart. Why Almighty God calls me now to this new life I do not know, but I want to do only His Holy Will without any reserve, whatever the cost be."

Okay, sometimes I've been known to flatter myself into believing that I'm relatively holy, or that I'm open to God's will in my life. But not after reading this. I am weak, weak, weak. Sure I want to do God's will. But once it becomes inconvenient, I lose enthusiasm. What will He take from me? What will He ask me to give up? Would He make me leave my home? My loved ones? What about all of the cool furniture I just bought?

We look at Blessed Mother Teresa, and we say "Well, sure she gave up a lot. But look at why she did it. Today, thousands of sisters care for hundreds of thousands of the poorest of the poor all over the world."

Yes, but she didn't know that. For all she knew, the Missionaries of Charity would never be more than herself and a few other women, reaching out to the poor in her own back yard in Calcutta. And yet she said "yes" and gave everything to God.

So what on earth does all of this have to do with Patrick Swayze? Nothing, except that I was contemplating Mother Teresa's sacrifice, and my own relative weakness, when I heard the devastating news of his cancer diagnosis. And I thought about how quickly life can change. A healthy, athletic man in his 50's suddenly discovers that the deadliest form of cancer known to man is growing in his pancreas, and he will most likely not live to see another year.

How would I feel if I discovered my life was near its end?

One thing I know for sure–I would wish that I had followed God's will more closely, wherever it led. All of the things I've been clinging to wouldn't matter nearly as much as the reality that God sees the big picture, and that following His will leaves the world–and my soul–in much better condition than it would otherwise be.

The thing is, we're all going to have to leave our homes and our loved ones and our cool furniture some day. Clinging to it, or any of the "goods" of life, is utterly futile. His love and His will, however, last for all eternity.

Yeah, I get that, intellectually. But surrendering my will to His will isn't so easy. It takes a heart radically converted to Him. It takes a lot of sacrifice, and a lot of prayer.

So I've been asking Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to help me out. She's praying for me.

I bet she'd pray for you, too.

This column originally appeared, in a slightly different form, on RealLove.net on March 10, 2008.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:

My Imaginary Funeral Homily | Mary Beth Bonacci
Do All Catholics Go Straight to Heaven? | Mary Beth Bonacci
Be Nice To Me. I'm Dying. | Mary Beth Bonacci
Death, Where Is Thy Sting? | Adrienne von Speyr
Purgatory: Service Shop for Heaven | Reverend Anthony Zimmerman
The Question of Hope | Peter Kreeft
Are God's Ways Fair? | Ralph Martin
• The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The Cross and The Holocaust | Regis Martin
Why Do We Exist? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
From Defeat to Victory: On the Question of Evil | Alice von Hildebrand

Mary Beth Bonacci is internationally known for her talks and writings about love, chastity, and sexuality. Since 1986 she has spoken to tens of thousands of young people, including 75,000 people in 1993 at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. She appears frequently on radio and television programs, including several appearances on MTV.

Mary Beth has written two books, We're on a Mission from God and Real Love, and also writes a regular, syndicated column for various publications. She has developed numerous videos, including her brand-newest video series, also entitled Real Love. Her video Sex and Love: What's a Teenager to Do? was awarded the 1996 Crown Award for Best Youth Curriculum.

Mary Beth holds a bachelor's degree in Organizational Communication from the University of San Francisco, and a master's degree in Theology of Marriage and Family from the John Paul II Institute at Lateran University. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate in Communications from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, and is listed in Outstanding Young Women of America for 1997. Her apostolate, Real Love Incorporated is dedicated to presenting the truth about the Church's teaching about sexuality, chastity, and marriage.

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