A few years ago I was living in Philadelphia at Temple University, where I was completing Teach For America’s summer training. My days consisted of riding a bus into Camden, New Jersey, where I taught summer school at a local charter. In the evening I would meet with my team and write lesson plans. It was my first time on the east coast and each day was a new experience. I was a bit out of my comfort zone and felt a little homesick.
The one place I felt comfortable was Mass every weekend. I looked forward to Sunday Mass, where I was able to spend my time doing something that still felt like Home. My time was limited and I often did not get to socialize after Mass. It was an hour for Mass and straight back to lesson planning afterward. However, towards the end of summer, I decided to stick around after Mass and attend breakfast with the Temple students and Pastor. It was at this post Mass breakfast I heard a simple story I will never forget.
I was in line to serve myself a wonderful breakfast when I struck up a conversation with the Newman Center Priest. He seemed deeply spiritual, and I wanted to learn more about his vocational journey. I began to ask him questions and he openly shared different discernment stories. As the conversation continued, I learned he had the chance to work in Calcutta with Mother Teresa. Calcutta was a key component in his decision to become a priest. This was my first time meeting someone who knew Mother Teresa and I was fascinated.
At first, I did not know what to ask him about Mother Teresa. She was a legend not only in the Catholic world but in the secular world as well. I did not want to come across as ignorant or ask anything too personal. I decided to ask a straightforward and open-ended question.
“Father, what was the most memorable experience you had with Mother Teresa?”
He smiled and responded, “When I became a priest, it was incredible to give her communion… but I think the most memorable was a time in prayer. I was next to Mother Teresa praying when she leaned over to me and said, ‘Pst… Father… pray I do not stand in the way of God.’”
What a profound and simple thing, “pray I do not stand in the way of God”. This story touched me and began to stir my heart. I was inspired and filled with a sense of awe. My next thought, seemed much less profound, “Oh, for Mother Teresa, prayer is like Windex for the soul”. The image from Windex commercials of birds flying into freshly cleaned windows came to mind. While it was a silly thought, it was the first time humility and purity made sense to me. The notion of “being less so God is more”, finally clicked.
I do not know Mother Teresa, but to me she was a window into heaven. A vessel for God’s love to be seen more clearly. Maybe, this is why she asked the priest to pray she did “not stand in the way of God”. Instead of people seeing Mother Teresa serving the poor and vulnerable, she wanted the world to see God. Maybe even like the Windex commercials where birds are running into windows and glass doors, Mother Teresa wanted to be so transparent that people would run right into God and His love. In this way, I pray I too do not stand in the way of God but instead stand right where God can be seen through me most clearly. Maybe the best place for me to start is prayer and confession, where I can get some Windex for my soul.