The Letter

I have never met Sister Jeanne D’Arc. I will never meet Sister Jeanne D’Arc, but I have kept her letter on my desk for over 20 years. Sister Jeanne D’Arc is a Missionary Sister of Charity, the order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who is about to become Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Every Sister of Charity throughout the world does two things: they care for the poorest of the poor and they pray for priests. When I received Sister Jeanne D’Arc’s letter so many years ago she wrote to me that she would only write to me this once, and she gave me no return address. In her letter she told me that I had been assigned to her and that she would remember to pray for me every day of her life. Every Missionary of Charity is assigned a priest for whom to pray. How does one ever forget getting a letter like this? And so I have kept it on my desk all these many years to remind me that this little nun is somewhere praying for me. Well, that can certainly change your life! What more could a person need in this life then the assurance that each day someone is praying for him?

I had the great fortune of meeting Blessed Teresa of Calcutta years ago before I became a priest. It was in a place called the Bronx. There were no seats in the chapel. Six of us sat on small mats. The altar was made of cinder-block. And in front of the altar was a small sign that is in the front of every altar in chapels of Mother Teresa’s convents: “I thirst.” The words of Jesus from the Cross: “I thirst for you.” She had been sitting next to me on the floor during Mass and she handed me her own prayer book for the prayers at the end of Mass. After Mass I spent some time with Mother Teresa–just she and I. She was tiny and she never let go of my hands. I can’t tell you everything she told me. She was extraordinary. She was….is…a saint.

I hope you get to see the new movie now playing in theaters called “The Letters” about her life, work and perseverance without the comfort of the balm of God’s reassurance. Her life was lived upon the cross experiencing the greatest of existential sufferings: the experience of those who have abandoned themselves of God. That is the greatest poverty.

Mother Teresa was once asked by her Sisters if they could put windows on the chapel because of the noise coming from the streets outside. She said “no.” “I want you to hear the voices of the people for whom you are praying.”

Fr. Gerard Gordon