Likely one of the most beloved saints of modern time, St. Teresa of Kolkata (the city formerly known as Calcutta, India) was known worldwide for her smile. Standing at a mere 5 feet, she appeared frail to some, donned in wrinkles from years of hard work. But her smile supplanted her stature, and her interior strength, fostered amidst great virtue and fortitude, was what largely made her spiritually attractive to many.
Perhaps that is why author and editor Heidi Hess Saxton chose to make St. Teresa a spiritual companion for Advent. In her book, “Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations,” Saxton incorporates inspirational quotes from the saint of mercy, as well as interesting stories from her life, into the thematic element of Advent joy. An excerpt from the book’s introduction, by Bishop Robert Barron, states thus:
“Though she was ‘Mother’ to thousands, she did not always feel the love and joy she espoused; rather, she chose it, and in so doing she embodied the kind of faith that speaks hope and courage to those who likewise struggle. For those who wander in darkness, St. Teresa of Calcutta is a true patron of joy yet to be discovered.”
Indeed, even Christians are often veiled under the shadows of darkness through sin, grief and suffering, and find it difficult to choose joy under such circumstances. We weep. We are burdened. It’s hard to see God’s plan in the uncertainties of daily life, and it’s hard to rejoice when the literal darkness of short, cold days of winter tempt one to hole within himself or herself.
But St. Teresa’s life, though cloaked in the dark night of the soul for decades, is a testament to those who still seek the light – the light of the world, Jesus. There is a reason candles are lit during Advent and fill parishes with their light at midnight Mass on Christmas. It is because Jesus has overcome every darkness that man has or will experience. St. Teresa knew this well. She lived it well.
Her joy can be imitated this Advent as the reader accompanies her simple wisdom through the pages of “Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations.” During the Second Week of Advent, Saxton quotes St. Teresa with these fitting words: “If your heart is full of worldly things, you cannot hear the voice of God. But when you have listened to his voice in the silence of your heart, then your heart is filled. Then, from the fullness of the heart the mouth will speak … When you look at people, they must be able to see God in your eyes.”
Nestled in this devotional are similar gems, along with Scripture verses and reflection questions, while concluding each day’s meditation with prayer.
Joy is not something that is necessarily felt. St. Teresa knew this all too well: When she began her work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of India, she often felt so sick to her stomach with the smell of decaying bodies that she couldn’t handle the work without exceptional grace from God.
Most readers are not likely to face such squalid conditions or such an extreme call to poverty. But like she was, all are called to reflect God’s joy in what that they do. Despite the difficulties of life, everyone can choose joy the way that she did, every day. Anyone can become the light, offer a smile with warmth and sincerity, and draw others to Jesus through love.
A saint of genuine accompaniment, St. Teresa knew that people would not be drawn to Christ if she did not reflect His joy. This did not mean she was a stranger to suffering. It simply meant that her heart and mission were elevated above emotions. She did not allow her feelings to dictate the great work to which God was calling her.
This Advent, learn from the life of a beautiful saint who embodied joy in every movement of her heart and every glance from her eyes. As a people who believe in the hope and joy of Jesus’ incarnation, Catholics must mirror, as St. Teresa did, the gift of the faith to all whom they encounter. May this be the reader’s goal as he journeys with St. Teresa through the pages of this encouraging and inspirational Advent devotional.
“Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Daily Meditations” by Heidi Hess Saxton (Servant, 2016) 144 pp., $12.99
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