In celebration of the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) on September 4, I would like to share with you eight lessons and prayers that I discovered from reading Mother Teresa’s writings. Feel free to share some of your favorites as well! The lessons so far are The Power of Loving the “Other,” Always Take Mary with You, God Works Miracles When We Make Ourselves Small, God Enjoys the Simplest Prayers. Faithful Love Sweetens Life and God Transforms Our Pain. Enjoy!
Lesson #7: God measures “success” differently than we do.
Mother Teresa was nearly forty when she started the most physically demanding chapter of her life, toiling in the slums of Calcutta. Like most of us, her life had many chapters – beloved daughter, gifted singer, humble novice, popular teacher, courageous visionary. And yet, the motivating force was the singular virtue of obedience. At each stage of her life, her love for God enabled her to take the next step as God opened the door. By the end of her life, she and her Missionaries of Charity had opened hundreds of centers all over the world, and “mothered” thousands upon thousands of souls out of love for God.
Even so, she had her detractors who questioned everything from her motives to her bookkeeping. Where were all these large donations going? Why did she not set up hospitals where the desperately sick could get the care they needed? Some accused her of helping only to make converts — while others declared she spent too much time tending to temporal concerns, and not enough on leading souls to Jesus. Some who tried to get close to her by volunteering found they did not have the stomach for it; others were outraged that she would not stop everything to be photographed and interviewed. She truly had no interest in being an icon; she was too busy loving Jesus in the hearts of the physically and spiritually poor.
Reading the accounts of those who contacted her in some “professional” capacity – journalists and government workers especially — I was struck by the number who were unexpectedly deeply moved by these encounters. Perhaps the most famous example was veteran journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, whose documentary and subsequent book Something Beautiful for God introduced Mother Teresa to the world. In the book by the same title, Muggeridge recounts a harrowing story in which he witnessed an injured man being treated at the local hospital in Calcutta. “It was a scene of inconceivable confusion and horror . . . It was too much; I made off, back to my comfortable flat and a stiff whisky and soda . . . I ran away and stayed away; Mother Teresa moved in and stayed. That was the difference.”(1) An avowed agnostic, Muggeridge later converted to Catholicism as a result of Mother’s influence.
Looking back on life, each of us will measure our own legacy by our own personal yardstick of accomplishment, of what we felt was most important. For some, it is financial security for ourselves and our loved ones. For others, it might be philanthropy or ministry goals. For Mother Teresa, as for the Missionaries of Charity, everything could be measured by this single observation, which I found on the website of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers: “Right now, today, and everyday, Jesus is thirsting for my love. He is longing for me.” You can read the full prayer oft he Missionaries of Charity Fathers here.
Mother Teresa taught me that the heart of Jesus is thirsting for our love, longing for our presence. By that standard, how can I be a “success” today?
If you are enjoying this series, you might also enjoy my two new books on her life and writings: Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (preorders ship 9/16) and Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, (preorders ship 1/17), both available through Servant Books/Franciscan Media.
(1) Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1971), 22.