Whatever the reason for the wait, the book is no worse for having been reviewed and raved elsewhere.
I wondered to myself if, perhaps, the fact that I’ve read quite a few other books about Mother Teresa recently would make this book somehow less meaningful.
Silly me. What was I worried about? As he did in Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady, Father Langford uses brilliant writing to get right to the heart of the matter. The philosophy behind Mother Teresa’s life is quite simple, but that doesn’t make it easy to understand. With Father Langford guiding me, though, I didn’t feel so intimidated.
So often, studying the saints, I find myself first inspired. I’ll be on fire to follow that inspiration, to do what that saint did, to try my best and let God lead me. And then…then, after only a failure or two, I’ll give up. I throw my hands into the air and shake my head and write it all off as my own inability to be holy.
[The saints] are that small sliver of humanity, dipped in God, that still shines with his light. Their lives serve to beckon us back, to call us to our senses and our source, as God called out to Adam after the Fall, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9). Despite the variety of their lives, their backgrounds, and their stories, the saints all embody this one sweeping truth: that with the coming of Christ as New Adam, the prophesied times of restoration are here. In him, and in those transformed by him, the glory of the first Adam is once again restored. But the saints are not only heralds of this promised restoration; they are its living proof. They reflect here and now, for every generation and culture — mirrored in the joy, the innocence, and the goodness suffusing their countenance — the luminous faces of our first parents, coming fort fresh from the hand of God.
But there is something more. The saints show us not only how good we can be, but more importantly, they show us how supremely good God is. The saints are the living reflections of God’s goodness in our midst. In their role as mirrors of God, each saint is unique, for God’s goodness and beauty are infinitely rich. Like precious stones in a great mosaic, each saint reveals some facet, some special attribute of God’s boundless being, some unique hue of the divine splendor.
This helps me to see that it’s not about me. It’s an ongoing lesson, one I learn over and over and over. Living my life and responding to God’s call is not about me. It’s about HIM. When I turn my gaze where it belongs, when I leave my life where it belongs, when I follow the call, whenever and wherever I hear it, it’s amazing how differently things turn out.
Keep in mind that Mother Teresa’s call came entirely unexpectedly, when she was on her way to doing something else — as so often we are when God calls. Grace took an ordinary person, seemingly set on her life path, and placed her on a new and unimagined course, weaving her past history and her present gifts into a new future. Mother Teresa’s personal transformation and her accomplishments on the world stage all came after mid-life. This holds promise for the rest of us, who, as the years go by, may come to question our worth and our legacy.
If Mother Teresa could be surprised by grace, we can as well. We, too, can discover unexpected opportunities hidden in our present routine and circumstances, even in our trials. We, too, can find grace and transformation in our personal Calcutta and our inner nights, awaiting us at every turn.
In the last year, grace has been a concept that seems to be in the most intimate places of my spiritual life. I feel, sometimes, as though God is trying to teach me about grace, about what it means in more than just a theoretical sense.
I’ve read about Mother Teresa’s “call within a call” before. But here, in Secret Fire, I finally came to see it as the terrifying opportunity it was. How often have I been asked by God to do something that seems too big, too scary, too risky? Not often, but the more important question is, how often have I said “yes” with the trust and abandon that Mother Teresa showed?
The seed of grace that proved so fruitful in Mother Teresa’s soul can be sown just as productively in ours. The soil of our soul may not be special in any way; but Mother Teresa’s transformation came not from her own soul, but from the power of the seed. In the realm of grace, just as in nature, the same seed always produces the same fruit. The same grace of encounter lived in our life will produce the same fruits of transformation — “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold” (Mk 4:20).
There’s so much more in this book worth sharing. I made notes to myself and felt as though I had been on a spiritual retreat of sorts in reading it. I’m going to have to get my own copy (though I’m so grateful that our library had a copy!), because this will be a book I will come back to again and again, not only for the wisdom and insight, but also for the meditation in the appendix and the resources listed throughout.
Updated to add: Thanks to the wonders of Facebook commenting, Our Sunday Visitor sent me a link to the downloadable copy of the meditation that’s in the book. Check it out! Thanks, OSV!