Frassati Reflection: A Poverty of Loneliness

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread, but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
—St. Teresa of Calcutta


On a certain sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught,
and there was a man there whose right hand was withered.
The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely
to see if he would cure on the sabbath
so that they might discover a reason to accuse him.
But he realized their intentions
and said to the man with the withered hand,
“Come up and stand before us.”
And he rose and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them,
“I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath
rather than to do evil,
to save life rather than to destroy it?”
Looking around at them all, he then said to him,
“Stretch out your hand.”
He did so and his hand was restored.
But they became enraged
and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

—Luke 6:6–11

When Jesus heals the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees don’t see this act for what it truly is—a miracle from God, an affirmation of human dignity, a tender display of compassion toward a man who had long been suffering. All they can see is that, having been performed on the sabbath, it is act that goes against the letter of the law in regards to sabbath rest, never mind that is entirely in keeping with the spirit of the law. As Jesus cures the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees reveal that they, too, are sick, but in a different way—spiritually sick, infected with the disease of malice and resentment.

Yesterday marked the canonization of Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta. Throughout her life she demonstrated the healing love of God with a deep reverence for the sanctity of human life—even the least and lowliest ones, the poor and hungry dying on the streets of Calcutta, the orphaned, the unborn, and also the spiritually poor souls of the West. Perhaps the most incredible thing about Mother Teresa is how she took up her own Cross, allowing her suffering to drive her ultimate mission. She experienced long, excruciating periods of sorrow, doubt, and spiritual dryness, and she offered these up for the sake of souls:

“Mother Teresa’s steadfast prayer life and confidence in the reality of redemptive suffering allowed her to confront her own interior darkness armed with the conviction that her pain could glorify God….I could not help but be humbled by the vast chasm between the heroic, joyful way Mother Teresa had carried her cross and the halfhearted, resentful way I was carrying mine….
That style of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other spirituality had never much appealed to me. It seemed too simplistic for the deep-thinking Christian I considered myself to be. But day after day, as I soaked up Mother Teresa’s words in that chapel and stared at that silent host, I grew in my conviction that such simple perseverance might just be the essence of authentic faith: showing up to pray when you feel nothing, continuing to confide in God when he answers you with silence, loving and serving him even after you accept that he may never give you what you so desperately want or answer the question that confounds you the most.”

—Colleen Carroll Campbell, My Sisters the Saints

Mother Teresa persevered through darkest night so that the lives of others might be saved. She held on to hope in the healing power of God when it seemed impossible. Even when surrounded by cynicism, despair, and vice, she remained committed to doing God’s work and being a light in the darkness. May we follow her example of humility and steadfast devotion.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Image: Manfredo Ferrari / CC BY-SA 4.0

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