In 1982 the world of journalism was stunned when it learned that, one of their own, the famous British journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, had been received into the Catholic Church. Muggeridge was the son of agnostic parents, and they raised him in the religion of socialistic progress, from his father he had inherited the conviction that man was capable of building paradise here on earth all by himself, and there was no need for God or for grace. Despite a brief interest in Christianity during his university days at Cambridge by the time he graduated Muggeridge was a convicted agnostic socialist, once writing, “I’m a socialist, because I believe that with the right conditions man can be good, and only the government of collectivism can create such good conditions.”
In 1927, Muggeridge married Kitty Dobbs, she was also a convinced socialist and religious agnostic. They were proud to establish a marriage that was free of all religious constraints, and with their non-traditional and ultra-liberal attitudes towards sexuality there were many infidelities that caused much suffering for themselves and their children. In the 1930s Muggeridge was sent to the Soviet Union as a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian newspaper. He was convinced that in the USSR he’d find a land free of all exploitation and injustice. He wasn’t there long before learning the truth, and witnessing firsthand the barbarism of that governmental system. Muggeridge left Russia no longer convinced that socialism was the answer to all humanity’s problems.
Muggeridge made his way back to Great Britain and began to consider the idea of Christianity, the Catholic Church in particular. But it would be forty years before he and his wife would enter the Church. There were many experiences that helped to bring this well-known agnostic home to the Church but the deciding factor was his meeting with Mother Teresa (M.T.). In M.T. he saw a woman whose life had been completely transformed by Jesus Christ, and it was impossible for Muggeridge not to be attracted to her witness of faith, hope, and love. M.T. in all of her simplicity radiated Jesus to such a degree that Muggeridge felt compelled to embrace the Christian faith. During the last 8 years of his life he became a devout Catholic, he was one of the Church’s staunchest defenders. He died in 1990 at the age of 87.
God used Mother Teresa to bring Malcolm Muggeridge home to the Catholic Church. On this feast of the Epiphany we are reminded of our own call to discipleship and evangelization, which M.T. lived and did so well. The same missionary fire that burned in her heart should burn in ours as well. Because of our baptism we are charged with bringing Christ to those who have never heard of him, or to bring him to those, who once knew him, but have grown cold in their faith and no longer see His relevance to their lives.
Today’s gospel describes a story we know very well. The Magi from the east follow the star to do homage to the newborn king. St. Matthew tells us that after the wise men have paid their homage they “Departed for their country by another way.” The Magi after encountering Christ do not walk away the same, they are different. When we encounter Christ as the magi did our lives too should be different. And when we are transformed by our encounter with Christ, other people, hopefully, will be transformed by their encounter with us. They will notice something different about us. They will be attracted to this faith called Christianity, Catholicism in particular. Have we let ourselves be radically transformed? Do we pray for this radical transformation?
M.T. had been profoundly changed by the same Jesus the Magi paid homage to. She was changed by Jesus every morning in her Eucharistic holy hour, she was changed by Jesus every day at Mass, she was changed by Jesus when she meditated upon His life in the Gospels, and she was changed by Jesus who she found in the poorest of the poor. It was because she had allowed herself to be transformed that Malcolm Muggeridge was able to write of her in his book, Something Beautiful for God,
“Mother Teresa is, in herself, a living conversion; it is impossible to be with her, to listen to her, to observe what she is doing and how she is doing it, without being in some degree converted. Her total devotion to Christ, her conviction that everyone must be treated, helped, and loved as if he were Christ himself; her simple life lived according to the Gospel and her joy in receiving the sacraments–none of this can be ignored. There is no book I have read, no speech I have heard … there is no human relationship, or transcendental experience that has brought me closer to Christ, or made me more aware of what the Incarnation means, and what is demanded of us.”
On this feast of the Epiphany as we celebrate the encounter of the Magi with the Christ child, we ask ourselves whether our own encounter with Christ leads us back by a different road, making us instruments of evangelization which M.T. and thousands and thousands and thousands of saints have carried out so well. Once, when preaching on the feast of the Epiphany, St. Augustine said, “Even we, recognizing Christ our King and Priest who died for us, have honored him as if we had offered him gold, incense, and myrrh. But what remains, is for us to bear witness to him by taking a different road from that on which we came.” If we truly bear witness to Christ by taking a different road then we can firmly hope that God will use us the way he used Mother Teresa to bring others to the faith.
That what happened to Malcolm Muggeridge will happen to many others through the Holy Spirit working through us, enabling us to say confidently with the Psalmist today, “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.”
Fr. Christopher Ankley