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"There are no big things; only small things done with great love." In a world so full of itself, where bigger is always assumed to be better, Mother Teresa marched -- perhaps danced -- to a different drummer. Now, 100 years after her birth and 14 years since her death, the simple steps of Mother Teresa's lifetime of faithfulness continue to touch and inspire us. For our family, Mother's life and work became particularly tangible and personal when our daughter Katerina traveled to Kolcata this summer as part of a Fellowship of Catholic University Students mission trip.
Katerina has felt a special connection to Mother Teresa all her life. She shares the same birthday, Aug. 26, and "grew up" to be 4-feet 10-and-a-half inches "tall." Although she was only 3, Katerina still remembers the day I pulled her two older sisters out of school and took our then four children down to see Mother Teresa at Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton. Perhaps it was no coincidence that she left for her first year of college on Blessed Teresa's feast day last year, or that both of them, albeit in very different circumstances, arrived to serve in India at 18 years old.
The fruit of service and mission can never be fully expressed by words, or even pictures. But walking through Kolcata's slums every day, working alongside the Missionaries of Charity, forming genuinely intimate relationships with the residents of Prem Dan, confronting the reality of death, praying at Mother Teresa's tomb: these are things that do not allow you to remain as you were when you first arrived.
As a parent, I don't think this experience could have come at a better time in Katerina's life. She was old enough to muster what it takes to travel and serve in a place like Kolcata, but young enough to be molded by what she found there. Launching into the very me-centered world of higher education, intent on working hard to succeed, this mission trip gave Katerina an opportunity to reach beyond her own goals to people whose poverty largely precludes luxuries like goals. As a student in the University of Denver's hotel, restaurant, and tourism management program, she witnessed a kind of hospitality that goes well-beyond what the finest hotels even strive for: a generosity of spirit and the hospitality of the heart that welcomes all, serves all, and loves all.
The things we do don't make us holy, but how we do whatever it is we're doing might. Katerina hasn't seemed particularly saintly since her return, but she has seemed -- at least to me -- more attentive to small things, and less driven by the grandiose things we're told should take center stage in our lives. That perspective comes from seeing how very big small things can be. Only the poor can teach you that kind of wisdom. It is a grace to see Jesus in the poorest of the poor, but they make it easier than the rest of us do. For those who own nothing, everything is gift. When the present moment is all you have, you inhabit it completely.
Maybe Katerina didn't have to travel to the other side of the world to discover all this, but I'm glad she did. Faith, after all, is an adventure. And sometimes, a chance to do something that seems really big unlocks your heart to the love that is so much bigger, and richer, than it seems. Thank you, Mother Teresa, for placing the key in Katerina's hands.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.