PLEASE NOTE: This book struck a major chord with me and thus I go off on a rant at the end. But any charitable, religious minded individual should read this book to get a better grasp on what it means to be a follower of Christ in a world of sadness, need, and poverty.
by Colette Livermore
When Colette was 17 years old growing up in Australia, the nightly news was featuring stories about the famine in Biafra, Nigeria. While her mind pondered this suffering she was also preparing for her entrance exams for medical school. Then she saw a documentary about Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, and she knew what she must do. Forgoing her college career she was determined to help the poor and needy now, and she became a nun within Mother Teresa’s order at age 18. I was surprised to learn that the MC’s operated out of dozens of countries and Colette started in Australia.
From there she served among the worlds poor from the Philippines to Hong Kong as Sister Tobit, but ultimately after 12 years of butting heads with controlling leaders she left the order to pursue her original dream of becoming a Doctor. She has spent the time since then serving in the remote settlements of Australia and war torn East Timor. This is a tremendous book that really shows where blind obedience meets faith, and sometimes they clash. The problem she describes in her book, the same struggles that caused her to lose her faith, I have seen within my own religious experience. On a grander scale it is the fight between the Loving and Saving Christ of the new testament and the self-righteous defenders of all that is “right” Pharisees. But to illustrate the main thrust of the book I am reminded of this old urban legend/joke:
An instructor at the Institute of Religion was teaching a course on the life of Christ over in the new East Institute building. On the last day of class, when students arrived for the final exam, they found a note on the chalkboard from their instructor saying that the exam would be given in the old West Institute building, across campus. The note on the board sent all the students rushing off to the West Institute, in order not to arrive late. On the way they all passed a pathetic old beggar who petitioned them for help as they hurried by. Nobody stopped for the beggar, however. When the students reached the other classroom on the west side of campus, their instructor was waiting. He asked the class if anyone had helped the beggar, and learning they had not, he informed them all that they had failed the final exam. The beggar, the instructor explained, was really an actor he had planted in their path. By ignoring him, the students had shown that they had studied the facts of Jesus' life without acquiring any of his compassion.
Sister Tobit’s problem was perpetually thinking she should stop for the beggar as it was her job. When arriving back late for holding one of her charges as he died, or admitting a sick child whose parents arrived on a Thursday (the Mother’s designated day off), or for wanting to fulfill a promise to a non-english speaking immigrant to go help fill out paperwork but not being able to (or even let the person know they couldn’t) because the Mother wanted some pots polished. Having suffering deigned the highest honor as it put you in understanding with Christ, not allowed to form friendships within the order, not allowed to have even a potted plant (or any possessions), having to beg for food from the poor when money was present to buy their own. (please note Mother in this sense is not referring to Mother Teresa, but rather the Mother Superior at her local house)
Anyways, when stopping for the beggar she did not receive the mythical “A”, rather she was berated for having too much pride. “Do you think you are the only one who could help?” “You think you are that important.” In a larger sense it strikes me as ironic that rather than obey the basic rules of the gospel, we overcome this by make more rules about the unimportant. It is more important how we dress, what hand we use in partaking the Sacrament, what color shirt we wear, what meetings we attend, what callings we have, etc. Ultimately I believe there will be some disappointed people one day who think helping out in Scouts, wearing a white shirt, avoiding diet coke & r rated movies, and their blind obedience to any number of Pharisaical rules will excuse their avoidance of the basics of the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is love. That is like me creating my own currency then fully expect my local stores to accept it as payment.
And to those of the “I show my love by wearing a white shirt”, etc; I say Merde de Bulle!! You show your love with LOVE. Christ’s life was a mission to bring others equal to him – to have all the Father has. In trying to emulate Christ is your mission in life to have everyone have all that you have? I suggest this, when serving others do not follow the prescribed path of forcing your religion on them as part of the deal. Just serve them and the converts will take care of themselves. Help where you can help, give where you can give, sacrifice where you can sacrifice. In my very limited opinion that will leave you in a lot better stead than just looking "good."
Here is a short video of Colette talking about her experiences:
Finally - little factoid I learned - the nuns shave their heads. Maybe that is the norm and I am just ignorant, but interesting nonetheless (there must be a pun in there somewhere).