MOTHER TERESA, SOMEONE BEAUTIFUL FOR GOD
Article from FAMILY MATTERS magazine No 3 2016
Like St John Paul II who still in our minds remains Pope John Paul II, will Mother Teresa on her canonisation become St Teresa, or St Mother Teresa? To everyone all over the world Mother Teresa is surely her real identity. Although she in fact never gave birth to a child she sustained life in thousands of children, men and women of all ages and her ministry to the dying helped thousands die with dignity and feeling loved. To all she epitomised motherliness in her life-giving attitude and work.
When you think of Mother Teresa do you think of someone doing something beautiful for God in her own way different from your way? Do you think of her as someone so imbued with love for Jesus that it makes her way unattainable? Or is it possible to see her also as someone to emulate, a model for the way she both loved Jesus and those she was called to serve? Undoubtedly she is a person to be revered and admired intensely but wanting or trying to be like her can be almost too intimidating. She advocates total surrender to God and his will – as would all the saints. When asked by Malcolm Muggeridge as reported in the 1969 book Something Beautiful for God whether asking her young sisters to live like the poorest of the poor was not asking too much, she replied, “They want to give God everything. They know very well that it is to Christ the hungry and Christ the naked and Christ the homeless that they are doing it. And this conviction and this love is what makes the giving a joy. That is why you see the Sisters are very happy.” She added, “We are convinced that it is he, he who is working with us and through us in the poor and for the poor. The fire and the strength comes from Christ and the Sacrament. At the altar, at Mass, we meet our suffering poor. And in him that suffering can become a means to greater love, and greater generosity”
As a happy child, born into a happy family in Albania in 1910 her love for God was nurtured. It was a wrench to leave her home to become a missionary Loreto sister, a teacher in India. It is known that she had a strong relationship with God and a number of mystical experiences and visions of Jesus. A life-changing one for her occurred on a train journey when God announced to her his wish to give up her teaching ministry to become a minister to the poorest of the poor. Her response was immediate and urgent but it took some years for permission to be granted to found a new congregation for this work.
HISTORY From 1948 when she began this ministry Mother Teresa’s work expanded across the world. She was also passionate about the right to life of every unborn child and promoted adoption versus abortion. She and her sisters ventured into leper colonies, started AIDS hospices, helped victims of war and natural disasters. In her many travels around the world she was exposed to all kinds of social situations and came to recognise poverty in many forms. She often said that those materially well-off, in the west in particular, could suffer intensely through being spiritually poor. The greatest poverty of all, she said, is being unloved and unwanted.
In 1979 on the occasion of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, one of many awards she received over the years, she addressed the audience with the following words. “There is so much suffering, so much hate, so much misery. To remedy this we must start work in our homes with prayers and sacrifices. Love is born in homes. I want you to try to look for the poor, first in your own house and there begin with love. Be the good news for your loved ones. Take an interest in your neighbours.” She encouraged her listeners, “Let us do the essential: that not one single child may be unwanted, that we may meet each other and smile, especially when it is hard to smile.”
In addition to the Missionaries of Charity, sisters, brothers and priests, the International Association of CoWorkers of Mother Teresa was formed in time to allow ordinary people of any creed to participate in their own way and in a spirit of humility and poverty wherever they are. There is a special place too for Sick and Suffering Co-workers to unite their daily pain and suffering to that of Jesus.
On Mother Teresa’s homes is written the inscription, “I Thirst.” This does apply directly to the work of caring for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked and homeless but it was only after she had died in 1997 that a different picture emerged. The thirst applied too to the thirst Mother Teresa herself experienced, at times an almost intolerable thirst for God and gradually her acceptance too that this was her sharing in the Passion of Jesus where he cried out, “I thirst!” and was given vinegar to drink. She herself wrote that from the time, when she began her total identification and dedication to the poor, she experienced emptiness and desolation in her relationship with God. Spiritual writers describe this as a dark night of the soul. Hers lasted for almost 50 years. This was not a crisis of faith but an experience of identifying with the suffering of Jesus. She wrote, “If this brings You glory, if my suffering satiates Your thirst – here I am Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life – and I will smile at Your Hidden Face – always.”
Mother Teresa died aged 87 in 1997 and was beatified in 2003 after at least one miracle attributed to her intercession was recognised. A second miracle has paved the way for her formal canonisation. She has been a saint in many minds from long before her death, an icon of our time one on whom Jesus invites us to model our lives as she addressed her pain of loneliness from God by loving those she had been given in Jesus’ place.
She is our model as family people when we too struggle with relationships and strive for peace at home. Even when asked “what can you we do to promote world peace?” her answer was, “Go home and love your families.”
Maybe her final encouraging message to us all is: “I can do what you cannot. You can do what I cannot.”
Saint Teresa of Calcutta was canonised on 4 September 2016. Her feastday is on 5 September.