Friday, September 5, 2008

The Feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia. However, she considered August 27, 1910, the day she was baptized, to be her "true birthday." 

After the death of her father, her family fell on hard times, but her mother taught her to always be generous even with the little they had. By age 12, Agnes was certain of her vocation to the religious life, and at age 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto and left for her new life in Dublin. She never saw her beloved mother and sister again. 

In Ireland, she learned English, and in 1929, she moved to India. Two years later, she took her first vows to become a nun in Darjeeling. It was at that time that she took the name Teresa, after St. Therese of Lisieux, the patroness of missionaries and one of my own favorite saints. On May 14, 1937, Teresa took her final vows. By that time, she was serving as a teacher of history and geography at the Loreto convent school in eastern Calcutta.

In 1946, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard what she later explained as "a call within a call." She sensed God was telling her to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. She also heard a call to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and, instead, to "follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor."
Teresa received permission from the Vatican on October 7, 1950 to start the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity. Its mission was to care for, in her own words, "the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, 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." 

The Missionaries of Charity began with 13 nuns in Calcutta. It now comprises over 4,000 nuns who run many orphanages, homes for the dying, and charity centers across the world.

Mother Teresa is known internationally for her acts of charity and her service to the poor in Calcutta, as well as across India and in other nations. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 and India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1980 for her humanitarian work. But, it is not these things alone that led her to beatification. Rather, it was her life of generous love that made her visible as a living saint.

"Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired." ~ Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta

It was this tireless love that marked her saintly life, not the extraordinary achievements that she made through her ministry. For any great person can, by the grace of God, achieve what she did. But, who could give so much of themselves, every hour of every day, to the glory of God, even in the midst of a "dark night of the soul," except a saint?

I was surprised to find that Mother Teresa had many critics in her lifetime. These critics, most notably Christopher Hitchens, pointed out that she was not ultimately doing this work as a humanitarian but as a nun. A strange accusation when, after all, she was and made no attempt of hiding it. 

Hitchens has written that Mother Teresa's "intention was not to help people."He alleged she lied to donors about the use of their contributions. "It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty. She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.'" 

It was largely upon this statement and the underlying philosophy and worldview that much of the criticism against her sprang: for example, that not all the monetary aid she received when directly to humanitarian effort; some was given back to the Church to be spent on other projects. Likewise, they criticized Mother Teresa's worldwide advocacy against abortion as political, though she did not see it this way. She was, as she said, doing it "for Christ...for the Church."

Bl. Mother Teresa died on September 5, 1997. Her last words were, "Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you." How beautiful, to have your dying words be exactly in accord with the actions of your life. 

I remember praying for Mother Teresa that first week of seventh grade. My homeroom teacher, Sr. Clare, deeply admired and loved Mother Teresa. Even then, Sr. Clare was sure this great little woman would be beatified, and she was right. Pope John Paul II waived the standard five-year waiting period to begin the beatification process and pronounced Mother Teresa Blessed in 2002, after it was declared that Monica Besra had been healed of a tumor in her abdomen after applying a locket with Mother Teresa's picture in it to the region. 

Today, we honor the life of Mother Teresa, and most especially the goal of her life, which was always the same: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Mother Teresa's Daily Prayer:

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me, and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me, and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for commenting on my blog! It was so nice to see someone different visiting! My favorite quote of Mother Theresa is the one something like, "We are not called to do great things. Only to do small things with great love." She truly was blessed and a blessing to all the world.


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