Soul Searching Under the Direction of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa writes on Joy: “Serve God joyfully. Let there be no sadness in your life: the only true sorrow is sin.”

For some reason as I read this I thought she was saying that sorrow is the result of sin or that sadness is a sin. I grappled with this idea this morning.

I thought about some of the things that cause sorrow. People may feel sorrow when they set out to do something, let’s say, take an exciting trip, and something happens to prevent their taking it. This happened to us 6 years ago. Bernie and I had put money down on a trip to Ireland and then the recession gutted our investment portfolio. We didn’t dare follow through even if it meant losing our down payment. Thanks to Elderhostel (now Road Scholar), we had the option to reapply that payment  to another trip in the US, which we did. But when it first happened, I felt sad, not because this particular trip was thwarted, but I felt the hope of seeing the world in our retirement fade. We had no way of knowing if the economy would bounce back. Was the sadness I felt sinful? Is this what Mother Teresa was implying?

Buddhism teaches that attachment is the cause of unhappiness. Considering the example I just shared, it would seem that my sadness stemmed from my attachment to the trip, or rather, my attachment to the dream of traveling. When I have pondered this Buddhist teaching, I have often thought about the attachment we have to our loved ones and questioned this seeming attack on the sadness one feels when a someone close to us dies. But, when I set that scenario aside, the teaching surely seems to fit. The attachment to an idea was indeed the cause of my sorrow. In Mother Teresa’s world of Catholic teaching, she would, and did, use the word “sin”. But no matter what we call it, it sure can be a block to one’s joy, which was the topic about which she was writing.

I thought of another attachment in my life this morning. Years ago when I was an employee of the Catholic Church, I participated in many conferences. Sometimes I had the opportunity to give workshops myself on a variety of topics related to the world of religious education. I loved doing them. There was a teacher in me and, not having gotten a teaching degree, workshops were just about the only situation where I could strut my stuff. It was exhilarating and it should have been.

What I really desired was to be the keynote speaker, but I was never asked to be that person. It was hurtful that I was not considered. When I decided to leave church work, I can remember clearly the day I sat in church during mass. The readings of the day I do not recall but I do remember that they facilitated my awareness that leaving the church also meant leaving any opportunity to be a spokesperson in the world of religious education. I knew I would never be considered to be a keynote at one of their conferences. My world of associates would change. I would no longer be schmoozing with the priests and theology professors, and definitely not the bishop with whom I’d had a couple of schmoozing moments. I felt an intense sadness letting go of this dream. But as I sat there in the church, alone in my prayer, I did let go…and I felt the release. I felt the freedom. Joy replaced the sadness.

I was just as attached to an idea about myself as I was attached to the idea of Bernie and I traveling the world, even more so because it was interwoven with my ego. When ego is on the scene, attachments are more severe and tend look a lot more like addictions.

Well, Mother Teresa, you did it again. You threw me into soul searching.