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WASH THE FEET OF THE WORLD WITH Mother Teresa
By CHARLES RINGMA
PIÑON PRESSCopyright © 2004 Charles Ringma
All right reserved.
Chapter OneReflection 1
Being Grounded in the God of Life
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. John 15:4
Life is, first of all, not entirely about doing and giving. And contrary to the values of our culture, it is not only about productivity and success. Life is rooted in receiving. It is sustained because so much has been given to us.
This is also true of the life of faith, the life that we live through the empowerment of the Spirit. The God of grace comes to embrace us. To renew us. To awaken us from our spiritual slumber. To let light into the deep caverns of our existence.
And even a life of giving and receiving is rooted in receptivity. Mother Teresa comments, "The contemplative and apostolic fruitfulness of our way of life depends on our being rooted in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Just as water continues to bubble to the surface from subterranean wells no matter how inhospitable the landscape, so those who live and abide in God by the Spirit can extend bread to a hungry world.
Being rooted in Christ gives the whole of our life its particular contours. Belonging to Christ and being indwelt by his Spirit is not simply relevant for the religious dimensions of life. It shapes our very being. And as such, it molds the ethical stances that we take.
To be in Christ means that we live life in ways that resonate with the life of Christ. This means that we want to please God more than ourselves. It means that we want to be a healing rather than a fracturing presence in the world. It means that we want to walk the way of forgiveness rather than that of retaliation.
While being in Christ is the gift of God's grace, there is nothing automatic about growing in Christ. This calls for a life of surrender, obedience, and faithful service. Growing in Christ invites us to a life of prayer and of service to those society so easily overlooks.
Reflection: Receptivity is the joyful posture that fills empty hands.
God's Embrace Entering into God's Welcome
For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Romans 5:10
People may well have reasons for regarding God as being distant, demanding, or even vindictive. Sometimes these reasons flow from being hurt by the difficulties of life. The expectation was that God could have prevented these things.
But the heart of the biblical story makes it clear that God is neither distant nor malevolent. God is the one who draws near and enters the fray of life. And God's grace and love is toward us, even though God does not always do what we wish.
Mother Teresa puts this most personally and intimately. She writes, "If you look at the cross, you will see his head lowered to kiss you. You will see his arms stretched out to embrace you. You will see his heart open to welcome you."
This is the heart of the biblical story. No matter what our questions, pain, or anger, God reaches toward us with an embrace of welcome, the word of forgiveness, and the oil of healing.
The place to flee to is not the place of resentment, but the place of welcome. And in that welcome we receive God's kiss of life.
Sadly, in our Western world we see God not as the one who welcomes and heals us, but as the God who demands and who restricts our freedom. We see the life of faith as one of difficult obedience rather than one of joyful companionship.
At this point it is important to separate the story of Christianity and the story of God. The two are not always the same. There have been times where the church has emphasized law rather than God's offer of grace, where it has advocated narrow demand rather than the wideness of God's mercy.
God comes to us not with the pointing finger that condemns, but with the embrace of love that melts the hardest heart and soothes the fearful soul.
Reflection: Where is there a greater welcome than with the God who continues to reach out to us even when we won't listen?
Beautiful for God
Serving Others for God's Glory
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. Isaiah 42:1
Touched by God's transforming grace, we can hardly live to the beat of old tunes and former values. God renews us to live for his glory and the well-being of others.
In grateful response, it is appropriate for us to ask in what ways we may please God and be a blessing to others.
Mother Teresa asked this question and responded that she wished to "do something beautiful for God" by serving the poorest of the poor. We too can seek to be beautiful for God and find our own particular ways to honor God and let his light shine into our world.
We cannot all be beautiful for God in the same way. Some wish to bring glory to God in their art, others in their teaching, and others in the work of justice.
So whether it is our role in the home, at school, in the marketplace, in our neighborhood, or in the nation, we can all find ways to reflect something of the grace and goodness of God to others.
Being beautiful for God has God as the major focus. It has God's glory in view and not our own success. We can be beautiful for God in the silence of adoration, the fervency of prayer, and the ecstasy of contemplation. But we can also be beautiful for God in the love and care we have for those in our families and in our circle of friends.
But an equally great challenge in our world so religiously cynical is to be beautiful for God in the public arenas of life: at work, in politics, in the arts, in the work of justice, and in service to the poor. In all the spheres of life we are called to demonstrate God's embrace, forgiveness, restitution, and healing.
Prayer: Lord, let my life shine for you. Amen.
Blind to Our Generosity and Virtues
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Matthew 6:3
The life of faith is a gift from God's generous heart and hand. Faith is never the fruit of our own virtues. As a result, we can never be proud of our spirituality. We can only be thankful for all that God has done and continues to do in sustaining and empowering us.
Similarly, there is little point in trying to measure the progress and development we think we are making in the journey of faith. The more we try regularly to check our spiritual pulse, the more self-preoccupied we become.
Mother Teresa is right when she counsels, "I must not count the stages in the journey... [God] would have me make. I must not desire a clear perception of my advance along the road."
The main reason why all such measurement is futile is because in self-forgetfulness we are most godlike, and in our weakness we are strong in the grace of God.
Faith does not look to our own virtues and abilities, and much less to our own achievements. Instead, it looks to the God of surprises who blesses when we least expect it.
The desire to measure our spiritual progress frequently springs not from the wells of holiness but from the pitfalls of insecurity. We doubt God's love and generosity, and we are uncertain about our obedience and our responses for service, and so we compare ourselves with others. In doing this, we usually come off second best.
This is no way to walk the journey of faith. Rather, rejoicing in all that God has done for us in Christ, and comforted and empowered by the Spirit, we can live in great generosity and kindness toward others, showing them the grace that God has so freely extended toward us.
Prayer: May my gaze ever be on who you are, oh my God, and not upon what I may do for you.
Excerpted from WASH THE FEET OF THE WORLD WITH Mother Teresa by CHARLES RINGMA Copyright © 2004 by Charles Ringma. Excerpted by permission.
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