By Patricia McNally
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia, in the former Yugoslavia, she was the youngest of three children. In her teens, Agnes became a member of a youth group in her local parish. Through her involvement with their activities, Agnes became interested in missionaries. At age 17, she responded to her first call of a vocation as a Catholic missionary nun. She joined an Irish order, the Sisters of Loretto, a community known for their missionary work in India. When she took her vows as a Sister of Loretto, she chose the name Teresa after Saint Thérèse of LisieuxIn Calcutta, Sister Teresa taught geography and catechism at St. Mary’s High School and in 1944, she became the principal of the school. Sister Teresa contracted tuberculosis and she was unable to continue teaching.
She was sent to Darjeeling for rest and recuperation. It was on the train to Darjeeling that she received her second call — “the call within the call”. Mother Teresa recalled later, “I was to leave the convent and work with the poor, living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged but I did not know how to get there.”In 1948, the Vatican granted Sister Teresa permission to leave the Sisters of Loretto and pursue her calling under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta. Mother Teresa started with a school in the slums to teach the children of the poor and she also learned basic medicine and went into the homes of the sick to treat them.
By 1949, some of her former pupils joined her. They found men, women, and children dying on the streets who were rejected by local hospitals. The group rented a room so they could care for helpless people otherwise left to die in the gutter. In 1950, the group was established by the Church as a Diocesan Congregation of the Calcutta Diocese. It was known as the Missionaries of CharityIn 1952 the first Home for the Dying was opened .Over the years, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity grew from 12 to thousands serving the “poorest of the poor” in 450 centres around the world.
Mother Teresa created many homes for the dying and the unwanted from Calcutta to New York to Albania. She was one of the pioneers of establishing homes for AIDS victims. For more than 45 years, Mother Teresa comforted the poor, the dying, and the unwanted around the world. In 1966, the Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded. Homes began to open in Rome, Tanzania, and Australia. Mother Teresa gained worldwide acclaim with her tireless efforts on behalf of world peace. Her work brought her numerous humanitarian awards, including: the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.
A lot of Catholic Saints experience a dark night of the soul but Mother Teresa’s dark night experience lasted her lifetime. It was a darkness that was never shown to the world and it only came to light when letters that she wrote were made public. These letters were written to her spiritual director and while they were not originally intended for public reading, her path to Sainthood led to them going public. A lot of people felt that the letters really showed the human side of Mother Teresa and even more people felt connected to her after reading them. They showed a woman who radiated God’s light and love in the world but who behind closed doors was trying to find her way through one long dark tunnel.
The shadow that rested on her soul was the price she paid to let Christ shine at His brightest within her, so that his light could radiate from her wherever she went so that He could reach the unreachable, the unlovable, the unwanted the unforgivable ,the poorest of the poor both in a physical sense and in a Spiritual sense. She saw Christ’s passion in all this pain and suffering and she reached out, lifted up, cradled and carried everyone she came into contact with, carried them to a place of love and carried them into a space that was filled with love a space that was filled with God. Even if they had nothing physically or materially, now they had everything spiritually. She had at least taken them out of one type of poverty. Mother Teresa had an inner longing for love and to be loved. She felt the pain of darkness.
She felt that God had abandoned her. She knew that it was necessary to feel and experience this pain so that she could know God more. She said that the darkness and turmoil that Jesus went through in the garden of Gethsemane was far worse than the suffering of his Crucifixion. This experience of abandonment allowed Mother Teresa to completely identify with people that felt abandoned by God and those who choose to live without God in their life. She felt their darkness and I suppose in some strange way and by divine grace, this darkness was what drove her on more and more in her work. It was obvious that God hadn’t abandoned her as if he had of there was no way she could have kept doing everything she was doing day in and day out. She would have become overwhelmed by all the suffering she saw around her.
She saw poverty in the eyes of the wealthy, those clothed in fine gowns and laden with jewels. Outer appearances of wealth very often camouflaged a severe inner poverty of the soul. Mother Teresa teaches us to look beyond the outer appearances and see everyone as a beautiful work of God’s creation. We are all made by the one God, the one Creator so there should not be barriers of race, religion, status, glory, honour in the way of the channel of his love. Mother Teresa met Princess Diana. A meeting of two worlds there in that space of love. That space where God was present. Mother Teresa knew I am sure, that Diana although not at all poor materially or physically but she too suffered her own inner poverty. Princess Diana and Mother Teresa died days apart of each other. They both shared a common desire to help the poor. Reflection on the life of Saint Mother Teresa‘Calcutta is everywhere ‘– Mother Teresa says find your Calcutta – it is all around you – it is not just a place in India it is more than that. She talks about the two types of poverty that exist – physical and material poverty and there also exists another type of poverty- a spiritual poverty and that is everywhere. It exists in our families our friends and our neighbours in our p community and in our country, all over the world. Poverty is more than physical, more than material, there is a deeper poverty than this the roots of which are very hard to reach, to untangle. Mother Teresa says that this type of poverty can only be relieved by prayer and service.
She says that Calcutta exists in front of our eyes if we would only open them to see it. Those who are poorest of all are those that do not know God, those that close him out. So the challenge for us as Christians is that we have to be Christ for them to reach out to them in love and let down any weapons of hatred and judgement we may have.
She says the world says – God ‘was’ – but she tells us that God ‘is’ and that even if you feel that you have nothing to offer God – give him your nothingness. Even if you are doing simple mundane tasks like peeling potatoes, put love into it. She said that no one hates God more that the Devil and that he wants to destroy God in us, through greed for money, glory, and power, anything that can take the place of the presence of God.
She reminds us that we need lots of love to forgive and we need humility to forget. Forgiveness is the greatest presence of peace. We were created to love and be loved and we must take time to enjoy each other, to talk to each other to listen to each other. And says how important it is for Mothers and fathers to be there for their children. Mother Teresa gave everyone she met an experience of Christ’s Resurrection. She physically, mentally and spiritually lifted people up. She treasured and highlighted the sacredness of human life in all its forms, especially life in the womb. Mother Teresa teaches us that Poverty comes in many disguises. There’s a poverty in loneliness a poverty in fear, a poverty in sadness .To know another’s poverty we must look at our own. We must look and see inside ourselves to the deepest and darkest places where we store our sadness and our fear and our guilt and everything else that we try to hide from ourselves and from the world. Whatever the condition of life whatever the circumstances – Mother Teresa held high the sacredness of that condition, the sacredness of that suffering and she reached out to comfort, and to restore dignity where it had been stripped away. In all this suffering she saw Jesus, she met him at every station of the cross through the people that she met on the streets. She did not escape humiliation or challenges or any of that in fact she said that God had given her the gift of humility but she also had to suffer much humiliation alongside that. Her fellow sisters came to her one day and said that they had so much to work to do, they were overwhelmed and they couldn’t get through it all -so many people needed help. They were spending lots of time praying but they were not getting enough work done. Mother Teresa listened to them she looked at them .Her answer to them was not what they expected. She said spend an extra hour a day in Adoration.!
She placed a huge focus on the presence of God in the Eucharist, the same presence of God that was in the poor. A friend of Mother Teresa’s went with her one day out onto the streets and after seeing all the suffering and the severe poverty, her friend cried for days afterwards. When she spoke to Mother Teresa about this and asked her how does she cope with seeing these awful sights day in and day out? Mother Teresa said ‘ these people do not need our tears, they have enough of their own, they need our smile’.Whether someone needed a smile or a handshake, a hug or a kiss, a kind word or a hot drink, a piece of bread or her time ,Mother Teresa gave, gave gave and she never stopped giving.
She welcomed new life into the world, she held the hands of those taking their last breaths. She carried the dying up from the streets. How many died in her arms and as she looked at them, she saw Jesus. She knew she was with him at the crucifixion. He had an immense love for the unborn and she said that “It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so you may live as you wish”When asked what could we do to promote world peace – she said “What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family”
When asked if she was afraid of dying she replied “I and my sisters have picked up from the streets, above all in India, thousands and thousands of persons at the end of life. We have taken them to our houses and helped them to die peacefully. Many of those persons expired in my arms, while I smiled at them and patted their trembling faces. Well, when I die, I am going to meet all these persons. It is there that they await me. We loved one another well in those difficult moments. We continued to love one another in memory. Who knows what celebration they will make for me when they see me? “How can I be afraid of death? I desire it; I await it because it allows me finally to return home.”At her funeral, her sisters said – ‘we thank you for accepting us as we are and for allowing each one of us to be ourselves’.