Sunday, October 19, 2008

Scabby People & that Grimfaced Nun

One night decades ago I was watching TV; that nun, Mother Teresa, was on the Tonight Show. I knew she'd won a Nobel prize, took care of scabby people all day, and looked grim as cancer. What could she possibly talk about that would be, if not entertaining, at least not unpleasant? Curious as to how this was going to work, I didn't zap immediately to another channel.

So she comes out, sits down: outfit from Big Lots, Quasimodo posture, Vietcong sandals. She is asked the usual stuff about her what, career, I suppose, and..... she is absolutely incredible. After a couple of minutes I think she may be the most serene, happy person I have ever seen. She smiles, her eyes twinkle, she's animated. And she says stuff, I can't believe she means it:

Jesus spoke to her on a train, said to go to Calcutta and take care of the poorest of the poor- and so she did!

And how does she keep on caring for these poor, dying unfortunates day after day, year after year? Well, she sees Jesus in each one of them, there you go! Why, Jesus himself said plain as day, "I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me." And, "as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." Yep, he said it alright, in Matthew 25. I can read.

She was saying this stuff just as plainly as I'd say, "I can't believe it's Tuesday." Lady, it can't be that simple, can you really think like this? Can anybody? Can you really see Jesus in the least of them? Your whole life is cleaning sores or whatever, how can you be so bright and happy? Why aren't you miserable? I sure would be.

And then Mother Teresa's visit was over, the happy little arthritic confounding mystery.

For a couple of years I percolated on these few minutes, browsed a Mother Teresa coffee-table book or two. The bluntness of her life was compelling: God says do x, she does x. No intellectualizing, vacillating, plea-bargaining, just action. And she was happy. I had a family, and other reasons (not all of the finest quality) for not doing The Mother Teresa Thing, but felt drawn to her simple motif of faith/action; or as James'd put it in his Epistle, faith/works. And Jesus' instructions in Matthew had bugged me way, way longer than M.T. (since 1981). I wasn't doing any of that stuff, and didn't plan to, either. But she took one of the most annoying things Jesus ever said and made a life out of it.

I envy people like St. Paul: Jesus knocks him off his horse, personally scolds him, blinds him....who wouldn't swap a heart of stone for one of flesh after that? I wasn't on the receiving end of such drama, nor had Jesus spoken to me on a train; but I'd been prodded enough over 15 years to take a baby step or two.

After a Mass, I told my pastor Fr. Day how impressed I was by Mother Teresa's way of living out Matt 25, and said, "The thing is, she steps out her front door every day, and sick people are right at her feet. I step out, all day long there's not a wretch in sight." Fr. Day smiled & said, "If you want to visit the sick I can help with that."

So I began to visit the sick, all thanks to Mother Teresa.

The Tonight Show gets some credit too.