Up Front and Personal

Choosing Joy: Mother Teresa and C.S. Lewis

by Father John Catoir, JCD

The thing I remember most about St. Mother Teresa, whose feast is Sept. 5, was her joy. I met her three times in my life. Once when we were giving talks on the same program; once at a Vatican Seminar on Family Life, and once when she asked me to give a week-long retreat to her contemplative novices on joy. She founded two distinct orders, the one she picked for me was her cloistered contemplative community in New Jersey.

I was intimidated of course. After all, this was “The” Mother Teresa, and a week is a long time to keep talking, but she gave me courage. I remember a quote of hers: “Joy is prayer. Joy is strength. Joy is love. Joy is a net of love by which you can catch souls. You give the most when you give joy. God loves a cheerful giver. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen.”

The retreat went very well, and the Sisters took their solemn vows and eventually went on to serve all over the world. Mother always had her contemplatives go out of the convent each day to ask people if they wanted the sisters to pray for anyone in the family. It was a much-appreciated innovation to the tradition of cloistered living. I admired her as much as I did C.S. Lewis.

Lewis was a Christian writer who had no peer when it came to challenging skeptics and atheists. It may come as a surprise to learn that Clive Staples Lewis was an atheist most of his adult life. I never met him, but I admired him.

His mysterious conversion from non-belief to such an exemplary level of faith was a surely a miracle. I hope it gives hope to many Catholic parents who have seen their sons and daughters fall away from the Church. Lewis taught that our goal is to proclaim the reality of the Kingdom of God’s love and joy. The secular culture has lost its sense of God, its sense of sin and its sense of the sacredness of life. Evangelization, he insisted, is more a matter of prayer and personal holiness than of making proclamations from a soapbox.

In his book, “Mere Christianity,” he wrote, “If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were those who thought most about the next.”

The Lord’s Prayer contains the words: “deliver us from evil.” Lewis believed that we should pray with conviction to be delivered from evil powers. He said, “the power of choice makes evil possible, but choice is also the only thing that makes possible any love, goodness or joy worth having.”

He urged us to choose love and joy. Pray that your loved ones will be delivered from evil, so they may come to the knowledge of God’s love and joy. It is the vision of the holy that has produced many of the masterpieces of art and music. This same vision motivates the faithful to risk everything to relieve the world’s suffering: caring for plague victims, defending the rights of children, guiding slaves to freedom and breaching war zones to feed the poor.

Father Catoir, a native of the Brooklyn Diocese, is a retired priest of the Diocese of Paterson, N.J.

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