By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published September 1, 2016
June 13, 1995: Today we met Mother Teresa! The sisters at the Gift of Grace had invited about 100 volunteers to the early morning Mass celebrating the opening of the home—and we were thrilled to be on the list.
Jef and I climbed out of bed at 5 a.m. and drove to the home on St. Charles Avenue beneath a sky decorated with a fat communion-wafer moon. Not surprisingly, a huge media blitz was underway with reporters and TV cameras rolling, and clusters of onlookers gathered on the front lawn.
We squeezed into the crowded, hot dining room, where we waited for Mother Teresa to arrive. As we stood there, one of the cynical demons from my atheistic past trotted across my heart—and I wondered whether all the hoopla about Mother wasn’t just a big fabrication of the media.
Oh, sure, we had been working side-by-side with her sisters—the Missionaries of Charity—transforming a ramshackle house into a lovely abode for women with AIDS. And the sisters were genuinely sweet and kind—but, really, could a woman as famous as Mother Teresa be immune from the egoism that stalks so many celebrities?
My mind suddenly drifted back to the day in Cedar Key, Florida, when Jef and I had been boating in a quiet cove—and seemingly out of nowhere, two giants had emerged from the deep and peered at us with big, innocent eyes.
“Manatees!” we shouted excitedly once the twosome dipped back under and lumbered away.
And the then-atheist in the boat—yours truly—surprised herself thoroughly by blurting out, “It was like looking into the face of God.”
Not that I thought God looked like a manatee, you understand, but there was something about their expressions that deeply moved me.
As the dining room grew even muggier, I grumpily concluded that the manatee encounter was definitely a highpoint of my life—and it had nothing to do with TV cameras and reporters and crowds.
And then, suddenly the room grew quiet, as a line of sisters, all wearing white saris with blue stripes, entered. The shortest one, rather bent over, I knew had to be Mother Teresa, although I couldn’t see her face.
A woman near me reached out and touched Mother Teresa gently—and Mother paused to smile at her. Now I could see her face clearly—and when her eyes met mine, a quite surprising thing happened.
Instantly, I recognized the same open, trusting expression I’d seen in the eyes of those big sea creatures. It was as if God had momentarily superimposed one image upon the other.
Had God played a joke on me? I wondered later. “You didn’t think anything could beat the manatee experience, did you? Well, how about this?”
And I recalled something Pope Benedict XVI had pointed out: “Sometimes God gives you something like a nudge and says, ‘Don’t take yourself so seriously!’”
After Mass, the crowd lined up outside for something I had never expected—which was a personal blessing from a woman considered a living saint.
When it was my turn, she placed her hands gently on my head and whispered, “God bless you.”
I was so nervous I automatically gave her a little pat and replied, “God bless you too.” One of the sisters standing nearby burst into laughter and said, “There’s Lorraine, giving Mother her blessing!”
That was so many years ago, yet the memory replays itself over and over, especially now that Mother Teresa will soon be canonized.
The lessons I learned from her Missionaries of Charity are forever imprinted on my heart—to pray a daily rosary, to spend time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, to quench Jesus’ thirst for love by caring for others.
And, above all, to always expect the unexpected when it comes to God.
Lorraine Murray’s latest cozy church mystery is “Death Dons a Mask.” Artwork by Jef Murray. You may contact Lorraine at email@example.com.