Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
By Cynthia L. Mello
Diminutive in stature but larger than life in the practice of the faith, many know her as Mother Teresa or simply Mother. Her signature sari with the familiar blue stripes will forever be engraved in the memories of those who witnessed her example. For decades she showed us by example how to find Jesus in the suffering faces and horrible predicaments of mankind. She spoke to our hearts and our very souls, without uttering a single word. Her deeds spoke volumes about what it truly means to be Christian. Daring to go into situations where most would avoid, she did not turn away, but rather embraced them with the Father’s love. Poverty, filth, disease, and famine surrounded her. In the midst of all of that suffering, she taught us that we can make a difference, if not for everyone, at the very least, for someone.
Born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Albania (now Macedonia), Mother Teresa’s family consisted of an older brother Lazar and sister Aga. Her father Nikola was a very successful merchant. Her mother, Dranafile was extremely pious. She would be the one who would make sure the children attended Mass several times weekly and recite the rosary daily. She would be the one to help orphans, the needy, and the poor. Agnes (called Gonxha by her family) would often accompany her mother on these missions of charity. In 1919 tragedy struck their family. At age 9 Agnes lost her father suddenly and mysteriously. The same family that had helped so many now fell on hard times.
In 1928, as she began her adult life, she entered the order of the Sisters of Loreto headquartered in Ireland. She would take the name Sister Mary Teresa of the Child Jesus which would exemplify her desire to follow St. Therese Lisieux in doing simple things with great love. After a year in Ireland to learn English, she traveled to the Loreto School in Calcutta, India. There she would teach Geography and English as a second language. She would eventually become principal.
In September 1946 she was sent by train to a house in the Himalayan mountains to recover from tuberculosis. On that journey she received a second true calling from God. She was called to leave her convent and start a new ministry serving the poorest of the poor. After much struggle and shear determination on her part, Vatican approval was received. She traded in her old habit for her Indian sari. She sought some basic medical training and began “the work”. Her first mission was to begin teaching the children in the slum called Moti Jheel. She held class under a small tree, using a stick to write in the ground.
That was not enough. She saw desperate dying bodies in the streets of the slums. Alone at first in a sea of despair, she picked up one person, one single solitary soul at a time, and raised them from the slums and gutters of Calcutta to God’s radiant light. She gave each and every person God’s unconditional love. As others witnessed and spoke about her works of mercy, word spread like wildfire. Soon others began to follow in her footsteps. Driven by her passion, commitment, and love they too began the work of Jesus. This mission continues today across five continents and many nations with over 4,000 missionaries.
Still, that was not enough. She continued the work by establishing a home for unwanted children and babies. She rescued abandoned infants and orphans. She took in the disabled. Next she brought help to the lepers directly by way of ambulance. She taught them how to heal each other and gave them the skills to build a real community. She would later open homes for those stricken with AIDS.
She gained notoriety by her deeds. Even after she had established her Missionaries of Charity order, she still continued to do the same daily tasks that all of the sisters would do when needed. She would eat the same foods that were served to everyone at the Mother house, even though she could have easily chosen not to. Criticized by some for not trying to cure people on death’s door she would explain that they were religious sisters, not doctors or social workers. They were simply trying to offer God’s love.
She had some dark days in her life where she struggled as many do with feelings of abandonment and doubt. Facing the extreme suffering of so many on a daily basis would undoubtedly test even the strongest will. The constant demand of the work, and the constant awareness of so much suffering undoubtedly took its’ toll. She would eventually find some solace and surrender to the darkness by realizing she shared this experience with Jesus, just as He too experienced feelings of abandonment on the cross. Yet through all of her pain, she continued with the work. She continued through her weaknesses and found strength again and again to carry on and on and on.
We must strive to follow her lead. Look for Jesus among our “poorest of the poor”, the distressed humanity around us. Reach out to those who perhaps have lost hope. Lift people out of the “gutters” of our own society right here in the USA, right here in greater New Bedford, right in our own families, schools, and workplaces. Reach out to those who have fallen into despair due to loneliness, addiction, sin, sex, pornography, materialism, and all of the trappings that abound in this country. Strive to make that important difference, however small it may seem to some, that will help a fellow human being achieve dignity, feel wanted, or feel needed.
We must reach out to the “smallest of the small”. Continue efforts to stop the murder of abortion. We must learn from Mother Teresa that we can do so much good on our own if we try, but we can accomplish so much more if we try together. Stretch out our arms each day and help someone in some small way.
It is easy to relate to Mother because she was with us, in our time in history. She was not someone from centuries ago, but someone here and now experiencing the same trials and storms that we face in our daily lives. In her final years she was weathered by the work from her head right down to her worn out sandals. She never stopped doing the work. She died on September 5, 1997 peacefully, surrounded by her Sisters. She offered God’s unconditional love to all she touched. She is a true inspiration to all people of all faiths.