Mother Teresa is made accessible in Stephanie Emmons’ ‘She Made Me Laugh’
Reviewed by Katie Faley
I have always felt a bit intimidated by Mother Teresa. She radically gave up everything for Jesus, living out His call to “take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece” in a very literal sense. She actively chose a life void of daily comfort to live amongst the poorest of the poor and serve. That’s, simply put, crazy.
In my mind, Mother Teresa is untouchable. So, when I saw her laughing face on the cover of Stephanie Emmons’ “She Made Me Laugh: Mother Teresa and the Call to Holiness,” I was intrigued.
AN AMERICAN IN INDIA
“She Made Me Laugh” is Emmons’ personal account of encountering Mother Teresa in the 1990s when she traveled with a friend to serve in India alongside the Missionaries of Charity. Equal parts travel journal and spiritual reflection on the life of a modern-day saint, “She Made Me Laugh” can be summed up in one word: accessible.
The realism with which the author presents her trip to India to serve for six weeks is very human. She recounts the strange diets and pungent smells of the country that often made her feel queasy, the uneasiness of being constantly accosted by beggars as she walked through the streets of India, and the careful steps she took as a North American in India to avoid drinking the native water.
Despite the living conditions which challenged the author on her six-week journey, the experience of meeting and serving with Mother Teresa also came as surprisingly human. Emmons describes the connection she made with Mother Teresa herself, describing her as “warm,” “friendly,” and “funny.”
A SHOCKING REVELATION
It came as a shock to the author when it was revealed after Mother Teresa’s death that for 50 years this holy saint that Emmons greatly admired felt so little in her spiritual life. She couldn’t feel God or even be assured by a firm belief in His existence despite devoting her life to serving and loving His people. This revelation shook Emmons, like it shook so many others, and forced her into a years-long reflection on how that fact contradicted the sweet, engaging, and humorous soul that Emmons encountered in person.
“She Made Me Laugh” is Emmons’ reflection on making sense of how Mother Teresa was able to respond to God’s call to holiness while feeling so spiritually dry. Mother Teresa was a joyful servant, making everyone around her feel warm and welcomed. She lived out her “yes” to her specific call to holiness. She often did it while feeling like it was all for nothing.
We may not be called to go out into the slums and sit by the bedside of a dying stranger, but when we joyfully live out our call, even when we don’t “feel” anything, we are growing in the holiness for which God has individually and uniquely created us. This is a string that ties us together with the saint.
Thanks to this book, I realize Mother Teresa is not as untouchable as I thought.
KATIE FALEY has a master’s degree in theology and theological studies from the University of Notre Dame. A member of St. Mark Parish in Peoria, she is a former Echo Catechetical Leader at St. Elizabeth Seton Parish in Naperville.