Lessons From the Four Times My Life Intersected With Mother Teresa’s
God sends saints to show the world how he wants us to behave. His main message was crystal clear when he sent us Mother Teresa: Serve the poor. But it’s a little more complicated than that.
To commemorate the 25th anniversary of her death, here are four ways to imitate St Teresa of Kolkata.
First: Do the hard thing: Love. She told me how.
Jesus called two commandments the greatest — and those two are about love: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
I’m proud to say that in the summer of 1992, Mother Teresa told me personally how to get that done. My wife, April, randomly invited her to our wedding and while she couldn’t make it, she sent a beautiful letter telling us to how to love.
How? “From the first day of your life together as husband and wife, pray together,” she said, and “Welcome children into your wedlock and help them grow up to be the sunshine of God’s love in your family and in your neighborhood.”
Love of God and family feeds love for others. “Keep the joy of loving each other,” she said, “and share this joy with those who have nothing and no one to call their own.”
Second: Witness always. She showed me how.
I learned the enormous power of Mother Teresa’s witness on February 3, 1994. I sat nervously next to the Congressman Bill Archer, who would soon become chairman of the powerful U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. I was his press secretary, and we were fielding press calls. But that day his mind wasn’t on tax, trade, and health care, but on Mother Teresa, who spoke that morning at the National Prayer Breakfast.
“You should have seen it, Jim,” he told a reporter. “You should have heard Mother Teresa. This little lady from I don’t know where …”
“Albania,” I said.
“Albania?” he said. “Anyway, I don’t know what you think of abortion, Jim, but she said, ‘Please don’t kill the child! I want the child! Give me the child!’ The audience stood and cheered, but the Clintons sat on their hands. You should have heard her!”
My boss was a man transformed. I had never seen him like this. Her witness changed him.
Third: Know who you belong to.
I told Congressman Archer “Albania,” right away because I knew very well that Mother Teresa was a Catholic from Albania.
My first steady writing job was working for Gjon Sinishta, an Albanian exile in San Francisco. He was a man on a mission, intent on publishing everything he could about Catholic Albania as the Communists tried to destroy it. We were telling the story of Mother Teresa’s homeland, where the political order had cancelled the rights of Catholics in the name of a new “enlightened” Marxist morality.
Mother Teresa’s father was one of the earliest Catholic fighters for Albania’s freedom. He died when she was young, but she learned two things from him. First, she learned that whatever food the family had left over each week “rightfully belonged to the poor.” And second, she learned that her Catholic faith was a force for Albanian freedom.
She knew who she belonged to. As she herself put it: “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus.”
Fourth: Don’t judge; just serve.
Mother Teresa famously said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
It’s a lesson my friends and I learned when we volunteered at Mother Teresa’s “Gift of Love” home in San Francisco in college. We spent our time there chatting (and smoking lots of cigarettes) with men who were dying of AIDS. We were Catholic college students and they were homosexual men active in the gay scene in San Francisco. They had a totally different worldview from ours, but they loved having someone to talk to.
They were startled by the Missionaries of Charity. “I don’t understand these women,” said one man. “They clean our vomit and they keep smiling. What is wrong with them?”
The sisters taught us what was “wrong” with them by teaching us Mother Teresa’s “Gospel on Five Fingers.” You simply apply five words from Jesus in Matthew’s Last Judgment, one word per finger, to whoever you have to serve: “You did it to me.”
This appeared at Aleteia.
Photo: Flickr, Marquette.