Mother Teresa: A Life of Service
At the end of our lives, we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made or how many great things we have done. We will be judged by "I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in." Hungry not only for bread- but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing- but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not for want of a room of bricks- but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise.
Mother Teresa (1910-1997) is an amazing example of how one person, when sufficiently motivated, can change the world. Mother, as she is affectionately known, went from being a nun living in the slums of Calcutta to the unofficial patroness of humanity's most destitute. Following a "call from God" to help the poor, this diminutive woman from Albania managed to establish a world-renowned organization of Catholic nuns, brothers, and lay people that brings food to those dying of hunger, medical aid to lepers, and a dignified death to the dying. She doubtlessly deserves the countless awards she has received in the service of her God, including the Nobel Peace Prize.
I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper's wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?
Mother Teresa was born as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in what is now Skopje, Macedonia. One might ask how an Albanian living in Europe would become interested in helping the poor of India. The answer may be found in the Solidality of the Blessed Virgin, a church youth program that she joined at an early age. The program was led by a priest who continually exhorted its members to help others in the name of Christ. It planted a seed within her that, by the time she was 12, bloomed into a need to serve God by becoming a nun. Encouraged by reports sent to her hometown of local Jesuit missionaries' success in India, Mother joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish order that was active in India, at the age of 18. As a novice with the Sisters, she took the name Teresa after Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the patron saint of missionaries.
As a member of the Loreto order, then-Sister Teresa became a teacher at Saint Mary's High School in Calcutta, India. She spent 17 years there, first as a teacher of geography, then as its principal. However, when she was traveling to Darjeeling, India in 1946 to recover from a bout with tuberculosis, her life changed forever. Experiencing what she described as a "call within a call," she realized that she had to give up her possessions and "follow God into the slums and serve Him among the poorest of the poor." In 1948, two years after receiving what she believed was a heavenly mandate, Pope Pius XII gave her permission to leave the Sisters of Loreto and help the people of the Calcutta slums under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta; Mother Teresa was born.
The Missionaries of Charity
The other day I dreamed that I was at the gates of heaven... and Saint Peter said, "Go back to Earth, there are no slums up here."
After she took a medical-training class, Mother Teresa went right to work dressed in her now-famous blue and white sari. With some former students and sisters, she established a school in a Calcutta slum for impoverished children. Seeing Christ's presence in the incredibly poor, she used her medical skills to treat those too sick to pay for doctors. Finally, in 1950, she and eleven students were recognized by the Archdiocese of Calcutta as a missionary order known as the Missionaries of Charity. The Holy See also recognized her new order as a pontifical congregation.
Two years later, the nascent order founded its most publicized and controversial establishment, the Hirmal Hriday Home for Dying Destitute. Located in an ancient Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess Kali, the Hirmal Hriday, or Pure Heart, Home is a place where the dying poor could be brought to. There, they are cleaned and receive food, shelter, and, most importantly, love. Mother Teresa, using this and other Homes for the Dying, hoped to allow those condemned to perish in the gutter a chance to die with dignity.
Mother Teresa's order continued to grow throughout the years, spanning dozens of countries from India to the United States. Her order, along with its companion brotherhood, the Missionaries of Charity Brothers, with membership now numbering in the thousands, runs more than 450 centers throughout the globe. They are dedicated to providing the poor food, shelter, education, and medical aid. In 1980, she also began founding homes for drug addicts, prostitutes, and battered women.
The members of the Missionaries of Charity live a life of strict poverty according to the beliefs of Mother Teresa. After all, reasoned Mother, how could one connect to people that do not share their life? Following this theory, the sisters continue to dress in their $1 saris and live a lifestyle lacking most material comfort. The reward for this sacrifice, according to Mother Teresa, is a closer relationship to God and Jesus through the poor, which she regarded as the embodiment of Christ's presence on Earth.
I choose the poverty of our poor people. But I am grateful to receive [the Nobel] in the name of the hungry, the naked, the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the lepers, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.
--Mother Teresa when accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1979
Mother Teresa's humanitarian works brought with it worldwide recognition and respect for the order and its founder. She received many awards, among them are:
However, the most prestigious recognition Mother received was when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace
for her efforts to help the poor around the world. She also revolutionized the ceremony, insisting that the $6,000 that would have been spent on a banquet in her honor
instead be donate
d to the Missionaries, where she could use the money to further her cause.
Despite Mother Teresa's good works, there are some who doubt the good that she accomplished. Some criticize her for having accepted monetary contributions without looking into her donors' backgrounds. Others criticize her because of her staunchly pro-life stance. However, Mother never allowed herself to be upset by this incredibly small minority, only saying, "No matter who says what, you should accept it with a smile and do your own work."
The Paradoxical Commandments
Keep the joy of loving God in your heart and share this joy with all you meet, especially your family.
Perhaps what best sums up Mother Teresa's attitude towards life can be summed up in her version of the so-called "Paradoxical Commandments" written by Kent Kieth. The ideas, outlined in Mr. Kieth's book The Silent Revolution: Dynamic Leadership in the Student Council are designed to motivate politcal activists to seek a positive change in their respective societies through peaceful means. Mother Teresa, uninterested in politics, came up with her own version, which is transcribed on the wall of the Missionaries' Childrens' Home in Calcutta. Not only does "Mother Teresa's Prayer," as her version is called, give insight into Mother's amazingly faith-filled and loving personality, it also gives the reader her advice on living a life of giving:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Suceed anyway
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God: It was never between you and them anyway.
The Death of a Saint
The humanity of the world has lost its mother.
--Indian Congress Party President Sitaram Kesri referring to the death of Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa, due to failing health, attempted to resign her post as Mother Superior of the Missionaries of Charity in 1990. However, the love the sisters had for her was so great that, in the election to nominate her successor, she was re-elected with only one dissenting vote, her own. Following this amazing re-affirmation of faith in the good Mother, she returned to work. Unfortunately, as the years wore on, Mother Teresa’s age caught up with her as she suffered with broken bones, heart problems, and malaria. She resigned again, this time permanently, on March 13, 1997. She died several months later on September 5, 1997 at the age of 87 and received an official state funeral in India as her death was mourned by her homeland of Albania and the entire world as Pope John Paul II put her on the fast-track to sainthood. Mother Teresa, who referred to herself as merely "a pencil in the Hand of God," managed to touch the lives of millions and help countless of the destitute. If her God does exist, then there can be no doubt that she is with Him now and that the poor have a new champion in Heaven.
(note: Sister Nirmala, a close confidant of Mother Teresa, succeeded her as Mother Superior of the Missionaries of Charity)
Mother Teresa was beatified on Sunday, October 19, 2003, the last step to sainthood.
- Thanks to KissThis for great feedback and help on this entree to his/her quest