By Rachel Swenson Balducci
The summer I turned twenty, I headed to New York City with friends. A group of us, college students and post-grads, decided to spend a few months serving with the Missionaries of Charity in Harlem and the Bronx.
A few weeks into our service, we heard murmurs about a possible visit from the order’s founder, Mother Teresa.
The Knights of Columbus wanted to honor her at a ceremony that would take place in New York during our stay. It felt like weeks of speculation, maybe it was only a few days. But what I remember is that we didn’t know anything was certain until the afternoon I found myself standing on a sidewalk with other volunteers and many of the sisters awaiting the arrival of Mother Teresa.
And just like that, there she was.
She pulled into the driveway of the convent in the Bronx, riding in the back seat of a shiny black sedan.
And there she went. I remember seeing her in a flash, amazed and stunned and overjoyed. After so much time with the Missionaries of Charity, we were meeting the founder! Here we were meeting the woman who had followed God’s call and been open to his will and changed the lives of so many people because of that willingness.
Over the course of Mother’s time in New York, the volunteers saw her several times. She visited the summer camp and handed out blessed medals to the campers, and met separately with the volunteers as well. My favorite memory, my most treasured, is of being in a small chapel at daily Mass and discovering that the diminutive nun I was seated next to was in fact Mother Teresa herself. It was shocking to the core and I will never forget the joy of knowing I was celebrating the Eucharist next to someone who had allowed Jesus to seep so deeply into so much that she was literally changing the world.
What struck me most about meeting Mother Teresa was her smallness. This physical feature of Mother was absolutely intriguing. We had heard she was small, but that description didn’t prepare me for just how tiny she was.
I also remember very clearly her feet — these feet of a woman who had really walked and traveled and worked. Her feet were gnarled and worn, angled and old. And yet, somehow, beautiful. Because those feet had carried Mother Teresa in and out of the slums of India and Russia and the Bronx and so many other parts of this broken, hurting world. Those beautiful, tired feet carried in the truest sense the Gospel of love everywhere they went.
And what stays with me, when I think of that time all those years ago, is that Mother Teresa’s feet are not different than my own — feet that are capable and durable and sturdy. What sets her feet apart is that she said yes, it seems, every time Jesus asked her to go somewhere.
What I have in common with Mother Teresa — what we all do — is that Jesus wants and needs and desires that same yes. He asks us to carry his Gospel, perhaps to India, perhaps to our neighbors, perhaps to the children in our own home — and all he needs from us is our humble, gentle yes.
During one of the times we spent with Mother, I remember her holding up her hand (which, as I recall, were not as small as I expected). She told us that the secret to following Jesus and living a good life was simple.
“I will,” she said moving one finger, “I want,” moving another, “with God’s help,” one more, “to BE.” “HOLY.”
I will, I want, with God’s help to be holy.
May the celebration of this new saint inspire a zeal within each of us to say yes to Jesus and live the Gospel with extravagance.