December 11, 1979, a diminutive nun in a blue and white habit assumed a grand stage in Oslo, Norway. With a quiet and steady voice, she delivered the following message:
There is so much suffering, so much hatred, so much misery, and we with our prayer, with our sacrifice are beginning at home. Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty — how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke these words — to her Norwegian audience and to all the world — in her Nobel Lecture following her acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. She shared her view that peace is not some lofty, unachievable ideal. Instead, she suggested, peace is a reality that we strive for every day in our own homes and in our own communities. Sowing peace does not necessarily involve living amongst the poor in Calcutta or embarking on some other noble foreign mission. Peace is our mission right where we are, no matter who we are. In our zeal to confront the very real problems of the world, we often neglect the root of those problems in our own homes. So, taking a page from Mother Teresa, here’s your mission (should you choose to accept it):
Mother Teresa was asked by a group of professors visiting from the United States to impart some wisdom that they could take home with them. She said:
“Smile at each other, make time for each other in your family. Smile at each other. And then another one asked me: Are you married, and I said: Yes, and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at Jesus because he can be very demanding sometimes. This is really something true, and there is where love comes — when it is demanding, and yet we can give it to Him with joy.”
Smile. Yes. That’s it. Blessed Mother Teresa said that a smile is the beginning of love. Make an effort to smile today … especially at someone you find it hard to love. Instead of a snarky remark, try a sincere smile. Instead of a look of annoyance or frustration, offer a gentle smile. Greet your spouse, kids, roommates, or coworkers with a smile. Make an effort to smile and make eye contact with those who serve you your coffee, bag your groceries, and prepare your lunch. A smile combats loneliness and isolation in those who receive it. It also has the miraculous ability to change the heart of the giver.
Love the ones you’re with
Before heading off on a foreign mission to combat poverty and hunger abroad, Mother Teresa encouraged people to tend first to the poverty in their own homes. She said of the elderly:
“They are hurt because they are forgotten, and see — this is where love comes. That poverty comes right there in our own home, even neglect to love. Maybe in our own family we have somebody who is feeling lonely, who is feeling sick, who is feeling worried, and these are difficult days for everybody. Are we there, are we there to receive them?”
So, be more attuned to the suffering of those in your own home and family. Who in your family is feeling sick? Feeling lonely? Feeing worried? Mother Teresa identified these sufferings as a type of poverty. Fight this poverty first. This can change the world.
Won’t you be my neighbor?
In a world of social networking that allows us to instantly connect with people around the globe without ever leaving home, we have begun to lose the ancient art of being neighborly. Mother Teresa remarked that she was often struck by the incredible generosity of the poor whom she served. They would often give to their neighbors whose need was even greater than their own. She said, “I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. … And find out about your next-door neighbour — do you know who they are?”
Your mission is to get to know your neighbors. Whether they live down the hall in a dorm or an apartment building or two miles down a windy country road, get to know them. Make an effort to greet them and inquire (with sincere interest, mind you) about how they’re doing. Are they going through a rough time? Offer to bring them a meal. Do you have an elderly neighbor who could use your company? Try engaging them in a friendly chat by bringing them a cup of coffee.
Be your (little) brother’s keeper
Mother Teresa, in imitation of her beloved Jesus, had a special place in her heart of children… especially children who were unwanted. She used her Nobel Lecture to plead with the world:
“Let us bring the child back, and this year being the child’s year: What have we done for the child? At the beginning of the year I told, I spoke everywhere and I said: Let us make this year that we make every single child born, and unborn, wanted. And today is the end of the year, have we really made the children wanted?”
Welcome the children in your life. If you are a parent, auntie, uncle, or godparent, take a moment to listen to the children you love. Really listen to them. Take them out for ice cream (FYI, this is like truth serum for little humans) or call them on the phone. Make them feel wanted. Let them know they matter to you. If you don’t have little people in your life, you can welcome children by smiling at them at Mass, giving up your seat on the bus to a parent with a young child, or surprising the pregnant young woman working at your favorite fast food restaurant or in housekeeping at your office building with a gift (think diapers, onesies, receiving blankets, or gift cards).
This is your mission right from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Jump in. Have fun. Let me know if your mission is a success. I love hearing from you!