Last July, through a series of blessed events (read: Notre Dame’s Summer Service Learning Program), I found myself enjoying a delicious sandwich in a quiet restaurant in the excruciatingly hot and humid city of Memphis, Tennessee. My site partner and I were enjoying the restaurant’s yummy cuisine and air conditioning, as well as the company of two wonderful women who were regular volunteers at the women’s shelter we had been working at throughout the summer.
About halfway through the meal, one of the volunteers, Kate, began to tell us a story about a conversation she had many years ago with the former local superior of the Missionaries of Charity, the order of sisters that operates the shelter. As she was preparing to leave the shelter one evening after serving dinner to the residents, Kate was surprised to find the “head sister” waiting for her at the door, holding a pie in her hands. Sister insisted that Kate take the pie home to enjoy with her husband and young children. At this, Kate was taken aback and began to recite a litany of excuses as to why she could not possibly take this pie home with her. “But Sister, someone donated this pie to be given to the hungry, to those who can’t make one for themselves. I can go home and make a pie, or go to the store and buy one. I can’t take this from you!” Sister smiled and said, “Kate, the harder part of charity is receiving it. Take the pie!”
Since hearing this story, I have yet to figure out how to confine it to the recesses of my memory. It is a story that has seeped into my heart and, whether I like it or not, constantly resurfaces, challenging my routine ways of thinking, acting, praying, and loving. Like any challenging nugget of wisdom, it begets a steady stream of questions. Why is reception the harder part of charity? What blocks us from receiving human love? What about divine love? What does it mean, for me personally, to “take the pie”? Am I asking the right questions here, or is this just a silly metaphor?
On the wall next to the main staircase in the sisters’ shelter hangs a large photograph of Mother Teresa. Clothed in her blue and white sari with her hands clasped together in a sign of peace, we see her wrinkled skin, her dirty fingernails, and her subtle yet beaming smile. Beneath the photograph, someone had written one of Mother’s most well-known sayings: “Give whatever God takes, and take whatever He gives with a big smile.” I believe this expression is the key to understanding Sister’s words to Kate. Mother Teresa understood, arguably better than anyone else, the reality that God is love. If God were simply loving—if “loving” were just an adjective tacked onto God’s name—then it would be enough for us simply to give love. But God is more than loving. God, the Trinity, is an exchange of love, the giving and receiving of love—He is love Himself. And in His baffling humility, He invites us into love, into Himself.
We know how to “give whatever God takes.” We know the necessity of taking up our crosses. We name our crosses, we claim them, carry them, and stumble under them. We fall one, two, three times. We find ourselves face-planted in the dirt time and time again, offering our struggle to the God who loves us and suffered for and with us. But how often do we look up from the grime to see the light shining on our tired bodies? Do we pause to let Veronica wipe our sweaty, tear-stained faces? Do we look around to notice Mary’s gaze, as she ponders each of our stories in her heart? In other words, do we allow ourselves to receive love, both human and divine?
Today, let us receive God’s gifts with a smile. Maybe that means allowing ourselves to sit in silence long enough to remember our own worth, or having a conversation with a friend who has a knack for bringing out the good, holy, and beautiful within us. Maybe it means saying “yes” to the good of the unknown, despite fear and hesitation.
Take the pie, whatever it is, and enjoy every bite.
Colleen Halpin is a junior studying mathematics and theology. If you enjoy drinking tea while discussing the concept of infinity, theological aesthetics, or really any other topic, feel free to contact her at email@example.com.