“God speaks in metaphors. He does not see the external as we do. This is why people did not understand him when he walked the earth, and why they still do not understand. He spoke in metaphors when he lived; he speaks in metaphors today. You must desire to listen and to understand.”
I walked into Missionaries of Charity this morning, gearing up for another week among the souls there. I ran into Hailu, the coordinator, who told me that Sister Marta John, a Polish nun, had an apron to give me, the one I requested last week for the purpose of avoiding getting copious amounts of drool and food on me. I happily greeted Sister Marta, who led me into an office and gave me the apron. We exchanged formalities and I asked her about her life as a Sister of Charity, whether life here was difficult.
“Of course I have my weaknesses, we all do. God came to take not our perfection, but our weaknesses. I have fallen in love after taking my vows as a Sister of chastity. All women naturally want a family and children, this is natural, so this is a difficult weakness sometimes. Many times I am concerned about the external. Did you know that the sisters do not have hair?”
I replied, surprised, that no, I had not known this.
“Yes. Hair is a woman’s beauty, an attraction. We are already married to God, who concerns himself with nothing external, so we have no need for external attraction. It is very difficult to explain my marriage to my sister, who has a physical, tangible husband. She asks me how I can be married to someone I cannot see. For me, marriage is of the heart. Even the love between a husband and wife is most importantly in the heart, rather than the sexual. I have the gift of a direct connection to the heart of God, the connection that husbands and wives must use and have each other to experience.
“I don’t know why I was chosen. The sisters ask themselves, and Mother always told us, ‘We can’t know why you were chosen and not your sister or brother. Why you must be in poverty, chastity, obedience, and service to the poorest of the poor. Our only conclusion is that we needed the mercy of God in greater quantity. God saw that we needed his mercy and grace, so he gave us the life of closeness and oneness with him. This is the reason.”
I asked Sister Marta how she knew she was meant to serve the poorest of the poor as her calling.
“When I was young, I wanted to be either a doctor or a nun. I was raised Catholic, so cloistered life was familiar to me. When I was of age, I decided to be a doctor. I did it as an escape from God. I began my education, but I failed my final biology exam. The retake was 6 months away, so I decided to educate myself on the life of cloister.
“I loved everything about the convent in Poland. I had my own room, a beautiful cathedral. I spent two weeks there. The sisters of the convent lived in comfort and devotion to God.
“I then traveled to the Missionaries of Charity home in Poland. It was repugnant to me. It was a shock. It was uncomfortable. I was averse to the sickness and death I saw there. By then my mind was so consumed with the compulsion to become a sister that I forgot all about the next biology exam – I did not even attend the retake. I knew God wanted me to be a Sister, but I had to decide where. I compared three things – my potential life in the convent of Poland, the Missionaries of Charity center, and the life of Christ. The two that lined up in similarity were the life of Christ and the Missionaries of Charity. So I decided to become a Sister of Charity.
“Not once have I doubted that this is where God has placed me. I have been here for 16 years, in Ethiopia. I have found the joy that comes from close communion with Christ. My life is passing quickly. I am now 41. I joined the sisters when I was 22. I remember thinking that forty was so very old. But I see my life as a journey from God, to God. I used to think it was my will that brought me to the Missionaries of Charity. Now I see my life is one great journey from God to God, and everything I encounter along the way is of God, rather than myself.”
I asked Sister Marta if she was happy in her vocation, or if she wished she had chosen something different.
“How many women get to spend four hours a day with God? How many people have the gift of sharing in the closeness of God as we do? I am happy here. I enjoy God’s work. Just as Christ in the temple at age 12 told his mother that he had to be about his Father’s business, so this is our chief vocation, to be about our Father’s business. This is God’s work, not ours.
“When Christ was on the cross and said, ‘I thirst,’ he did not refer to the external. Christ was the king of the internal, the eternal. As the Living Water himself, his thirst was one for souls. He thirsted not for physical liquid, but for righteousness, for souls that were good, for souls that were willing to live his life. Mother Teresa used to receive visions from God, where he told her, ‘Come be my light to the dark night of the poor souls. They don’t want me because they don’t know me. They don’t know me because they are in the dark. Come be my light to them.’
“This is why we live as we do. Christ is the food of our souls – without meeting him daily we wither. As we eat for our bodies, we must also eat for our souls. Christ gives us enough each day to sustain us. We must learn to see God’s metaphors in our lives – to see what he is speaking to us through our experiences, through others.”
Sister Marta said that she had to go, but she enjoyed our conversation and would be praying for me. She walked out of the office and to her next duty.
Amazed, I thought to myself that she must be the most inspiring and beautiful woman I have ever met.