Gladys Aylward: A Heart for China

Last week I had the chance to speak to a group of local women — and my mother, who had never heard me speak in public until then — about a group of women I’ve come to regard as my spiritual mothers: Women whose example led me, as surely as Moses led the Chosen People to the Promised Land, to where I am today. They (clockwise from upper left): My confirmation namesake, Amy Carmichael; Gertrude “Biddy” Chambers, widow of Oswald Chambers; Gladys Aylward; Mother Teresa; Elisabeth Elliot; and Corrie. ten Boom. (I’ve linked each of their names to my favorite books by or about them, in case you’d like to learn more.)

Like Moses, most of them did not “cross over,” as I did, into the Catholic Church (Mother Teresa is the only professed Catholic among them). And yet, each of them left an indelible stamp upon my spirit through their lives and writings.

Tonight mom and I finished reading the book about Gladys Aylward, the British missionary to China (1902-1970), whose story was retold (with great liberties) in the movie The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, starring Ingrid Bergman. After twenty years preaching the Gospel to teems of people suffering under Communist oppression, she felt the Lord call her back home. At first she was incredulous — she had by that time become a Chinese citizen, dressing like them, eating like them, even thinking like them. And yet, she said,

“England, seemingly so prosperous while other countries passed through terrible suffering at the hands of Communist domination, had forgotten what was all-important — the realization that God mattered in the life of a nation no less than in that of an individual…. I knew that I must go back to the land of my birth. I must return to do what I could to dispel the spiritual lethargy that had overtaken so many. I must testify to the great faith of the Chinese church. I must let people know what great things God has done for me” (The Little Woman, 136).

This was nearly fifty years ago, and yet not much has changed. The “underground” Church of faithful Christians continues to suffer and to struggle, and even to die.

Pray with me for the Holy Father, for the Christians in China … and for all those on the front lines, who seek to ease the suffering of the “least of these” who continue to suffer simply for naming the Blessed Name. Mother Gladys, pray for us, that we might not be afraid to stand with your beloved people.

Another much admired figure, from the Civil War era at Notre Dame, I’d like to write about one day: Sister Angela Gillespie.

Advertisements

How beautiful are your feet…?

saint teresaToday on Sunrise Morning Show, I’ll be chatting with the hosts about Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  The book consists of daily reflections from the first day of Advent through the season of Christmas, tying together themes from the daily readings to the life and witness of Mother Teresa.  You can order the book here.

The first reading today, from the book of Romans, quotes from the book of Isaiah: “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the Gospel of peace.” This automatically makes me think of St. Teresa, whose feet (as you see here) were twisted and misshapen from traveling through the slums of Calcutta and around the world, tending to the needs of those who need her. Her feet were beautiful, not for their appearance, but because they carried her where she needed to go to “spread the fragrance of Christ” everywhere she went.

As you bend over to tie on your own shoes today, why not take a moment to bless them, and to ask the Holy Spirit to guide your feet, that you too might spread the Gospel of peace?

Heidi is on “Women of Grace” this week!

Teresa-21Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are so often opportunities to celebrate, to recall the past year and anticipate (usually with joy) all the new year will bring.

Today marks a special one-year anniversary, the release of my book Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  On Monday  “Women of Grace” will be airing its program about the book. Try to tune in when you can to EWTN (mornings at 11:00 EST, evenings at 11:30 EST).

If you would like to order ten or more copies for a parish group, to bring in the Advent season, please contact me at Heidi.hess.saxton(at)gmail.com, and I can offer you a special discount: $10/copy, postage paid!

Today marks another anniversary for me as well: Exactly one year ago today, a friend wrote to remind me, I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job at Franciscan Media, giving me a two-month hiatus as I thought about what I would do next. When Ave invited me back to do some acquisitions work for them, it was like going home again. Although, of course, it is true what they say: You can never really go home again. People and relationships are constantly changing, for better or worse. And we must change with it.

This time of year can be a tough time for those who are seeking work, or who find themselves otherwise in transition. As I continue to work for Ave, I find myself facing another transition: my mother is coming to stay with us. Her dementia prevents her from living at home with my dad, and I’m wondering what my life will be like a month from now, six months from now. My prayer is that she and my daughter will bond in a way that makes our home a happy place. My prayer is that the symptoms of the disease that has damaged my mother’s mind and her associations will abate, and her heart will find peace. My hope is that she will spend the last months of her life feeling the love of her family. My hope is that, day by day, God will grant us all the grace we need to do what needs to be done.

Today I’d like to offer this little prayer for those who are facing a similar personal Everest.

May the Lord keep you ever in his care.

May our Lady hold you in her mother’s heart.

And until we all meet together in the new Jerusalem,

May we journey all together in his peace.

 

The Poor Rich

Today’s Gospel message has me thinking about how Mother Teresa used to speak of the poverty of the West, how we are so willing to give our money — but find it difficult to give of ourselves. Perhaps it was for this reason that Jesus said (Mk 10:17-27):

“How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
“Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
“Then who can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said,
“For men it is impossible, but not for God.

camels-gateThe “eye of a needle” referred to a gate outside Jerusalem, that was built for the city’s protection when under siege. The entrance was so low that a fully laden camel could not pass beneath it – rather, the animal had to be completely unloaded, and bend low to fit beneath.

Isn’t that a wonderful image of Lent, when we are called to divest ourselves of the luxuries of life in order to follow the Lord with humility, in obedience, and out of love — just like Saint Teresa of Calcutta?

Are you looking for a way to build up your marriage during Lent? Be sure to sign up for my “40 Day Challenge” by subscribing to my mailing list (on the right). God bless!

Give Your Love Life a “Faith Lift”

Teresa-21Try saying THAT ten times fast!

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be thinking of marriage enrichment during Lent — a season that, for most Catholics, is associated with scarcity and self-denial. You also might be wondering what this dear “saint of the slums” — a celibate religious — has to say about married life.

But if you are looking for a way to build up love in your life, or believe (like Mother Teresa often said) that “The best way to change the world is to go home and love your family,” I hope you’ll join me on this journey over the next forty days!

At this time of year, many people think about what to “give up” for Lent. For some it’s chocolate or alcohol – for others it means stepping up your spiritual reading. (If you’re looking for a gentle way to ease yourself into daily spiritual reading, pick up a copy of my new book Lent with Teresa of Calcutta).

A few years ago, I read a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen that inspired a different approach. I decided to give my marriage a “love lift” with the 40 Day Challenge.

40day-yellow

In Love, Marriage and Children, Archbishop Sheen describes the three “moments” of marriage that each of us must encounter: ecstasy, crisis, and renewal.

The first moment is characterized by the sheer joy and ecstatic happiness of early marriage. This idyllic time of mutual joy, however, is often short-lived. Invariably reality sets in, which Sheen describes as the second moment,  “crisis.” Although it may indeed take the form of a sudden trauma or challenge – a lost job, an illness or moral failure – it may simply come in a series of gradual realizations that your partner is not the man (or woman) of your dreams, after all. “Suddenly there is an awakening that the marriage is something like luggage; one finds in it only what was packed. … During this hour of crisis many marriages collapse because the partners do not know the law of life and do not stay together long enough to know one another…. Sometimes the partners begin to live apart or else are alone together: ‘I take my solitude with me; you take your solitude with you.’”

Ironically, it is this “wake-up call” that, according to Sheen, is the gateway to lasting marital happiness. “If one but dies to egotism and selfishness. The aridity that one feels is not the defeat of love, but a challenge. … The hour is struck when the couple must realize that the taking of love’s stronghold is dependent on the siege of self; too often it is at this moment that the cowards leave and sink back into mediocrity.”

On the other hand, those who persevere in love find that their love enters a third “moment,” with renew life.  “A new kind of beauty comes in this third moment. One of the elements of beauty is surprise, and with the unfolding of the years there comes the new surprises through the deepening of the mind and heart, for it is love that makes anything beautiful.”

Would you like to experience renewed beauty and love in your home? Do you believe God wants that for you and your spouse?  Consider joining me on a “40 Day Challenge.” Let’s pray together, asking God to bless our marriages and our families as we seek to live out more faithfully our own vocations.

For forty days, how many ways can we say “no” to self, and “yes” to our life’s partner – without pious subtext or martyred airs? In how many ways can we, joyfully and prayerfully, offer our love back to God, that He might infuse it with the newfound hope of resurrected love?

For the forty days of Lent (which begin this Wednesday), I will be posting here and linking to this “40 Day Challenge” Facebook Page.  Feel free to chime in as you are inspired, with your intentions or thoughts of your own on that day’s topic. If you’d like to have me post your thoughts anonymously, drop me a line at Heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com, with “40 Day Challenge” in the subject line.)

Let’s pray for one another!

 

On the Feast of Holy Innocents

peek babySee, the home of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples,

and God himself will be with them;

he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

morning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.

Revelation 21:3-4

Close on the heels of Christmas joy comes a solemn feast, in which we recall the children slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers in his insatiable quest for power. Nowhere are the names of these innocents recorded for posterity. All we know is that the Church remembers them each year as martyrs, souls who suffered unjustly, and in that suffering made participants in the reign of God. In their brush with Immortality, the Word made flesh, they themselves were made immortal.

From life to death to life eternal, this is the pathway each of us has been called to walk. In the past year, thousands of souls have made that journey toward eternity, to experience a new kind of “Emmanuel, God is with us.” Perhaps you lost someone dear to you this year, too, and have experienced the truth of the words of Mother Teresa:

Death can be something beautiful. It is like going home. He who dies in God goes home even though we naturally miss that person who has gone. But it is something beautiful. That person has gone home to God.

Is there someone you need to release into the arms of God right now? Someone whose absence weighs upon your heart with longing and regret? Or do you know someone who is fighting this all-too-common human battle, and struggling to endure? If so, close your eyes and feel the prayers of your sisters in faith, who are praying for you right now. You are not forgotten. If not . . . please join in the prayer, for those in need of strength.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, mother of the heartsick and suffering, pray for us.

heidi-2013 About the Author

Heidi Hess Saxton is a Catholic wife and adoptive mother of two teenagers, and author of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant). This year she spent Christmas with her elderly parents and sisters, who gathered in Georgia to spend one more Christmas baking cookies with their mom, who is ready to go meet Jesus. She would appreciate your prayers.

Mother Teresa on Catholic Connection!

cath_connection_12Good morning! Please tune in to “Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo” this morning at 9:20 … Teresa and I will be talking about Mother Teresa. Then leave a comment here, and enter a drawing to win a free copy of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta!

Hard to believe Rose Sunday was here and past … but there is plenty of good reading to keep you going through the New Year!