My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
As I continue my monthly series on discipleship, I want to explore in more depth this idea of Jesus as our friend. Last month, I asked you to reflect on the ways that Jesus has been present in your life. When God enters into our lives, he does so out of a desire for our friendship, but sometimes it can be a challenge to understand what it means to have a friendship with God. In this column, I want to share one example of a person who had a deep friendship with Jesus — St. Teresa of Calcutta — in the hopes that we might gain some insight into how to grow in friendship with Jesus ourselves.
Mother Teresa had a complete interior conversion in her younger years and even had some extraordinary experiences of Jesus in her personal prayer as a young religious sister. Even though she had these experiences, Mother Teresa began to feel that God was inviting her to something even deeper. While on a train in India, she saw people discarded and abandoned by the road, left alone to die, and it moved her very deeply. She realized she was called to begin an order whose purpose would be to care for the “poorest of the poor,” and she answered this call by starting the Missionaries of Charity.
Mother Teresa’s experience teaches us that friendship with Jesus requires us to be attentive. It might have been easy for someone who had already answered the call to religious life to assume that God wanted nothing more with her. But Mother Teresa continued listening and, as a result, discovered that God was calling her to a vocation that would change the world. So, if we are going to have a friendship with Jesus, we need to take time each day to listen to him.
Through her friendship with Jesus, Mother Teresa began to see Jesus present throughout the world. This was particularly true as she tended to the poor, discarded people, bathing them, taking them to one of her hospices, caring for their wounds and sores. As she looked into their grateful eyes, she could see the face of Jesus himself. Because of their close relationship, St. Teresa was able to recognize Jesus in those around her, especially in the eyes of the marginalized and forgotten ones.
Many of you who are reading this might think, “I’ve looked around and I haven’t seen Jesus in the people around me.” If so, I would encourage you to spend time in prayer with God and ask for the grace to more easily recognize Christ’s presence in the world.
One of the challenges of using an example like Mother Teresa is that we might convince ourselves that we could never have that kind of friendship with God because we are not holy like she is. There’s a reason she has been declared a saint, after all. But we must realize that the friendship that God desires with each person will look a little bit different because each of us is different. Jesus loves each and every one of us for the unique characteristics that make us who we are. He is not measuring us against anyone else, even the saints.
Mother Teresa knew this well. Because of this she urged young people who wanted to come and join her order to begin to reach out to the poor right in their own country, in their own neighborhoods, in their own homes. As she is quoted as saying, “Jesus loves you tenderly, you are precious to him. Turn to Jesus with great trust and allow yourself to be loved by him.”
Brothers and sisters, let me echo her words, “Jesus loves you!” Jesus offers that love to you each day, and I hope that you will open yourself each day to receiving that love.
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.