What if I told you that there was so much more to be learned from Mother Teresa’s life than helping the poor?
As a Catholic, there are thousands of people we recognize as possessing heroic virtue, so it might be hard to pick a favorite saint. But Mother Teresa, whom I affectionately call Mama T, is hands down one of my favorites. Let me tell you why.
At first I admired her for giving up everything to help the poor. Who wants to walk the streets helping people who kind of (really!) don’t like you (at first)? Probably most of us wouldn’t jump on that opportunity.
It’s admirable and beautiful what Mama T did to help the poor, and I think most of us could make a greater effort to alleviate the suffering of those living in material poverty. That’s the easy to agree with message that so many people fell in love with Mama T for.
But there’s so much more to her. Here are some of the reasons (beyond helping the poor) Mama T is my homegirl:
She teaches us to trust God with absolutely reckless abandon.
I use those words literally because to most people, how the Missionaries of Charity live is totally reckless. When I spent a spring break with them, I learned that they never ask for what they need or want. Instead, they’ll pray for God to provide. And guess what? He always does – even if it’s not how we imagined. The soup kitchen I helped them run for a week was overflowing with food to share. And they had never put donation bins in churches or asked for people to contribute. They got up around 4am, didn’t have furniture in their chapel, hand washed their sari’s, got through each day helping others tirelessly, traveled around their city to help all sorts of people, AND were able to stay awake for an hour of adoration. We can’t all do this, obviously. But it was a good example of what can happen when we lean on God.
This story is another illustration of how Mama T trusted God (and shows us to!), which I try to remember. I’ve gone back to that story so many times. Her example is such a good reminder that God will never lead us to such deep waters that he can’t carry us across.
She showed me that being Catholic doesn’t mean you have a perfect relationship with God.
It might be scandalizing to some people to know that Mama T felt unloved by God for the majority of her adult life. To me, it’s comforting. It’s proof that being a good person doesn’t come from special spiritual super powers. Yes, she had to have a lot of grace to do what she did. But just like her, I can choose to do what is good and contribute something beautiful to the world even if it stinks sometimes. People we admire have struggles and feel alone sometimes. How awesome to know what we’re all capable of.
She helped me understand that loving is about giving.
Much like the quotable Fulton Sheen, Mama T had some mic drop moments talking about giving. Reading her words have been part of my understanding of Theology of the Body – that life isn’t about getting and having. It’s about being and giving.
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
During my mission trip, one of the sisters was experiencing severe pain in her foot. It apparently was getting worse as she was getting older. But we didn’t find out until well into the week, when it came up in conversation. Her response? “You don’t get old until you stop loving Jesus!” She just kept on giving.
She taught me that feeling unloved is a crisis unparalleled by material want.
To much of the Western world, being without a house and food sounds like one of the most horrible things that could happen to you. It is surely a sad thing. At some point, I thought how nice it would be to go to places like the slums of Calcutta and alleviate the suffering there. But having a bit more life behind me now (ha!), I get this. Material want can be fixed. And it should be, by people who have things. Want for love is so different. Whether it’s a broken relationship, a rough upbringing, or something else that’s cause for a feeling of alienation, there’s not as easy a fix. It’s complicated and messy and I hope that throughout my life I can help some people feel a little more cared for.
The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
She showed me that you don’t have to go to Calcutta to change the world.
If you love Mama T, you probably thought about going to India for a hot second. Am I right? I did. Would it be awesome to see and experience her work? Of course. Yes. It would! I’ve found mission trips to be enriching and wonderful experiences. They’re great. But I think they also run the risk of us failing to see the people around us right here in our neighborhoods who need a helping hand. Mama T issues a challenge to us, which I hope to spend my life working on:
It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.
Are we up for the challenge?
“I Thirst” written beside every crucifix in their buildings serves as a reminder to spend our lives satiating God’s thirst for souls by bringing his love to the world.
You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.
We’ve heard her words. We love her. Now let’s find our Calcuttas. Where is yours?