The elevation of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to sainthood has given us the opportunity to consider the life of this extraordinary woman so as to discover what the essence of her sanctity is. The life of a Saint is not something merely to be admired, but it is an example for us to follow. The aspect of her sanctity that I wish to look at is her resolute decision to listen to the voice of God within herself and to follow His commands through obedience. This, as you might say, is the very essence of both sanctity and the life of a Christian, which leads to holiness of life.
The issue that this points to is: how do we hear the voice of the Lord? In the case of some of the saints, it was a clearly auditory experience. They actually heard a voice speak to them; but this is not normally the way God works. There are times when God uses supernatural means to communicate, but normally He uses natural means. So how can we ‘hear’ God’s commands so that we can obey them?
Firstly, God works through Revelation. Sometimes a Scripture passage touches us in a personal way; or it is a teaching of the Church, mediated through a homily, or some theological reading. God often times speaks through the events in our lives when we prayerfully reflect on them. The visit of a friend, a sickness that comes upon us, a work of art that deeply influences us all have the power to transmit a message that God wants us to have.
To develop an attitude of listening is essential and this comes specifically through prayer.
Take for example Sister Teresa, headmistress of a school in India, on a train traveling from Calcutta to Darjeeling in 1947. She had already answered a call by leaving her family in Albania when she was 18 years old. She traveled to Dublin to be a sister of Loreto and then heeded the call of the Order to go to teach in one of their schools in India. For 17 years she taught very highly motivated, intelligent and rich Indian girls and was a great success at it. One would think: end of the story; but no. On that train, what she had seen for years, the extreme poverty in the streets of Calcutta, spoke to her anew. In looking at the squalor again and more deeply, she heard what she called “a call within a call”. Even though she had given herself selflessly to God, He was asking for something more. The rest is history. She petitioned the Order and the Church to leave her comfortable teaching ministry and to walk out, alone, into the slums and bring the compassion of Christ to the poorest of the poor. She could have said no. She could have gone back to her work and put the voice behind her; but she did not. And now she has been declared a Saint and therefore an example to us of what it means to be a true Christian.
Because of her prayer, she listened to the voice of God and obeyed.
Dare we believe that God may be speaking to us? This may seem like a stretch. Why would God communicate with us? We are not in a position to change the world as Saint Teresa did. Our role is much more circumscribed and limited; but, we have to admit that saying that God does not communicate with us is like uttering a heresy! Why do we cancel out the fact that God is very concerned about the decisions we make in life and that the welfare of our families and the people around us is as important to Him as the future of the human race! If we accept this, then it stands to reason that God will be guiding us, communicating with us and, in general, helping us live our lives.
What we have to do in this process of personal revelation is working on a habitual state of prayer. By this I mean, a daily openness to God in a prayerful attitude of mind and heart. I am not speaking about saying prayers but rather about a continual conversation with God about everything we do and say.
I often give the example of my Mom.
We had a large picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hanging in our kitchen. As she cooked, my mother would speak to Jesus as though He was in the room with her. My Dad once heard her while he stood outside the front door. When he found out whom she was talking to, he told her to be careful or people will think she is crazy! But she was not. She was prayerful in everything she did, including preparing the many meals that she lovingly gave to my Dad and me.
Think of how beautiful it would be if we were always in conversation with God: not only speaking to Him but listening to what He says through the ideas and desires He places in our minds and hearts!