Meeting Mother Teresa: I’ll never forget what I saw in her face

Paul Murray

Editor’s note: The following column is excerpted from “I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta—A Secret Revealed” by Paul Murray.

I had my first glimpse of Mother Teresa more than thirty years ago. The place where we met was an unexpected place: not in the streets of Calcutta among the poorest of the poor, not in a hospice for the dying, or in an orphanage for small children, but in a normal-sized university classroom in Rome.

Like almost everyone else in the world, at that time, I had heard stories about her great goodness and love for the poor. But nothing could have prepared me for the impact she made on me at that first encounter.

She spoke for just over thirty minutes, beginning her talk with a prayer and ending with a prayer.

Together with my fellow students, I had listened, over the months, to many words being spoken in that particular classroom. But I had never realized that words of such simplicity and candour could so deeply penetrate the mind and heart.

It is almost impossible to describe the quality of Mother Teresa’s voice. Her words, when she spoke, were not the expression of thoughts merely, or even of convictions, but somehow the expression of her entire being.

She spoke slowly, her voice grave for the most part, and yet never mournful.  Once or twice she repeated a sentence or two from the New Testament, but her first words were about hunger: “Jesus has made the hunger of the poor His hunger and their thirst His thirst. He is that close to us. Will we turn away?”

Then she quoted from the First Letter of St John: “How can you say you love God whom you cannot see if you do not love your neighbour whom you can see?”

She spoke, for a few moments, of the extent of suffering in the world and of the great hardship which the poor have to endure. But she went on, at once, to say that perhaps the greatest hunger in the world, the most terrible anguish, was not physical poverty or deprivation. It was the anguish of not being wanted, of being forgotten or rejected, of having no one.

Three years later, on June 10, 1977, I met Mother Teresa again, in Cambridge, England, and this time I was able to speak with her for a few moments alone.

What struck me at once was something which has been remarked on many times over the years by those fortunate enough to meet Mother Teresa, and that is the radiant joy which shone in her face, a joy which, from moment to moment, seemed to illumine her every expression.

At the time I wondered if I had ever, in my whole life, met anyone so radiant.

Excerpted from “I Loved Jesus in the Night: Teresa of Calcutta—A Secret Revealed” by Paul Murray. Used by permission of Paraclete Press.

Copyright © 2008 by Paul Murray.

Mother Teresa’s words copyright © 2008 by Missionaries of Charity.

Paul Murray, O.P., is an Irish Dominican, a poet, and a professor in Rome at the University of St. Thomas, the “Angelicum.” He is the author of several books that have been published in Ireland, England and the United States including In the Grip of Light: The Dark and Bright Journey of Christian Contemplation and Scars: Essays, Poems and Meditations on Affliction; and four collections of poetry. He lives in Rome and is well known as a speaker throughout the United States.

I was an unwed teen and had to tell my pastor father. What happened next was an incredible shock

Pregnant and unwed teenager Maddi Runkles was the subject of countless news reports earlier this year after the administration at her private Christian high school refused to allow her to walk in its graduation ceremonies in order to “teach a lesson regarding her immorality.”

While I understand the school’s desire to teach their students lessons about the consequences of sin, I also think the events in Maddi’s life could have provided students with a lesson about grace — the grace that caused Jesus to tell a woman living in sin “neither do I condemn you — go and sin no more.”

I know something about this. You see, once upon a time, I was Maddi Runkles. I also became pregnant outside of marriage while barely out of my teen years.

Rebelliousness had set in and I skated in sin believing the big lie that there were more pleasures to be found in this world than in God.

Driven by fear I hid my pregnancy for five months, and I knew that the shame and guilt I carried would only amplify — plus usher in condemnation once others learned my secret. Was I up for this?

Like Maddi Runkles I was raised in a Christian home where we upheld Christian principles and embraced Biblical values. In fact my father was a pastor — and this further enhanced my anxiety as I struggled to tell my parents about my pregnancy. It weighed heavily on me, especially in knowing that another decision – a secret one to not have my baby could rid me of being shamed by others.

The day I finally mustered up the strength and courage and confided in my father, something extraordinary happened;

My father’s shoulders sagged and he hung his head. Momentarily we sat in silence, me holding my breath awaiting his reaction while wearing the weight of his certain disappointment and possible anger. Then there was the indescribable and overwhelming feeling of shame that washed over me in waves.

My father finally raised his head and looked at me with tears in his eyes. “Honey,” he said, “I am so disappointed.  I am.”

Now it was my turn to hang my head.

“And you have made poor choices which now have consequences,” he continued.

“It won’t be easy — and there will be struggles and a hard path ahead of you. But I love you —- and now I figure I have been given more to love.”

Wait, what?! My mouth was agape. Before I could respond my father got up from his chair and reached over and wrapped me in his arms and simply held me.

It was just what I needed and not anything I expected.

Tears ran down my face, “I am so sorry, dad.  I am so sorry!  Will you forgive me?”

“Of course.”

What I encountered was something I had never fully grasped before though I had been taught for years.

Grace.

I didn’t get what I deserved, but I certainly fully received what I had been taught.

Grace swept over me and unleashed its power connecting both with my head and and my heart.

The only way I can describe it is that grace is the gift of a big exhale. — Holding one’s breath and waiting for what most certainly should come to receiving a “get free pass” that one would absolutely not expect.

That grace moment propelled my life in a new direction.

I confessed my sins, I cleaned up my act, and I charted a new course fanned by the winds of grace and truth spoken in love.

My father was right, I did choose a hard path and there were struggles ahead, but when I look into my son’s beautiful eyes, I am so glad I made the right choice, after I made a wrong one.

Through the years, and because of grace, I have served many unwed teen moms and even incarcerated moms teaching them the lessons I have learned regarding truth and grace while spoken in love.

Here is one of my mottos, which that I have shared weekly with the incarcerated moms: A leopard cannot change its spots, but I assure you that a caterpillar can turn into a butterfly.

Grace has the power to change one within which unleashes the feeling of freedom and propels one in a positive direction. Not the opposite.

In our film, “Because of Grácia,” one of the characters, Bobbi Ryan, faces a test similar to the one that Maddi Runkles and I and millions of other young women have faced.

We also tell the story of another young woman, Gracia, who makes better choices.

In both cases, God is glorified in the end because grace and mercy triumph over death and destruction — and while our paths may be easier when we make the right choices, God is there to gently restore when we stray.

Publicly shaming Maddi Runkles and not allowing her to walk in her graduation ceremonies will not change anyone else for the better, just as having allowed her to participate in graduation ceremonies would not have likely prompted young girls to get pregnant.

Shame didn’t teach me. Grace did. And I didn’t learn grace by hearing about it, but by being the recipient of it.

Maddi’s life may be far more difficult than her classmates who will wait and do things in God’s proper time and order. But letting them walk together could have been a God-honoring moment that communicated grace, not license to sin and a reminder that grace doesn’t glorify sin, it simply covers it and glorifies God.

Angel Holscher Hatfield is executive producer of “Because of Gracia,” which releases in theaters nationwide on September 15, 2017.

How Natasha Owens used music to find God after father’s tragic death

Natasha Owens’ life changed in 60 seconds.

The singer’s father was cleaning his gun in 2010 when he missed a safety step and accidentally shot himself in the chest and died one minute later. The gun he had been using belonged to his brother who was murdered seven years prior.

Owens went into complete shock upon hearing the news of her father’s death.

“It was like I had punched the pause button to my life and I couldn’t quite get going again,” Owens told Fox News. “I went through shock and after the shock wore off, I downspiraled into a deep depression where I couldn’t get out of beds most days.”

The Texas native said she was “so angry at God” and questioned why He had taken her father’s life. So when her pastor asked her to be the church’s music minister, she practically scoffed at the offer.

“I was already going down a suicidal road,” she recalled. “It took years to dig myself out of the hole.”

Finally, on one hot Texas summer day, Owens was looking at her two sons and thought to herself, “You can’t die for looking back at what you lost, you have to live for what you have left.

“I remember smiling for the first time that day,” she told us. “I promised God that day that I would go wherever He wanted me to go and do whatever He needed me to do.”

It was then that Owens decided to pursue a career in music. She released her first album “I Made it Through” in 2013.

“The true mission of life, I feel, the purpose, or the reason why we’re made, is to help people along the way,” she said of her decision to make music.

She was inspired to release her second album, “We Will Rise” in 2017,” after realizing “when you make it through, that’s survival. But when you rise above, it then you thrive.”

The 41-year-old hopes her music will help others who are going through times of grief.

“Christianity and God [are] at the core and center of not only my life, but my family’s life,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I put that in every one of my songs. It’s our job to love, it’s not our job as Christians to judge.”

Faith & Fame is a regular column exploring how a strong belief system helps some performers navigate the pitfalls of the entertainment industry.

You can find Sasha Savitsky on Twitter @SashaFB.

DNA discovery identifies living descendants of Biblical Canaanites

DNA research is shining new light on the Biblical Canaanite civilization, which existed thousands of years ago in the Middle East.

The ancient civilization, which created the first alphabet and is mentioned frequently in the Bible, has long fascinated historians. LiveScience reportsthat, because the Canaanites kept their records on papyrus, rather than clay, relatively little is known about them.

Now, however, scientists have found a genetic ‘trail’ back to the Canaanites’ ancient world.

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By sequencing the genomes of five Canaanites that lived 4,000 years ago with genomes from 99 people living in modern day Lebanon, researchers identified a strong genetic link to the mysterious civilization.

The results surprised the scientists, whose work was supported by U.K. biomedical research charity The Wellcome Trust.

“In light of the enormously complex history of this region in the last few millennia, it was quite surprising that over 90 percent of the genetic ancestry of present-day Lebanese was derived from the Canaanites,” said Chris Tyler-Smith, senior group leader at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a statement.

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In addition to the ancient Canaanite DNA, the analysis of genomes from the modern day Lebanese people also showed a small proportion of Eurasian ancestry that may have come from conquests by Assyrians, Persians or Macedonians, according to the experts.

The researchers also discovered that the ancient Canaanites were a mixture of local people, who settled in farming villages during the Neolithic period, and eastern migrants who arrived about 5,000 years ago. “Using ancient DNA we show for the first time who were (genetically) the ancient Canaanites, how they were related to other ancient populations and what was their fate,” explained Marc Haber, a genetic data expert at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in an email to Fox News. “Our work shows the power of genetics in filling gaps in human history when the historical records are absent or scarce.”

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Haber added that the results complement Biblical accounts of the Canaanites. While the Israelites are commanded to “utterly destroy” the Canaanites in Deuteronomy 20:16-18, Judges 1 describes the survival of a number of Canaanite communities.

Canaanites once lived in what we now recognize as Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remains of the five ancient Canaanites studied as part of the DNA research were recovered in the modern-day Lebanese city of Sidon.

The research was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics on July 27.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Top Trump Cabinet officials take part in weekly Bible study class

Key members of President Trump’s Cabinet take part in weekly Bible study classes, according to a report by the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Regular attendees at the sessions include Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Agriculture Secretary Sunny Perdue, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

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Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions also attend when their schedule permits.

The sessions are led by Ralph Drollinger, a former NBA basketball player who turned to the ministry full-time after his injury-shortened career.

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“It’s the best Bible study that I’ve ever taught in my life,” Drollinger told CBN of his pupils. “They are so teachable; they’re so noble; they’re so learned.”

Trump himself has a standing invitation to attend the sessions and receives a copy of Drollinger’s teaching every week.

Drollinger believes that his Bible study is the first to be held for Cabinet members in at least 100 years.

“These are godly individuals that God has risen to a position of prominence in our culture,” he said. “I just praise God for them.”

Why I am bullish on Christianity (yes, you read that correctly)

NOW PLAYINGFilm documents author’s journey from atheist to pastor

When atheists claim there is no evidence for Christianity, I disagree.

When liberal theologians assert there are many paths to heaven, I object.

When young people say God isn’t relevant in the 21st century, I beg to differ.

When analysts predict the decline of the evangelical church, I roll my eyes.

Are my positions popular? Maybe not, but they flow out of convictions that have only grown stronger in the midst of the evolving religious landscape in America.

I’ve seen the surveys. I’m aware of the rise of the so-called “nones,” who profess no religious affiliation. And frankly, that doesn’t trouble me very much. Rather than claiming to be Christians, as many have done in years past, now these people are now willing to be more honest. Today it’s socially acceptable — in many places even desirable — to be a skeptic. “Atheist” is no longer considered such a derogatory term.

The truth is that America was never as much of a “Christian nation” as some historians wish it were. There was a veneer of faith over the land. “Respectable” people went to church. Now they don’t pretend anymore. That’s okay.

I was a scoffer once myself, before spiritual skepticism became trendy.  As a law-trained journalist at the Chicago Tribune, I didn’t have any patience for mythology, superstition, or make-believe. “Just give me the facts” was my motto.

My wife was agnostic. Then one day, through the influence of a friend and a church, she met Jesus. The first word to come into my mind: divorce. As portrayed in The Case for Christ, the forthcoming movie based on our story, I set out to disprove her beliefs and rescue her from the cult of Christianity.

Oops. After nearly two years, the scales tipped. Having encountered the persuasive evidence for Christianity, I concluded it would have required more faith to maintain my atheism than to become a believer.

I ended up taking a 60 percent pay cut to leave my journalism career and become a pastor. For 30 years now, I’ve watched the world from the vantage point of a pulpit. What’s the view from there?

More and more people growing weary of our materialistic and celebrity-saturated culture and instead finding exhilaration in Jesus. The proliferation of ministries that help the hurting, feed the hungry, and replace despair with hope. Addicts rescued. Broken families put back together. Racial reconciliation. Selflessness displacing self-interest. While some churches are closing, many of those with a relevant and biblically faithful message aren’t just growing — they’re burgeoning.

In short, I’m bullish on Christianity. We’re entering a golden era of Christian “apologetics,” where scholars are sharing compelling arguments and evidence for the faith.

At the same time, our shrinking world has exposed more people to the stark differences between the world’s religions, and that is destroying the once-popular notion that they all teach basically the same thing or have similar grounding in truth.

I see throngs of young people electrified by their faith. Give me a hundred of them versus ten thousand with a cultural Christianity that doesn’t revolutionize their character or values.

Let me share a little secret. In our increasingly chaotic world, the Christian message of truth and grace continues to resonate among people who are tired of the shifting sands of post-modern relativism.

No doubt about it: count me among those who are optimistic about the future of the church in America.

Lee Strobel is author of the best-seller The Case for Christ, which releases as a motion picture on April 7.

Jamie Lynn Spears: ‘God put me in my place’ after daughter’s accident

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Jamie Lynn Spears says her daughter’s accident has inspired her to work harder on her music career.

The singer turned 26 on Tuesday and celebrated with a lengthy Instagram post that included a photo of a Psalm.

“I’m not one to preach, and I’m no priest, but God’s timing is no coincidence,” she wrote alongside the image. “I hate seeing, much less, reading someone’s long post, but here I go: Music, and my career [has] always been a big passion in my life, as well as to create a future that my family could be proud of. I have been working on my music for almost a decade now, and I have had many great successes as an artist/writer, but I was always wondering, how long I would have to WAIT for my big break? Wow, did God put me in my place…”

More on this…

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Spears then went into detail about her emotions after her 8-year-old daughter was unconscious for several days in February following an accident when an all-terrain vehicle she was driving fell into a pond in Louisiana. Maddie Spears was submerged in the vehicle and trapped by her seatbelt until rescuers were able to free her.

“Time doesn’t matter, and seems to blur together when you’re waiting for your daughter to wake up, and a day could be a week, and you wouldn’t notice, because you’re fighting for what you love. For obvious reasons, I put everything with my work life on hold, till I knew my little girl was more [than OK].”

She said the scary incident opened her eyes.

“Now, more [than] ever, I realize how important it is to only put your time into things that matter, and I can’t wait to get back to my music. Now, that my baby girl is better- I can’t wait to make her proud. She is my everything. I want to thank you all for your patience, and prayers as we worked through this hard time.”

She concluded by telling her fans, “Music to come… 26 is gonna be a good year.”

I’m glad that lady forced a Bible on me

 (iStock)

The other day, I arrived at the bus stop where four Asian ladies were indiscriminately passing out New Testament Bibles. When one of the ladies offered me a Bible, I tried to decline. But she was insistent, so I tried to change the subject.

“What church are you with?” I asked.

She said she was with a non-denominational, evangelical church and again offered me a Bible.

“Thanks but I already have one,” I replied.

“That’s okay,” she said, “this one has footnotes. Take it. It’s free.”

I realized there was no sense in trying to tell her that my Bible also had footnotes. It was going to be easier to take her Bible than to repeatedly turn her down, so I took it and a tract that came with it.

When I got home, I put the Bible in our entryway where it sat for a month. Finally, my wife asked me to do something with it.

“You can’t just leave it sitting there,” she said.

I decided to take it with me to work. I figured that on my way, I could leave it in a public area where it might end up with someone who needed it. I walked to my bus stop, but because of a traffic jam, I jumped on a different bus than my regular one. After paying the fare, I sat my briefcase down and opened it to put the Bible inside.

A young mother with two little girls was sitting next to me, and she asked, “Is that a Bible?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you giving it away?”

“Yes, I am,” I said, surprised.

“Can I have it?”

“Sure you can,” I said, giving her the Bible. Then I flipped through the pages of the tract the Asian woman had given me, and it was a guide on how to read your Bible.

“You’ll probably need this too,” I said, handing it to her. Then I asked, “Just curious – are you a Christian?”

“Yeah,” she said, “but not a very good one,” which opened the door to a good conversation about how Jesus is the only one who can make us good.

A day later, I think back on this Bible exchange and marvel at the perfect timing required to get it into this young mother’s hands. And it all happened because a bold Asian lady was willing to shove a Bible into my hands a few weeks earlier. That lady had no idea what she was doing, but in His sovereign plan, God did.

We have this idea that doing something significant for God requires huge planning, red letters in the sky, a parting of the sea, signs and wonders. But the truth is, He’s working through us in ways we could never arrange on our own.

Maybe it’s something that looks fanatical, like aggressively giving out Bibles, or maybe it’s something mundane, like being friendly to another person on a bus.

Regardless, life is full of holy mystery when we walk in faith, recognizing that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Joshua Rogers is an attorney and writer who lives in Washington, D.C. You can follow Joshua on Twitter @MrJoshuaRogers and Facebook, and read more of his writing at JoshuaRogers.com.

Scientists issue dire warning about tomb of Jesus

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Few places are more holy to Christians than what’s thought to be Christ’s tomb in Jerusalem, but scientists are now warning that there’s a “very real risk” of collapse at the site.

Researchers from the National Technical University of Athens say the Edicule, a shrine that encloses the cave where the faithful believe Jesus was buried and resurrected, faces “catastrophic” collapse if issues aren’t remedied soon, National Geographic reports.

The Edicule itself is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Scientists discovered the decaying foundation—which they say is further destabilized by the fact that it’s built on rubble and atop a network of tunnels and channels—during a months-long, $4 million restoration project that was unveiled earlier this week.

“This is a complete transformation of the monument,” Bonnie Burnham, an ex-chief for the World Monuments Fund, said Monday at the unveiling, per the AP.

During the renovation, however, extensive structural problems were uncovered by camera bots and ground-penetrating radar. The general instability of the site has been known for almost a hundred years, but varying Christian sects have been fighting over who has custody of the site and didn’t come to a restoration agreement until March 2016.

What the NTUA says is needed now: a new $6.5 million project that could take close to another year as workers grout rotting mortar and install sewage and rainwater drainage systems around the shrine.

(In Scotland, archaeologists are trying to find the long-lost tomb of a king.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Issue Dire Warning on Christ’s Tomb

8-year-old boy says ‘angels’ helped him save his father’s life

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An 8-year-old boy in Idaho says angels helped him lift a car off his father’s body to save his life.

J.T. Parker was working on a Toyota Prius with his 17-year-old brother Mason and their father Stephen at their Sugar City home last summer.

“We were pulling the engine out of the car, and after we got it jacked up, I climbed under there to take the axels off,” Stephen recalled to EastIdahoNews.com. “The one axle came off pretty easily, but the other side wasn’t coming off.”

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When he went to adjust the second axle and move the jack, the car fell on him. J.T. was the only one around as Mason had gone inside the house minutes earlier with a cut hand.

“I yelled to J.T. on the other side of the car, ‘Jack it up quick! Jack it up quick!’” Stephen said. “I couldn’t move at all. I was totally trapped, and then I passed out. It was all in his hands, and I thought, ‘This is it. There’s no way he can jack up this car because it took my 17-year-old son and I both to jack it up the first time.”

Mustering all the courage and strength he could, J.T. adjusted the jack and started jumping up and down on the handle. He weighs about 50 pounds, the website reported.

“It was scary, and I didn’t think that I could jack the car up, but I just kept on trying,” J.T. told EastIdahoNews.com.

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After 15 minutes of jumping up and down, the car slowly started raising off his father. Once it was completely off, J.T. ran to get his brother and call 911.

“All I remember is I felt peace,” Stephen said. “I remember seeing white, like a nice happy day. The clouds were going by, and everything was happy and peaceful.”

His wife Jodi arrived while the three Parker men waited for emergency responders.

“When I got there, I saw my husband underneath a car,” Jodi told the website. “My heart just sank, and I didn’t know what to expect.”

Stephen was taken to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center via helicopter in critical condition.

He had 13 broken ribs and no internal damage.

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“It was just a miracle,” said Stephen, who was home two days after the July 30 accident.

After settling back at home, .J.T asked their son to jack up the car again – he couldn’t do it.

“Angels,” J.T. said when asked how he got his strength that day.

“We believe my grandpa, who passed on, and my sister who died were helping him,” Stephen added.

Last week, the American Red Cross of Greater Idaho presented J.T. with one of its 11 “East Idaho Real Heroes” award for 2017.

“This whole thing is a miracle. There’s no other way to describe it,” his mother said. “There’s no way that little boy could have done that. I just felt that it was a responsibility we now have to tell people that miracles still exist.”