"The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give God to fill us."

1910-1997. A nun from Albania, she gained fame by caring for the poor and ill in Calcutta. To fund her worldwide ministry, she associated with scum like the Duvaliers, Charles Keating, and evil, corrupt politicians - Jesus didn't hang out with saints either. Her actions were rarely worldly-wise (see Mother Teresa: second opinions), but they were often Bible-foolish. God doesn't use a worldly yardstick.

Mother Teresa's Prayer


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; Succeed 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.

...she changed the world, one kind act at a time...

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

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.

Early Life

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

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."

--Mother Teresa

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.

Worldwide Recognition

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 in 1979 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 donated 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.

--Mother Teresa

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)

Postcript

Mother Teresa was beatified on Sunday, October 19, 2003, the last step to sainthood.

sources:

  • http://www.time.com/time/reports/motherteresa/t891204.html
  • http://www.ewtn.com/motherteresa/
  • http://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9709/mother.teresa/profile/index.html
  • http://www.paradoxicalcommandments.com/origin.html
  • Thanks to KissThis for great feedback and help on this entree to his/her quest

"Only the absence of scrutiny has allowed her to pass unchallenged as a force for pure goodness, and it is high time that this suspension of our critical faculties was itself suspended." - Christopher Hitchens

The Ghoul of Calcutta?

There are some things that you just don't do. Punching babies, cooking and eating kitten and orphan pies, cutting your lawn in the shape of a Swastika whilst wearing a shirt saying "Lay off the Hitler". Furthermore, there are things that you just don't say. It's often said that the two topics of conversation to avoid in order to have a successful dinner party are religion and politics. Try saying that you have some criticisms of Mother Teresa whilst dining with friends and see how far you get.

Yet if we left these things unexamined then we would be simply blindly repeating a statement or idea that we're told is right. Oceania is at war with Eastasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Mother Teresa has been perhaps the most popular figure of the 20th century. She is seen as the moral saviour of the morally lacking Catholic church - a religious figure that even the secular adore and praise. Ever since Malcolm Muggeridge released the documentary "Something Beautiful for God", she has been seen as a go-to example of the perfect way to act. Entirely selfless and devoted to what she saw as a greater cause. This is probably true, but a closer examination of Mother Teresa reveals a much darker and more irrational side to her.

Charity

Mother Teresa certainly brought the cause of charity greater notice than it had ever been afforded and for that we owe her an immense gratitude. Yet her own Missionaries of Charity operated under a dubious and sinister modus operandi that can raise a few eyebrows at least. The millions in donations that Mother Teresa and her order solicited is parked in foreign bank accounts so that Missionaries of Charity do not have to tell anybody what their money is being spent on. It is the only Indian charity that does not release its financial records and such practises are unheard of for any charity in the West. So it is unknown what all the millions are spent on. It is estimated that at least half of the money is spent on religious activities, training nuns and the like, rather than true charity, such as the building of schools and decent hospices. A disillusioned former official had he following to say:

"The money was not misused, but the largest part of it wasn't used at all. When there was a famine in Ethiopia, many cheques arrived marked 'for the hungry in Ethiopia'. Once I asked the sister who was in charge of accounts if I should add up all those very many cheques and send the total to Ethiopia. The sister answered, 'No, we don't send money to Africa'."

Home for the Dying

"We have a home for the dying in Calcutta, where we have picked up more than 36,000 people only from the streets of and out of that big number more than 18,000 have died a beautiful death." - Mother Teresa

Everyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past 100 years has heard of Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying. It's her flagship home - an example of what one woman can do with the drive to serve. The public image of the home is that of something beautiful, yet frequent visits by medical professionals told a different story.

The editor of The Lancet, Dr. Robert Fox, visited the home in 1994. Expecting to find an impressive hospital, he was left disgusted and disappointed. There were no blood tests to distinguish serious illnesses from other ailments, no methods taken to distinguish the curable from the incurable, painkillers were refused to cancer sufferers, needles were re-used without having been cleaned and sterilized, communal toilets were used. Patients were forced to defecate in front of each other. Whatever you wish to call this, it is certainly not dying with dignity.

It's important to remember throughout all of this that Missionaries of Charity had the money to improve these conditions. Whilst there are no records of their finances, they had (and still have) the backings of virtually every significant head of state, hundreds if not thousands of extremely wealthy donors and many more middle-income donors. So why were these inexcusable conditions that run true throughout Missionaries of Charity (this is not an isolated case) carry on being so?

Religious Fundamentalism

"We are misunderstood, we are misrepresented, we are misreported. We are not nurses, we are not doctors, we are not teachers, we are not social workers. We are religious, we are religious, we are religious." - Mother Teresa

I know what you're thinking. "Here comes the true center of the argument. You're just critical of Mother Teresa because she was religious and you're not! Haha, gotcha!"

Whilst I'm not a big fan of religion, I by and large don't find the belief in God or scripture particularly offensive its own. Where my line is drawn is when these beliefs begin to cloud people's judgment and remove all sense of reality and common sense from a person.

For her part, Mother Teresa never claimed to be anything but a religious missionary more interested in handing souls over to Christ than alleviating suffering. But this writeup would be more shallow than I could allow if it simply criticized Mother Teresa. This is more a promotion of critical thinking and a critique of idolatry. The myth that Mother Teresa was interested in alleviating suffering was likely perpetuated by a public relations campaign spearheaded by The Vatican. Logically, it makes sense - the Catholic church has certainly been at an all-time low in terms of PR and Mother Teresa serves to bring them some credibility, especially if she is seen as being someone even the secular can adore; as someone whose only interest is the alleviation of the poor's suffering.

Yet examining two of her own statements paints a different picture:

"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people."

To a patient dying of cancer:"You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you."

This goes a long way towards explaining the conditions, particularly the lack of even simple painkillers, at the Home for the Dying. There is a school of Christian theology that believes very much in suffering as being a path to understanding Christ's suffering on the cross. Whilst it makes for great debate in the ivory theology towers, the dangers of such beliefs paint a much darker picture when you see the state of Calcutta. Throughout the world she is revered, yet on the ground in Calcutta opinions of her are much less sanguine.

Her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech was equally bizarre and religiously driven. Almost all of it decrying the evil of abortion and birth control as being the greatest threat to world peace. Whatever your views on abortion may be (and I am very much opposed to partial-birth abortions), the greatest threat to world peace it is not.

From religious lunacy to pure hypocrisy, Mother Teresa spent a large amount of her time (around six months) campaigning in Ireland for divorce to remain outlawed. This therefore meant that any woman in Ireland married to an abusive, violent wretch of a husband would have to remain legally bound to that person by law. Later, when Princess Diana and Prince Charles divorced, she told the press how happy she was for them because Diana had been so unhappy in her marriage.

Charles Keating

Anyone old enough (not me), will remember Charles Keating and the savings and loan scandal. Without getting into the details of that, Keating was convicted for fraud and having stolen millions from investors and customers, many people losing their entire life savings and being left poor and without homes. It later arose that Keating had donated $1.25 million to Mother Teresa's order. When Mother Teresa wrote to the judge presiding over the case the case asking that charges be dropped against Keating in the name of forgiveness and because of the money he had charitably donated, the prosecution wrote back informing Mother Teresa that the money she had recieved was stolen, had robbed millions of people of their life savings and kindly asked her to return the money. They recieved no reply.

Dictatorship

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of Mother Teresa was the various public figures she fraternised with and accepted donations and endorsements from. Most popular images form the zeitgeist have her with the Reagans or the Clintons, but very often she solicited donations from the despotic and downright evil Duvalier family in Haiti. Various times she appeared with the dictatorial dynasty and even more times she praised their love of the poor and how the poor loved them. All of this whilst Haiti was driven into the ground by the very people Mother Teresa endorsed. After recieving the money that the reprehensible Duvalier family had stolen from the people of Haiti, Mother Teresa went back to India and paid no attention to the suffering of the poor in Haiti.

Idolatry

As I said before, ultimately this is not really a criticism of Mother Teresa. She never tried to portray herself as anything other than a religious figure and sometimes even resented the image of her as an agent of charity as opposed to an agent of God. What this is a criticism of is the suspension of critical thinking and placement of all our trust in something - whether that be a supernatural, deistic figure or a flesh-and-blood cultural icon. It's a natural human impulse to want to have faith in something and believe when no evidence is available or even believe when the evidence suggests the contrary. The fable of the Pied Piper can say a lot about the impulse to believe and the dangers thereof. Agree or disagree, upvote or downvote, the main thing to remember is that even our most saintly and revered figures should never be free from criticism and once we start to examine the evidence, we may find something we didn't expect.

Many people see Mother Teresa's relationship with the poor as a deeply committed spiritual outlook of the world. Commited it may be, but ask yourself - which other charities would we entertain this sort of excuse-making with? If Oxfam required all their missionaries to live in abject poverty and their officials made public statements framing suffering as a positive thing, it would be an outrage. The idea of suffering being anything other than a disgusting and unfortunate reality for many is patently absurd, yet because Mother Teresa is left unexamined as a figure of moral absolutes and ultimate kindness, we afford such ridiculous statements respect. If you want to see where this sort of thinking ends up - take a trip to Calcutta.


Sources:

  • Hitchens, Christopher - 'The Missionary Position' (1995)

  • http://ffrf.org/fttoday/1996/august96/hakeem.html

  • http://www.newstatesman.com/200508220019

  • http://www.vsubhash.com/writeups/peddlers_of_poverty.asp

  • http://www.ahealedplanet.net/racket.htm

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