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When we think of service and charity, it’s often in extremes — an international missionary trip, a large financial donation, a life-changing gesture. We tend to glorify what it means to serve others, forgetting that we can serve wherever we are and whomever we encounter. St. Teresa of Calcutta is the epitome of this always-on spirit of service.

She encouraged, “Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering and the lonely, right where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in homes and in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have eyes to see.”

If we are truly to become missionary disciples, our acts of service and love can’t be isolated instances. Of course, missionary trips and generous donations are fantastic forms of service that greatly assist the poor and struggling all around the world. Yet we should broaden our idea of our call to service, which St. Teresa so eloquently illuminates.

It takes humility and selflessness to follow this missionary path. A true servant leader does not do it for her own fulfillment or pride, she does it wholly for the sanctification of others and in gratitude to God. In many ways, it’s actually harder to serve like this, because it takes daily, intentional effort. But it’s our God-given responsibility to love.

Using the spirituality of St. Teresa as a guide, we can learn to love and serve here and now.

“We must be able to radiate the joy of Christ, express it in our actions.”

St. Teresa

Approach every person with love

If we view all men and women as sons and daughters of God, worthy of his unconditional love and mercy, we must treat them as such. Regardless of how others approach us, the only response is love, or as St. Teresa said, “Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time.”

Though we should aim to approach every person and every interaction with charity, the call to love is easier said than done. Naturally, our human nature gets in the way, causing us to judge, start arguments, dismiss, act unkindly and so on. But we should remind ourselves of what St. Teresa said: “Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.”

“Seek the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time.”

St. Teresa

Seek out the poor in your midst

There are poor everywhere — not just economically poor, but also spiritually and emotionally poor. We’re not all meant to dedicate our lives to serving the poorest of the poor in a literal sense. St. Teresa reminded us, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” Poorness can mean hungering for love, lacking friendship, suffering in silence, dealing with loss or struggling through loneliness, anxiety and depression.

St. Teresa shared, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.” Tune in to those in your life, whatever their relationship with you might be, to see how you can be a light of Christ.

Embrace the (seemingly) ordinary 

Something as simple as a smile, a compliment, a kind word or an empathetic ear can be exactly what someone needs. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” said St. Teresa. Treat every moment as an opportunity to pour out love. Never underestimate the power of any loving act — big or small.

Live with purposeful joy

We need to stay attuned to the Holy Spirit, who will inspire us to act out of love — even if we don’t realize it. As long as we’re intentional about the desire to serve and love, God will move us. St. Teresa urged, “We must be able to radiate the joy of Christ, express it in our actions. If our actions are just useful actions that give no joy to the people, our poor people would never be able to rise up to the call which we want them to hear, the call to come closer to God.” At the very least, we can serve through our joy.