Okay, okay... I know I say this every week. But I have some incredible friends--this week's Weekly Challenge is being issued by a woman who inspires me constantly to engage in the corporal works of mercy. She can not only talk the Catholic Social Teaching talk with her fancy Masters in Theology, but she puts her faith into action daily. Want to live out this week's Sunday Gospel? Shannon Phillips has some great ideas for you...
Be a sheep,
I love Mother Teresa, so much so that I affectionately refer to her as MT. She and I are personal friends. Over the years as I learn more about her life, I find myself with a deeper and more profound respect and admiration for her faith. Her faith was an active one. She was Martha AND Mary. In fact, she could only be Martha because she was first Mary. (See Luke 10:38-42.) I totally relate to the Martha and Mary story and yet I hate to hear it. I am a perpetual Martha; after all, someone needs to bring the snacks to a meeting. However, what fuels my Martha nature? Is it my inability to sit still? Is it my love of cooking? Is it my desire to please others? Is it my want of praise? What I most want to be able to say is that like my good friend, MT, my Martha nature is fueled by my love of Jesus and my desire to serve Him.
How did Mother Teresa do it? How did she joyfully serve the poorest of the poor? How did she experience such darkness in her personal life but still give Jesus to those she served. To find the answer, look at the daily schedule of the Missionaries of Charity. They begin their day with Adoration and Mass, then they serve. They are Mary before they can be Martha. MT used the Eucharist to train herself. If she and her sisters are able to believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, a piece of inanimate bread, then they should be able to believe He is present in the poor, whose form He took upon the Incarnation. See, MT got it right. This is why she was able to say, “I have an opportunity to be with Jesus 24 hours a day.” Whether in the chapel or in the slums, she was with Jesus.
Her service to the poor was radical and it was pure and it was beautiful. MT believed that the Gospel message could be summed up with Matthew 25:31-46. This is the passage in Scripture where Jesus says the famous line, “whatever you do for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me.” Those five words “you did it for me” are how she and the Missionaries of Charity live their lives. This passage is also where the Church gets six of the seven Corporal Works of Mercy. The final work of mercy is to bury the dead. These works of mercy or compassion or pity are essential to the Christian life.
Lots of people have this idea of Jesus as this hippie, flower-power, peace sign wearing Messiah. This is not the Jesus I know and love from Scripture. The Jesus I know, love, and serve said, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) That’s not hippie, flower-power Jesus. That’s real, loving, compassionate, no-nonsense Jesus. He doesn’t mince words and I love it!
Service to the poor is not an option for the Christian. It’s an obligation. It’s necessary for us to live out our faith, but it has to be done in the proper context. Good works without faith is simply philanthropy. Faith without works, like the apostle James reminds us, is dead. We must have faith that propels us to work. So what are the works Jesus mentions? He tells the sheep (we always want to be sheep!) to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, and ransom the imprisoned. Jesus covers all the bases of basic human necessities.
Sometimes I read the lives of the saints like Mother Teresa or St. Peter Claver or St. Francis of Assisi, and I think, I can’t do that. They lived these radical lives in service to the poor. They left behind every earthly comfort and trusted that God would provide for even their most basic needs. When I begin to think these thoughts, I remind myself of MT again who tells us to go home and find our own Calcutta. The poor, hungry, homeless, unwanted, unvisited, and unloved are in our own backyards. They are in our families. They walk our streets. They need our faith to be put into action. They need Martha.
I teach Catholic Social Teaching to high school seniors. It is one of the many delights of my life. We just finished our lesson on Mother Teresa and the Corporal Works of Mercy. As part of the lesson, my students brainstorm ways they can carry out these works of mercy on their school campus. Sometimes they get silly and talk about basket weaving and renting out grandma’s house. This conversation actually happened this year! More often than not, I walk away amazed at the creativity and compassion of these students. Here are a few of their suggestions that all of us could implement:
Feed the Hungry: make plates with leftovers from social or church functions and distribute to the homebound list at your church, donate some of the extra fruit from your trees to the local homeless shelter, buy a meal and give a meal
Give Drink to the Thirsty: donate reusable water bottles, volunteer at a water station for a 5K
Clothe the Naked: buy an extra shirt the next time you are shopping and bring to a women’s shelter, bring old baby clothes to a women's shelter [If you're in Lafayette check out the DesOrmeaux Foundation.}
Shelter the Homeless: bring extra blankets and pillows to local shelters during the winter months, volunteer at Habitat for Humanity
Visit the Sick: Become an extraordinary minister of the Eucharist for a hospital, play Bingo at a local nursing home, babysit the child of a sick mom
Ransom the Imprisoned: send letters or homemade cookies to local prisons, volunteer with a prison ministry
Bury the Dead: Place flowers on graves where none are present, pray at empty gravesites
It’s the simple things in life that usually make the biggest impact. If we break down what Mother Teresa did, she did the really simple things with a lot of love. She fed people. I can feed people. She smiled at those on the side of the road. I can smile at people I pass in the hallways. She spoke out against injustices like abortion. I can speak about these same issues. She dedicated her life in service to the poor because she dedicated her life to Jesus first.
St. Teresa of Calcutta,
Pray for us that we may have the desire to
first sit at the Lord's feet and
then to become His hands and feet!
Shannon Phillips teaches theology at St. Thomas More Catholic High School and is a 2017 Lafayette Education Foundation Teacher of the Year Finalist. She enjoys seeking Truth, sipping chai, savoring simple moments, sharing her blessings! And can she cook!! We can't wait to have her back to write about her internationally themed dinner extravaganzas. She and her husband Dan live in Lafayette. Have more ideas about how to incorporate the Corporal Works of Mercy in your life? You can contact Shannon at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on IG: shannon.phillips1116.