My dear people of St. Mary’s:
This Sunday is September 10. Seventy-one years ago today, a sister of the missionary order of the Sisters of Loreto was on a train making her way from Calcutta to Darjeeling for her annual retreat. In that railway car, the thirty-six year old sister heard interiorly a “call within a call”. She would later describe it in this way: “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”
The sister was, of course, Saint Teresa of Calcutta. And to this day, the Missionaries of Charity, the order she founded, annually celebrate September 10 th as “Inspiration Day” in all their convents throughout the world. St. Teresa died on September 5, 1997, twenty years ago this year, and was canonized by Pope Francis last September.
If you ever enter a chapel of the Missionaries of Charity in any convent of theirs around the world, you will immediately notice how simple and plain it is. There are never any pews or chairs, because the sisters always attend Mass on their knees. There is a simple altar and a simple pedestal with the tabernacle on it. On the wall behind the altar and dominating the room, there hangs a large crucifix. Next to it, in large, bold, capital letters on the wall, are always to be found the dramatic words “I THIRST”. This is, of course, a quotation from the crucifixion account found in the Gospel of St. John: “After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), ‘I thirst.’” [Jn 19:28]
For many years, visitors to the convent chapels (and perhaps even the sisters themselves) may have wondered why Mother Teresa chose this particular phrase, and why it was so important that it had to be on the wall of every chapel in every one of her convents around the world?
Although she was always rather circumspect about the events of the spiritual experience she had on September 10, 1946, in the year 1993, she decided for the first time to speak more about it to the members of her community. This seems to have been prompted by the 1993 Lenten Letter written by Pope John Paul II to the entire church. The theme of that letter was the Gospel phrase: “I thirst”. As she was approaching the end of her life, it seems that she felt
called to explain and best she could the profound spiritual experience of “light and love” she had experienced on the train the day she received her “call within a call”. It seems that, in addition to being called to work among the poorest of the poor, that St. Teresa of Calcutta was also entrusted with a message to bring to the world through her apostolic work.
The future saint, encouraged by two priests who worked with her, sat down and began to write a letter to all the members of her community throughout the world, in order to explain more fully what God revealed to her that day in September, forty-seven years before. Next week, we will look more deeply into that letter.