Mother Teresa has helped me to see the importance of the Heart. Yesterday morning I offered the Mass of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for the Missionaries of Charity in Costa Rica. Even though in 1969 Aug 22 became the feast of the Queenship of Mary, Mother Teresa had obtained permission of the Holy See to continue celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on that day. Our Lady, under this title, is the patroness of her Order.
Mother Teresa understood God first in terms of his heart. In her home parish of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Skopje, Albania, the good Jesuits taught the little girl that God is first to be known as a heart burning with love. Naturally then she turned to Mary in her heart as well. She named her first home for dying destitutes in Calcutta the Home of the Immaculate Heart (in Bengali “Nirmal Hriday”). It was in that building that Malcom Muggeridge filmed his 1969 documentary Something Beautiful for God, which introduced Mother Teresa’s work to the world. The celebrated BBC journalist marveled at the luminosity that appeared in even dark interior shots, given the technical limitations of film at that time. “I think it is the world’s first cinematic miracle” he later wrote.
I’ve worked in that famous hospice, which is next door to Calcutta’s central temple of Kali (for which the city is named). Among the horror of putrefying bodies radiates a pure love that fills the atmosphere with joy and hope. “I have lived like an animal on the streets” one man said, “but now I die as an angel.” I’ve never seen more deeply joyful smiles than in Calcutta’s Home of the Immaculate Heart.
Two days before offering the Mass of the Immaculate Heart for the sisters in Costa Rica I got to talking with one of the men living in their shelter. Franco was born in Cali, Columbia, and when he was eight years old government soldiers arrived in his village. Cali was the epicenter of the civil war fueled by drug cartels, and the soldiers came to kill anyone even remotely suspected of colluding with the drug lords. Franco saw his father and mother lined up with other adult villagers and gunned down.
“The machine gun fire cut her right in half, like this” he said, drawing a line across his lower abdomen. “And you saw this?” I asked. “Si Padre. All of us children saw our parents killed, and we ran into the mountains. The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia, a Marxist guerilla movement) welcomed us and gave each his and her own machine gun.” Franco held up a two-liter water bottle to represent his Kalashnikov, caressing it. “They said: this is your mother and your father. This is your family. This is your god and your lover. This gun is your life.” For 12 years he fought as a child and then adult soldier for FARC, and then escaped to Panama, and finally to the mountains of Costa Rica. He appeared at the sisters’ door one day and has been living with them for five years.
Now he is peaceful and happy. He lives with other men in the sisters’ home, taking day work when he can get it, and returning home every evening to shower and talk with his brother residents. “Sister Celine Paul saved me,” he said. Sr. Celine was one of the sisters on my retreat, who travels three hours back and forth every week to her station in the mountains. Her purity brings joy to any who know her. Franco himself is a man of joy now, a pure heart. He has lived through the war and despair fueled by self-will, but he has learned to trust God rather than himself.
“Mary,” Mother Teresa prayed, “give me your Heart: so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; your Heart so full of love and humility that I may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life and love Him as you love Him and serve Him in the distressing guise of the poor."