Together with the Missionaries of Charity Family, the Corpus Christi Movement shares fully in the spiritual legacy given the Church by Mother Teresa of Calcutta. However, unlike her religious family whose identity is corporate and visible, the identity of CCM and its members is entirely interior and individual.
In common with the MC Family, the Movement’s finds its source and entire reason for existence in Jesus’ original call to Mother Teresa—begun September 10, 1946, and continued through the following months, as recorded in her “Founding Grace.” All that is contained in those early dialogues, regarding Jesus’ intentions for MC, also applies to CCM [though in its own way, respectingCCM’s nature as an association of diocesan priests].
While remaining in its own context of diocesan and parish life, CCM exists for the same purpose as MC (i.e., satiating the divine thirst for love and souls, by working at the salvation and sanctification of those most in need), and is committed to living by the same principles and values (the primacy of personal holiness, the role of Our Lady, devotion to the Eucharist and the Heart of Jesus, personal practice of the Spirit of the Society, special love for the least, the lost, and the last, etc).
Mother Teresa was imbued with a profound sense of the mutuality within the mystical Body (“What you can do I cannot and what I can do you cannot; but together we can do something beautiful for God”), and so sought to extend the grace of her charism to all in the Church who felt called to share in it. In a certain sense, all who share that charism form a kind of spiritual body—so that, as we the members of CCM spiritually “lend” our priesthood to Mother Teresa and her charism, she is able to continue her mission in a unique way through us as priests.
It is important to recall that this spiritual lending of one’s priesthood to Mother Teresa and her charism, by means of an interior personal bond and commitment, was the seed idea from which the CCM was to spring. Just as the “Sick and Suffering Coworkers” lent Mother Teresa the redemptive value of their suffering and prayer, so the Priest Coworkers (the original name of CCM) would lend Mother the power of their priesthood—offering not so much their own prayer and suffering as the infinite value of Jesus’ own pasch, offered daily on the altar. While externally the individual priest would attempt to live Mother Teresa’s spirit of generosity, compassion, and zeal in the “Calcutta” of his own parish, at the same time he would be interiorly united to the entire MC Family and their mission by the inner bond of the Eucharist. They would be united in the one Passion of Jesus, lived out in both his sacramental and his mystical Body—in the Eucharist offered by the priest, and in the poor served by the MCs.
Points for Reflection
“Take Me, I cannot go alone”
Together with those in MC, we as members of CCM are called to bring Jesus first and foremost to those farthest away, those in darkness, those who suffer, those in despair, the lonely and forgotten, etc, in our own parishes and diocese. As Jesus complained to Mother Teresa, he laments also to us: “They don’t know Me, so they don’t want Me (…) You go among them in My name (…) Take Me, I cannot go alone.” Just as Mother Teresa’s charism is missionary, so too, the CCM is missionary—living the same MC missionary spirit and outreach there where we are, finding the missions among the suffering and abandoned of our own parish, first, and then beyond “even to the ends of the earth.”
This brings us to Mother Teresa’s response—and ours—to Jesus’ appeal, contained in the MC “fourth vow” of Wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. While remaining diocesan, and bound only by our own free inner commitment and the pull of grace, we too are called within the Movement to live the spirit of the fourth vow—to use our time and energies as shepherds of the flock to go in search of souls, especially the neediest and most abandoned; to not wait for our people to seek us out, nor go only to those disposed to receive us, but to “seek out and save that which was lost.”
A particular point of emphasis in living the spirit of the fourth vow is in encouraging and making available the sacrament of confession. Nowhere more than at this sacramental “mercy seat” is the thirst of Jesus for souls quenched in mercy and power. Nor should we shy from explicitly inviting our people, even one by one, to come to the sacrament—after all, we are fishers of men; and the fisherman does not wait for the fish to jump in the boat of themselves. Mother Teresa asked us to be indefatigable in this ministry, and to take care as well in how we celebrate this sacrament, making sure we are communicating the tenderness, mercy, and healing of the heart of the Savior, and making use of this sacred forum to exercise the ars artis of guiding souls to union with their Lord through spiritual direction.
Spirit of Welcoming
Besides focusing our energies on going in search of those farthest away, we are to give the same kind of eager welcome to those who approach us for whatever reason. Mother Teresa insisted that no one ever left our presence without having in some way met the goodness of Jesus through us: in our words, our gaze, our attitude, our patience in listening. She herself left us the example of never allowing anyone to go away from meeting her without being blessed and consoled. No one left Mother Teresa’s presence without having felt they were the most important person in the world for her in those moments when her gaze was upon them. The earnest attentiveness of the Father towards the prodigal son is to inspire all our dealing with our people.
Carriers of Christ’s Love
It is not our own love, no matter how sincere, that we are to bring to our people, but the love of God himself. We are not the saviors; we are not the ones our people need—they need Jesus. That is why too much reliance on human activity and initiative, neglecting the primacy of personal union with God as the foundation for all apostolate, leaves our people bereft of the fullness of God’s presence and gifts through us. The holiness of the individual minister becomes our greatest, most efficacious pastoral tool [as Satan remarked of the Curé of Ars: “If there were any more of him in France, my kingdom would be finished”].
Jesus’ plan for Mother Teresa, and for all who share her charism, was simple yet demanding: “to be so united to Me as to be My radiance.” Those who have suffered great physical or emotional pain need more than platitudes, more than homilies—they need an experience of God and his closeness. They need someone to mediate God’s presence for them in some more palpable way, capable of touching the heart and well as the mind. This is the role of the saints, like Mother Teresa; for it is the encounter with holiness that provides the closest thing to a personal theophany that most people, especially those alienated from God, will ever have. God’s graces of conversion and consolation through Mother Teresa were experiential—and as members of her family, we are to continue that ministry of allowing people to touch and be touched by God, through us. We are to be as empty vessels, empty of self and filled to overflowing with God—so that wherever we go and whatever we do we can say, “it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me,” so that in meeting us “people can look up and see only Jesus” (Newman).
People expect, and rightfully so, to find something of Christ in us, to discover in us a sense of the God whom we are to render nearer and more tangible, not only through our ministry but in our very person. The great French Dominican, Père Grandmaison, wrote:
“Certainly I desire to preach the Word of God to the best of my ability, but it is not that sentiment which has brought me here. When I was in the world, I never approached a priest without the ardent hope of finding something of God in him (…) the feeling of the living presence of Christ. Yet when I was seeking God in this way and found only a man, I experienced a bitter and painful disappointment. My whole ambition, when I am ordained, is never to cause this disappointment to a single soul.”
Victims of Love
In Mother Teresa’s great vision of 1947, where God showed her a representation of her new mission, she saw herself with Jesus and Our Lady in the midst of the poor—sharing their poverty, their pain, their darkness. Jesus’ priestly kenosis (Phil. 2:6) was shared radically in the self-emptying of Mother Teresa, who embraced the lot of the poor in “all things but sin,” and made herself one with them in a solidarity of both heart and deed.
At the outset of her mission, Jesus specifically asked that Mother Teresa and her followers become “victims of love” for the sake of the poor and those in darkness. This is the other essential component of the fourth vow, and one that touches us as well—the call to be victims, in and as Jesus, for the sake of our people. The call to bear willingly with the crosses of our people in as much as we are able, to help not only by our pastoral care but by willing participation in their pain—in the form of illness and humiliations accepted gladly, and renunciations undertaken generously—to yoke them to the Savior, to help turn their sufferings into seeds of resurrection. There is no salvation, and no priesthood, without victimhood. Just as inconceivable and senseless as Jesus’ own priesthood would have been without the Cross, so too is our own priesthood unthinkable and ineffectual without “taking up our cross daily” to follow the Lamb to Calvary, carrying together with Him the sins and sufferings of our people.
“Our battle is not with flesh and blood”
By being sent specifically to those in darkness—those of whom Jesus said “they don’t know Me, so they do not want Me,” those blinded to His presence by excessive poverty or wealth—Mother Teresa was to focus her efforts on territory already claimed by the Evil one. It is not sufficient to naively go out to those far from God armed only with our puny human compassion and good intention. We are engaged in a battle—not with economic conditions or social structures, but with “principalities and powers,” as St. Paul reminds us.
Because the nature of our endeavor is supernatural (not just the consolation of the poor, but their salvation and sanctification), so too our methods and approach must be of spirit more than of flesh. Only supernatural means can accomplish a supernatural end.
Besides the ministry of intercession and sacramental confession, another tool in the spiritual combat is the power of our priestly blessing. We must not minimize its importance due to our own human poverty, for it is the very blessing of Jesus himself, communicating all the power of the Trinity into time and place. If we but had the faith of the woman with the hemorrhage in the gospel, or the faith of a Mother Teresa who always asked a priest for his blessing, Jesus we too would witness Jesus’ “power going out of us” to heal and sanctify our people.
The pastoral efficacy of holiness, the power of God living in man, this was Mother Teresa’s great apostolic plan—and the one reason for her unparalleled impact in the world. Mother Teresa did not win the hearts of millions simply because of her work—since similar work has been done by thousands of other missionaries before her, who still remain unknown. It is not the work itself that won Mother Teresa the Nobel Prize and the esteem of all, but—whether we recognize it or not—it is the fruit of her holiness. This is why the “whole world was running after” her, just as it did with Francis of Assisi a thousand years before. As bearers of her charism our lives focus on the twin poles of her Mother Teresa’s:
-Exteriorly: Growing in ministerial generosity and zealous outreach to the needy and forgotten, being true fishers of men to “sinners and publicans” and all those far from God;
-Interiorly: Accepting the call to personal holiness and intimate union with God in prayer and self-sacrifice. Being faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours and to Lectio Divina in order to draw from the source of Light we are to radiate into the darkness of today’s world.
Something Beautiful for God
Though many have questioned the meaning of Mother Teresa’s darkness, there is a limitless light hidden there, for all those “who have eyes to see.” She who was sent not only to bring but to be God’s light, cannot have been anything less than that—as she herself promised, “a lamp to light our darkness.” Besides the unequivocal light of her holiness and works of charity, there is a deeper, greater light still. It is a share in the very light that issues from God himself, a light that blinds our human senses and logic: it is the light of self-emptying love, a love that, without counting the cost, wraps itself in the pain and darkness of our humanity, not because it must but simply because it can. Such is the reach of divine love that “He who knew no sin” not only paid its price, but “was made to be sin for our sake.”
If Jesus was sent to save us from sin by himself offering to become sin, by bursting the bonds of death and evil from within, then Mother Teresa would do the same. She who was sent to be light, who knew no darkness from childhood, was “made to be darkness” as it were—wrapped in darkness for the sake of those lost in its grip. She would show us the one true light, the glory of the “God who is love,” by embracing the darkness in her own soul, by flooding with love the lack of love, and drowning the darkness in light. Hers, and God’s, is a light that does not run away from the darkness but towards it, to rescue it. “And the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.” Her light shone from within that darkness—not from outside it or along side it; a light that could not reveal its fullness except by going so far as to wrap itself in darkness for our sake.
How does her light in darkness, her love despite and beyond pain, illumine our lives as priests and as CCM? First of all, hers was not a crisis but a triumph of faith. She shows us—and invites us to show our people—how far our faith can go, even in the night; just as Jesus showed the disciples how strong faith can be in the example of the Canaanite woman (who refused to believe that God did not hear her, for “Even the dogs eat the scraps from the master’s table”).
Secondly, Mother Teresa’s darkness shows us how far love can go. She shows us to what heroic extent God’s love can fill one human life, even here below. Satan seeks to use our suffering as proof that God does not hear or provide for us, pushing us to close in on ourselves, to live only to sooth our own pain and to provide for our ego. God, on the other hand, wishes to use the pain and losses of life as gentle reminders that we are not to attach to the things of this world, since they cannot fill us and are passing away. God uses suffering to nudge us out of our self-satisfied settled lives, dependent on material things, into a life lived for others, for love. And here is the importance of Mother Teresa’s example: in the midst of her own pain, she shows us that no matter what we suffer we always have a choice—the choice to love or not to love. We are always free, always able to step beyond our own pain to assuage the pain of others, free to make of our pain not a prison but a bridge into the pain of others.
We each have a personal “Calcutta” to live, made up of our own pain and the pain of those around us. And we are each sent to minister to that Calcutta in miniature, just as Mother Teresa was. If she could face the worst of human suffering and on such a grand scale, and do so alone and filled with her own pain—then, through her, God is showing us that we can do our part in the lesser Calcutta that is ours. And despite the pain that may be ours. We must invite and encourage our people to believe how important their lives are in the plan of God, and of how much good they can do despite their circumstances. In fact, the good they can do even a Mother Teresa could never do; and the people they can touch not even a Mother Teresa could reach. No one else in history has the same combination of gifts and talents, the same network of family and friends and contacts, as each and every one of our people. That is the importance of their irreplaceable lives in God’s plan. There is no need for them, or for us, to traverse far-off lands to contribute to Mother Teresa’s mission: wherever we are, with whatever gifts and relationships God has placed in our hands, we each called not to do what Mother Teresa did but to do as she did, to love as she loved, in the Calcutta of our own life. We too are called to be a light that pierces the darkness, and to make our own life Something Beautiful for God.
We have sought here to show the connection and continuity between Mother Teresa, MC, and the Corpus Christi Movement. Our Movement and each of its members, like Mother Teresa, is sent into the darkness of this world to bring and to be light—the light of love of the God who is love—not just to the materially poor but to poverty and suffering of every kind and in every place, from slums to palaces. CCM is to be as a net in the hands of the Lord, as Fisher of men, cast over the whole world, drawing all to the Savior’s fountains.
CCM Talk, Fr. Joseph Langford, MC (CCM Co-founder)
Fr. Pascual Cervera (CCM International Coordinator)
(Rome, January 2008)