St. Teresa of Calcutta is known for saying that love begins at the breakfast table. Throughout her life, Mother Teresa did great things for God. She left her country of Albania to serve as a religious sister in India, then she left the comfort of her convent to minister to the poor on the streets of Calcutta. It was during this time that she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a religious order internationally known for works of mercy performed by religious sisters dressed in white saris with blue borders.
Many have sought out the Missionaries of Charity hoping to do great things for God — at the same time, Mother Teresa and her order have been criticized for doing too little. Mother Teresa’s response to all of this was to say, “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Again and again, she pointed to the home as the place where Christian charity must begin: “Love begins by taking care of the closest ones — the ones at home.”
Our call to live as missionary disciples of Jesus begins with the mission field of our own homes. There are many practical ways that this call can be lived out in this time of quarantine. Along with the challenges come countless opportunities to exercise Christian charity. Many of us are working from home and juggling regular workloads with increased childcare, cooking, and cleaning duties. Shopping is complicated. Zoom meetings are tiring. Important events have been cancelled. Bills are piling up. Nerves are getting frayed. Things will only get more complicated as we transition back to “normal.”
It is easy to focus on your own needs and distress and forget about others. The Apostle Paul points to a different approach: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:2-7) We are called to consider the needs of those around us and to serve one another. In a family this means being aware of one another’s practical, emotional and spiritual needs, and finding ways to help each other. This could mean taking on an extra chore or stopping work to listen to someone who needs to be heard. The Bible does not instruct us to ignore our needs but to look as well to the needs of others, recognizing that they also have importance. We are called by Jesus to serve one another.
Forgiveness is key to living as a disciple of Jesus. We do not love perfectly. We do not always find it easy to serve others. Knowing how to ask for and receive forgiveness from God and others is of vital importance for living out Christian charity in our homes. The formula is easy. At first the execution is difficult, but it gets easier with practice. The offender says, “Please forgive me for _______ (fill in the blank). I am sorry. I will do my best not to do that again.” The offended party says, “I forgive you.”
Adults and children can use this formula in a variety of situations. It all starts with remembering and receiving God’s love and mercy towards us: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32) We should be quick to ask for forgiveness and ready to forgive even before being asked: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13)