The evening started to get dark at an early time and my mom drove into one of the rougher neighborhoods in town with a carload of high schoolers—me, my sister and one of our friends. I’ve been in this neighborhood before at the Catholic Church up the street, but only during daylight hours. At night, the “bad stuff” becomes more evident. Mom stopped at a nondescript, fenced-off property. I took my sister’s Casio keyboard out of the trunk and walked up to the dimly lit door of a small house where we met Sister Margaret Castro outside. Sister Margaret was what I considered a “modern nun” — she wore plain clothes with no habit and was a frequent guest in our home. She opened the door and we were greeted by a Hispanic priest. In the background I could see a nun with a distinct white habit edged with three blue stripes. My heart must have been beating out of my chest. “Mother Teresa!” was what I wanted to yell, but the fear of making a fool of myself overtook me.
I’m glad I kept my lip zipped.
It wasn’t Mother Teresa, but a nun who lived in the convent for the newly established home for the Missionaries of Charity. About a five more nuns joined her — I’ve never seen so many “Mother Teresas” in one room! Sister Margaret invited us to sing at a Mass in the convent’s “chapel” (it was just a small, dim room with a few chairs and a humble table for an altar) for a canonization Mass. I played songs on the dinky little Casio, filling in as best I could for the 27 missing keys that only a full keyboard could lend. After Mass, I apologized to the sisters for the music. Through Sister Margaret’s translation (they all spoke Spanish), they said that they were happy that we were there to celebrate with them because it was a joyous day.
For the longest time I thought it was Sister Margaret who was being canonized because to many, she was a living saint. My mom even told me some stories about miracles that Sr. Margaret had witnessed. To this day, I still don’t know whose canonization Mass it was. All I knew was that the Missionaries of Charity wanted to recognize it. We would encounter the sisters several more times throughout the years by way of youth group and choir.
It was a challenge for me when Sister Margaret gave us opportunities to meet the people she served. We went out to the streets to interact with the homeless and go into nursing facilities to spend time with the disabled. In my young mind, all I could think about was the stench of urine wafting in the air, the drool seeping out of the side of the mouths of languid patients, the crud-filled fingernails and dirty hands of the homeless people that wanted to reach out to me. The people that I’ve encountered—disabled, poor, homeless, dirty, rejected—changed my life, despite my apprehension to serve them. It took me decades to understand that they, too, are God’s children and that all they needed was love and compassion.
These are the people that Mother Teresa served — plus more that were in worse condition — “the poorest of the poor.” I recently learned that Mother Teresa struggled with the feeling of God’s consolation throughout her service. In her fame, she prayed for humility. Through it all, she still served, she still loved, she never gave up hope, she found joy in Christ through serving others.
This past Sunday came full circle for me. My daughter’s choir sang at the local canonization Mass for Saint Teresa of Calcutta—in the same church I sang at as “guest choir” during the day which is up the street from the convent where I attended that night-time canonization Mass decades ago.
St. Jude’s Shrine of the West was packed to the gills and overflowed outside. It was such a joy to see so many people who were touched by Mother Teresa’s actions. My husband and I stood outside to direct choir members to the proper door (and to keep cool as the body heat of the the people inside made it uncomfortable). The local street cart vendors and ice cream trucks came to capitalize on the church-goers. It kind of took away from the sanctity of the event and I felt like Jesus at the temple, wanting to overturn tables of all the vendors. But then, compassion took over — they’re just trying to make a buck to survive. While I don’t agree with their method, they, too, are doing their best to provide for their families. At least they were respectful and participated in the Mass while they waited.
You can see my husband and me in the background of this live shot (I’m carrying the sleeping baby).
Even with being outside, I couldn’t help but feel part of this momentous occasion. It also gave me time to contemplate how my life has changed — now I’m the one giving the younger generation the opportunity to meet the sick and homeless through the Junior Catholic Daughters. I tell the kids, “Look them in the eye. Greet them with a smile. Shake their hand if they let you. Give them a blessing.” One of the most rewarding moments was when one of the girls said, “At first I was scared. But then I started to not be scared. Then I started to feel good about what I’m doing.”
The joy of the Lord was with her.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.