I can remember exactly where I was standing 18 years ago on the first Friday of September when I received a phone call that told me that my friend, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, had died.
I was in Tampa, Florida, at a gas station, refueling a rental car, en route to the airport, when my cell phone rang with the news. I should not have been surprised by the sudden news as Mother had been so ill, for so long. But still, the finality crashed down upon me. As much as I thought I had prepared for that moment, I discovered that I was woefully unprepared. I was inconsolable. Mother was gone.
That day was September 5, 1997. Which means tomorrow is her feast day, the anniversary of the day she entered heaven. All the tears and sadness of 18 years ago have given way to joy and gratitude. Mother is not gone. She is in heaven. She is more engaged in our world than before. She continues to love without counting the cost.
Last night at “Theology on Tap” at The Pub, I shared with you students a few thoughts on this remarkable woman, and the upcoming Jubilee Year of Mercy. Mother was the embodiment of mercy, some say, and that may be why the Holy Father may canonize her during the Jubilee of mercy.
Appropriately enough, little Ave Maria University honors Mother Teresa in ways no campus in America does. We are hers. St. Francis has Franciscan colleges. St. Benedict has Benedictine colleges. Mother Teresa has Ave Maria University.
Our Mother Teresa Project, only in its second year, is changing lives. Last weekend hundreds of our new students went to the impoverished community of Immokalee. Some played with area kids. Others volunteered in the gymnasium and assembled 96,000 meals for area food banks. It is hard to believe that in a rich state like Florida there is so much food insecurity, but a swing through this community reminds you that yes, there is. In fact, the meals the students were putting together were expected to be distributed and consumed within weeks. The experience in Immokalee was an eye-opener for some and a reminder that America has many hungry, hurting people. The students who went felt like they received far more than they gave.
So tomorrow on Mother Teresa’s feast day, do something nice for someone who can’t pay you back. “Love until it hurts.” Smile at one another. She said that this was the surest way to spread peace. And because you were either unborn, in diapers, or only toddlers when she went home to God, make an effort to get to know her.
Next week go by the Mother Teresa Museum and learn about her. Watch some video. Pray before the first-class relic of her. Read her letters. Spend time with her. She is very active in the world and can be active in yours, too. She used to urge people to pray, “Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.”
You might add to that, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta, be a mother to me now, too!”