It is said that when Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, would visit a house and the poor were gathered together, she had the ability to recognize who was most in need, whether inwardly or outwardly, and she would go right to that person to share the love and mercy of God. Mother Teresa’s sisters would regularly ask, “How did she know?!”
Often, the person most in need was not the first person one would have expected by looking at them from the outside. In one instance, a journalist who was going through a very difficult time in her life was standing at the back of the room while Mother Teresa was giving a short speech. The journalist was dealing with a family tragedy and struggling with belief in God, but outwardly, she looked the same as ever, going about her work. Immediately upon ending her talk, Mother Teresa went through the crowd directly to the journalist and began to comfort her. The woman was blown away.
A person’s life might seem perfect externally (or on Instagram and Facebook), but often the interior reality is much different. The truth is that all of us have our own wounds; we’re all broken. We’re all in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness, though sometimes we try to hide our weakness or bury it within us. We want to appear — and to be — strong. But growth in the spiritual life is not actually about growing stronger and stronger — at least, not growing stronger in our own power.
Learning to rely on the Lord
The spiritual life involves a movement toward weakness, because when we recognize our own weakness and brokenness, we come to realize our need for Jesus. Jesus said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Mt 9:12) and “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Mt 9:13).
As we become more aware of our own weakness, we ought to rely more and more upon Jesus. In a homily during my years in seminary, Msgr. Dan Trapp once told us, “We should be leaning on Jesus so much that if he were not there, we would fall.” Along the same lines, at the end of her life, St. Therese of Lisieux thanked God that she was still in need of a savior. We will never reach a point in our life when we do not need Jesus. Growth in the spiritual life, therefore, does involve growing in strength, but it is in the strength that comes from the Lord (Phil 4:13). When we are weak, then we are strong in him (2 Cor 12:10). Acknowledging our sins and weakness before the Lord opens our hearts to receive his mercy and love.
At each Mass, we begin by acknowledging our sins before the Lord. For example, one option for the penitential rite includes praying, “I confess to you Almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned,” and then imploring his mercy. This admission is not about self-pity — no “Woe is me” or “I’m such an awful person” — but it is an honest and humble assessment that we need Jesus. It prepares us to listen to and to hear his voice in the Liturgy of the Word and to receive his love in the Most Blessed Sacrament. In Sacra Tridentina, a decree on frequent reception of Holy Communion, St. Pius X wrote that the Eucharist is not a reward for virtue but a remedy for sin. The Eucharist brings healing as well as communion with Jesus and with the entire body of Christ (i.e. the ).
Receiving God’s mercy and forgiveness leads to gratitude for this unmerited gift. Gratitude for God’s mercy, and for all the blessings of our life, leads to praise and worship for his goodness and generosity. As God gives himself totally, freely and faithfully to us, we are called to respond to that love by giving ourselves unreservedly and freely in return.
Our lives as loving sacrifice
In Eucharistic Prayer III from the Roman Missal we pray, “May He [Jesus] make of us an eternal offering to You [God the Father].” Thus, our whole life is to become a sacrificial offering to the Father. Our whole life becomes liturgical as we offer every part of our life to him: our joys, our sorrows and everything in between. We hold nothing back from the Father and we make that offering in union with Jesus, his son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we grow closer to Jesus, one step at a time, we are enabled to offer more and more of our life to him. In giving Jesus our whole life, we do not lose out. Instead, we gain everything. We receive the very thing our hearts are made for: infinite, unconditional love. As Jesus says, “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:25).
Finally, if we live in communion with the Father, through his son, and in the Holy Spirit, how can we not share this Good News with others? How can we keep the Gospel to ourselves? How can our testimony remain hidden?
Our need for Jesus leads to repentance, our repentance leads to worship, and worship leads to witness — witness with a heart full of gratitude, love, peace and the presence of God.
[footnote https://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWFREQ.HTM – Mortal sins must be confessed before receiving Holy Communion but venial sins are forgiven when we receive the Eucharist. We also receive strength to avoid mortal sins when we receive Holy Communion – see CCC 1395 and 1385)].