Mother Teresa of Calcutta; born 1910 as Agnes Gonxa Bojaxhiu in an Albanian family and died 1977 in Calcutta, was an Albanian-Indian Roman Catholic nun and missionary honored for her humanitarian work.
For nearly twenty years before she began her mission of love to the poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa was an educator and even today, we are reminded that this holy woman still has much to teach us and the world. Known to the Catholic church as Saint Teresa of Calcutta, here are some of her teachings to inspire us on this Mother’s Day.
“God has created us for great things: to love and offer love, to experience tenderness toward others, as he did, and to know how to offer Jesus to others. People are not hungry for us; they are hungry for God” (Heart of Joy, 18). In these words, Mother Teresa crystalizes the calling of us all as disciples of Jesus.
When Mother Teresa gave her lecture upon receiving the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, she did not speak of the monumental works she had performed or of public policies or programs. She began with prayer and then she proclaimed the Gospel. God became man, she told the assembled dignitaries, and in Jesus, he died on the Cross to show his great love for us – “he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo.” What is more, “We have been created in his image. We have been created to love and be loved, and then he has become man to make it possible for us to love as he loved us.”
The Lord always came first for this woman who was hailed a living saint. She said, “My vocation is grounded in belonging to Jesus, and in the firm conviction that nothing will separate me from the love of Christ” (Our Heart Full of Love, 15).
In our own lives, rather than worrying whether we are called to this specific work or that, Mother Teresa would instruct us, as she did during a visit to Washington in 1974, “Your calling is to belong to Jesus. He has chosen you for himself, and work is only a means of love for him in action” (Heart of Joy, 104). We simply “need to give Christ a chance to make use of us, to be His word and His work, to share His food and His clothing” (No Greater Love, 12).
Amidst all the trials of today’s world – the material hardship of the poor, the suffering of the sick and dying, the emptiness of those who are thought rich, the poverty of those who are unwanted and unloved – Mother Teresa assured people, “The Good News is that God still loves the world.” The Lord loves the world “through each one of us,” she said. “You are God’s Good News; you are God’s love in action. Through you God is still loving the world. Each time people come into contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us. We must radiate God’s love.”
Giving of ourselves is not always easy, especially if we view others through worldly eyes. But if we see through the eyes of a pure heart, we can see God in them. “Prayer is something that will help us to see God in each other,” this small Catholic nun said to the powerful at the United Nations. “And if you see God in each other, if we have the joy of seeing God in each other, we will love one another. That’s why no color, no religion, no nationality should come between us. For we are all the same children of the same loving hand of God.”
Mother Teresa served the poor in the dire streets of Calcutta, but she often said, “You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by the society.” When she spoke here at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in 1975, she asked, “Do we know our poor here? Do we really know them? Unless we know them, we cannot love them” (Heart of Joy, 109).
These words of Mother Teresa speak to our conscience, urging us to open our eyes today to those people around us who are in need materially or spiritually. They can be in the streets or our neighborhoods or even in our own families, she would point out, and they cannot wait.
“Charity begins today,” implored Mother Teresa. “Today somebody is suffering, today somebody is in the street, today somebody is hungry. Our work is for today, yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come – today, we have only today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered, etc. Today – do not to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come. Tomorrow we will not have them if we do not feed them today.”
At the age of 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto. She chose to be named after the French Discalced Carmelite, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Since 1928, she worked as a missionary in Calcutta. In 1948, at the pope’s consent, she left the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (commonly known as the Sisters of Loreto), accepted Indian citizenship and established a new sisterhood, the Missionaries of Charity, which set off on a mission to help the poor, the hungry and lepers, first in India, and then also in Asia, Africa, Europe and the United States.
She left an enormous legacy. Long after her death, there are still approx. 600 missions in 120 countries around the world, including hospices, homes for people suffering from HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis, for the disabled, the old, the poor and the homeless, soup kitchens, children and family counselling programmes, orphanages and schools.
She claimed she had just served God, and the love and care she showed towards abandoned people gave her great joy and fulfilment. She believed that apart from poverty and hunger, the biggest problems of the world are loneliness and neglect of other people.
She was criticized for not informing the donors about the specific use she made of their donations. Her critics also claimed that her actions were not aimed at relieving poverty, but at evangelisation. For most of her life, she “struggled with God”, experiencing the “dark night of the soul”. She was beatified in 2003.