Lucia of the Jerusalem community writes to us about Mother Teresa, a glowing icon of God's love for the poorest of the poor. Her feast is celebrated on September 5.

 

Everyone knows Mother Teresa. One can go anywhere, in whatever country, and someone will point out a photo of the smiling, little old woman in a white sari with blue borders. You will be told: This is the saint of our times. She devoted her entire life to the service of the poor and the miserable. She received the Nobel Peace Prize and many other prizes too. She founded a religious congregation, the Missionaries of Charity (often called the Sisters of Mother Teresa) and today, the 4000 sisters work in more than 600 centers in 123 countries around the globe.

mother_theresa

However, sanctity is not measured through statistics. There are saints who struggle their entire lives in order to be victorious over sin and return to the straight path, that being the grandeur of their lives and their heroic virtue. There are others who have never turned away, not even one centimeter, from the straight path throughout their lives, never wasting a minute, making their lives incredibly fruitful and rich with good works. Mother Teresa fitted into the latter category.

She was born on August 26, 1910 in the Balkan town of Skopje (today on Macedonia) into an Albanian Catholic family, which had to leave its native region because of a case of revenge. Youngest child of three, born to Nikola et Drane Bojaxhiu, she was baptized the day after birth, receiving the name of Gonxha Agnès. At the age of five and a half she received her first communion and less than one year later her confirmation. Later, she would write in her journal: "At the age of five and a half, when the Lord came to me for the first time, the Heart of Christ became my first love…"

Her family was known for its deep faith, its piety and its works of charity. Each week, her mother went out into the town with her children in order to visit the sick and bring them food and distribute clothes to the beggars. Even after the sudden death of her father (Gonxha was eight and a half years old at the time), an event that plunged the family into severe material difficulty, these works of charity were not diminished. Mother Teresa later remembered: "Mother taught us to pray and help those in trouble… Many of the poor of Skopje and its surroundings knew our house. Noone ever left it with empty hands. Each day someone shared our meal – they were the poor, those who had nothing."

At the age of 12, Gonxha sensed for the first time the call to belong completely to God. She did not, however, feel that she wanted to be a nun. She was the best student in her class, was involved in the parish, she sang in the choir, she played the guitar… She was loved because of her temperament, easy going and attentive to others, generous with the joy she shared with others, always ready to help wherever it was needed. She thought of devoting herself to music and literature – her poems were already being published in the local press. However, when she was 18 years old, the voice that called her became stronger and she answered it: " I want to belong to Jesus entirely and not belong to anyone but him. I am ready to give all for him, even my life. I am consumed with the desire to love him as no one has ever loved him".

Desiring to go to India, Gonxha entered the Irish missionary congregation of the Sisters of Loretto at the age of 18. After one year of formation in Dublin, Ireland, she was sent as a school teacher to a girls' school run by the Sisters in Calcutta. She had already then received her monastic name of Sister Mary Teresa, named for Therese of Lisieux who had been canonized three years earlier. Sister Teresa worked in this school for nearly twenty years and was greatly loved by her sisters and even more by her pupils. She made her final profession, in India, on May 24, 1937. In 1944, she became the principal of the school. She loved her convent, her school and she was very happy. Yet, Jesus had a different plan for her.

On September 10, 1946, the Lord addressed her. She was in a train and he asked her to change her already well established life style. " I felt," Mother Teresa wrote many years later," that the Lord expected me to renounce voluntarily my tranquil life in my congregation and that I go out into the streets to serve the poor. It was a crystal clear indication: I had to leave behind the walls of the convent in order to live among the poor. Not simply the poor. He was calling me to serve the most desperate and most miserable in Calcutta – those who had nothing and no one, those that no one wanted to go near because they were infected, dirty, full of parasites, those who could not even go out to beg because they were naked, not even having enough material to cover themselves with, those that are no longer able to eat – even for that they no longer have the strength, those who fall down exhausted in the streets knowing that this is death, those who do not cry because they have no more tears. It was these people that Jesus showed me during my trip and he wanted that I love them. God needed my poverty, my weakness, my life in order to reveal his love to the most miserable…"

It took nearly two years for her to receive permission from Rome to leave the convent. On August 17, 1948, Sister Teresa wore her blue bordered white sari for the first time and definitively left the serenity and tranquility of her much loved convent of Loretto. That same year she received Indian citizenship. Having concluded a short formation as a nurse, she began, on the eve of Christmas, her ministry in the slums of Calcutta. A few  months later, a number of young women had already joined her – mainly from among her ex-pupils. They lived in conditions that were like those of the people they served. They owned nothing more except the love of Christ. In 1950, the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially established in the Archdiocese of Calcutta. 10 years later its activities were expanded to include all of India. 15 years later, it began outside of India too, in countries around the globe. It seems that the various heart attacks and sicknesses only increased the energy of Mother Teresa. The number of vocations also increased. Miraculously, all the doors were opened to her, even in the countries that were most anti-clerical and even atheist. The statistics are overwhelming but they do not cover the fullness of her ministry. How can one measure the act of giving a half dead beggar his human dignity? When an abandoned child is placed within a loving family and is given a place in life? When an old person, sick in mind and body, a person no one wants, is surrounded by respect and solicitude? When the youth and those less young find the meaning and the joy of life in prayer and the service of neighbor? When the Kingdom of Heaven becomes visible on earth?

Her motor force was love. At the age of 18, the future Mother Teresa declared that she was consumed by the desire to love Jesus "as no one before had ever loved him". This was given her and not only in her well known love for the poor. She was allowed to unite herself with her beloved, there where there was no great crowd, on the Cross, in the most desperate moment of the Passion, where, covered in cloud, Jesus cries out: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Throughout the 50 years of her service of the poor, Mother Teresa lived, except for a brief interruption, in the darkest spiritual cloud, participating in the darkness that Jesus lived at the moment of his agony, participating in the darkness that is experienced by those rejected by this world who do not even know that there is someone who has accepted Passion and death because of love for them. She brought to humanity an experience of the presence of God; an experience that she herself could not enjoy. She brightened the world with a divine light that she herself could not see. All through these fifty years, even when she thought she no longer had faith, the force of her prayer continued and the flame of her love, which was for her without going back, did not go out. Her faithfulness to her Lord and her love for his poor only grew. Such a trial might well have terrorized and demoralized many others, but this was not the case with her: the trial Mother Teresa lived remained hidden behind her luminous smile. Her sisters and all those throughout the world who sought and found in her such spiritual consolation, only learnt the secret mystery of her love after her death.

Mother Teresa went to her Divine Spouse on September 5, 1997, at the age of 87. On October 19, 2003, Pope John Paul II declared her blessed. She was declared a saint by Pope Francis in 2016. Her mission continues.

"If ever I become a saint, I will certainly be a saint of "darkness". I will be always absent from the heavens – in order to ignite the light of those who are in darkness on earth".