Mother Teresa’s sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, observe a holy hour every day. Mother Teresa wrote of it: “We find that through our daily holy hour our love for Jesus becomes more intimate, our love for each other more understanding, and our love for the poor more compassionate.”
Prayer and service. There’s an intimate link between the two. Sometimes we shortchange that link, thinking we have to choose one or the other. But, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out: “In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbor but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service" (“Deus Caritas Est,” 36).
There’s a deep theological reason why this is the case. It comes from the multiple ways the Body of Christ is made present to us.
The Body of Christ was physically present 2,000 years ago in Galilee. The same Body is sacramentally present to us in the Eucharist today. The Body of Christ is mystically present to us in the Church. His Body is also present to us in the poor.
In every case, it’s the same body, even if the “mode of presence” changes. And the key is this: we’re not supposed to pick one or the other. We’re called to serve Jesus in every form in which He becomes present to us. If we choose only one we miss out on — or worse, ignore — the other ways Jesus is present to us, asking for our love. So the great spiritual writer Jean Pierre De Caussade wrote: “God hides Himself in order to raise souls up to that perfect faith which will discover Him under every kind of disguise.”
Mother Teresa would pray, every day, in front of what appeared to be only a small piece of bread. But she saw the Body of Christ disguised in those appearances. Because she saw, she adored. Then, when she left her time of prayer, she devoted herself to serving people who appeared to be only shabby beggars and outcastes. But, with the same eyes of faith, she saw the face of Christ disguised as the poorest of the poor. Because she saw, she served.
Salvation history pivots on the Incarnation. So does our salvation. Jesus becomes present to us in the flesh in many ways. In each of them He asks: will you pay attention to me, spend some time with me, follow me, serve me? The answer we give Him now is shaping our eternity.
Where is your relationship with the Body of Christ strong, and where does it need to be strengthened?
“The act of adoration outside Mass prolongs and intensifies all that takes place during the liturgical celebration itself. Indeed, only in adoration can a profound and genuine reception mature. And it is precisely this personal encounter with the Lord that then strengthens the social mission contained in the Eucharist, which seeks to break down not only the walls that separate the Lord and ourselves, but also and especially the walls that separate us from one another.”
Pope Benedict XVI, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” 66
This is the fourth in a series of columns exploring the Catholic “and.” The series will look at how the Catholic Church takes a “both/and” approach to many fundamental issues. This column explores prayer and service.