There is a story told about Mother Teresa of Calcutta. A newspaper reporter assigned to write a story on her one day followed the elderly nun around the streets of Calcutta as she made her daily rounds. At one point, Mother Teresa knelt down to cradle the head of a man who was obviously near death. As she held his head, oblivious to the sores covering his body and the stench of the man’s illness, Mother Teresa assured him that he would not die alone. She arranged for the man to be brought to the Home for the Dying that she has founded. After witnessing all of this the reporter exclaimed to Mother Teresa, “Sister, I would not do what you are doing for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa immediately replied, “Neither would I!”
Some cultures talk about “thin places”. The thought is that “thin places” are those places in our world where visible and invisible reality comes into close proximity. Part of the job of the believer is to recognize the thin place when it is encountered and to seek God’s presence in that place. Thin places help us to recognize the truth of who we are (both good and bad), what truly motivates us and what calls forth from us true response.
Certainly the Mass and the celebration of the sacraments are “thin places”. Here heaven and earth are united and if we let ourselves learn to be open we can be deeply nourished and strengthened for the journey of discipleship.
Another “thin place” revealed in two of our readings as well as this story about Mother Teresa is suffering in life. Suffering – whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual – has a way of clearing away distractions and superficials in life. In suffering we are brought to the truth of who we are and what truly motivates us.
The story of Job is a reflection on the reality and mystery of suffering. For any person who suffers, Job’s word’s ring true. “…troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, ‘When shall I arise?’ then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than the weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.” The Book of Job invites us into the mystery of suffering not as a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived and even a “thin place” where God is encountered and the truth of who we are can be found.
In the gospel, we are told that Simon’s mother-in-law “lay sick with a fever”. Christ is not unmoved. We are told that Christ, “approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” “Approached … grasped … helped” are not words to pass over lightly. These words reveal the truth of who God is. God is not unmoved or uncaring toward our pain and suffering. Jesus, we are told, entered into the house of Simon and Andrew and he approached the woman who lay ill.
God cares and God chooses to be involved in our lives and our world. And we need this. This is where the truth of who we are is also revealed. We stand in need of a God who cares. The wound within ourselves is too deep, too much for us to overcome on our own. We need a God who will approach us, who will grasp our hands and who will help us up if we just ask. We have this is Jesus.
Mother Teresa was right – she wouldn’t do her great work of mercy and caring for a million dollars but she would do it for a God who cares and a God who loves.