“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”
[True confessions of a blogger: I have always chaffed a bit when spoon fed hyper goodness. I am a skeptic. A Catholic skeptic at that. I graduated from an all-girl Catholic high school the year after Mother Teresa won her Nobel Peace price in 1979. It was a time when the mere mention of the good nun’s name brought a gleam of zealous holiness to some folk’s eyes. The words “Mother Teresa” still bring an (imagined) soundtrack of angels singing “ahhhh” in the background. The publicity wagon behind this gal was in full tilt boogie in 1979 and frankly, it was (is) a bit much to take, especially given her dogged adherence to church doctrine on things like abortion and divorce.
I know I would have been much more receptive to Mother Teresa if the ‘holy bus’ would have pulled over for a while and she would have been presented as what she was… a mere moral doing some pretty extraordinary good works in some pretty nasty areas of the world. So when I read about Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk’s book Come Be My Light I was moved to find out that Mother Teresa had struggled for over 60 years because Jesus has stopped talking to her. The fact that she soldiered on, day by day, decade by decade, caring for the sick and discarded and continuing to pray to a God who no longer answered kept up his side of a conversation makes her a lot more heroic in my book.
It continues to gall me when her name and image are co-opted for things and statements that are not her own. While researching this “Thought,” for instance I found a poem by Mother Teresa called “Do It Anyway.” It’s a lovely poem about going beyond adversity and doing the right thing “anyway.” The problem is… despite dozens of websites and placards for sale on Ebay that attribute the poem to Mother Teresa it was written by Kent M. Keith. So why shine on? Isn’t her goodness good enough? Do we have to fake stuff or steal stuff from other people to make her sound wiser or holier? Another example is the long-held belief that Mother Teresa was ardently anti-gay. I found some of that hate mongering rhetoric in my research too, but not from the woman herself. And closer inspection — and a bit of logic — shows it’s not true. Mother Teresa, of course, worked tireless with the victims of AIDS, she didn’t discriminate by sexual orientation in the clinic. And when “some reporters asked Mother Teresa about the homosexuals in Calcutta, she said she didn’t like the word ‘homosexuals’ and went on to insist that they use the term ‘friends of Jesus’ instead.”[Lina Lamont blog post ] I’m not so naive to think she’d be voting for same-sex marriage any time soon — as she’d be likely to tow that Church line too– but she certainly didn’t demonize homosexuals as some people would have you believe.
She’s a much more complex and human individual than the cartoon saint the ‘holy bus’ presents.]
Agnes Gnoxha Bojaxhiu was born on this day in Skopj, Yugoslavia in 1910. This is the 102nd anniversary of her birth.
She was the youngest of five children (three of whom lived to adulthood.) According to her brother, Lazar, and despite myths to the contrary, the family did not live like peasants, but lacked for nothing. They owned two houses, living in one and renting out the other. The children were raised as Catholics and Agnes loved to listen to stories about missionaries from far away places.
She was called to religious life as an early teen, and made her final decision while praying at the Black Madonna of Letnice when she was 18.
She joined the Sisters of Loreto. Her missionary training began in Ireland where she learned English (the sisters use English in their missionary work.) At 19 she traveled to Darjeeling to begin her novitiate in the shadows of the Himalayas. She learned the native Bengalese language and taught school to the wealthy girls who attended St.Teresa’s School where she was assigned. She took her first vows at 21 and became Sister Teresa in honor of St. Therese de Lisieux (the patron saint of missionaries). In 1937 she was sent to Entally (near Calcutta) to another school where she taught History and Geography for another 20 years. She was made headmistress in 1944.
In 1946 while the nun was taking a 400-mile long train trip to a retreat in Darjeeling she heard Christ speak to her. “Come, come carry Me into the holes of the poor,” He told her, “ Come be My light.” It was her “call within the call” and one she took seriously. Teresa gave up her relatively comfortable life at the school and headed toward the slums that had been devastated both famine and Hindu/Muslim violence.
She sought permission from the church to begin on her path. She took a course in basic medical training at Holy Family Hospital, and she exchanged her Loreto habit for a white sari with a blue border. In January of 1948 she started a school in Motijhil, Calcutta teaching the poorest children in the slums. She had no classroom equipment so she used what was available. Instead of a chalkboard she wrote in the dirt. She worked to teach the children both how to read and the basics of hygiene. As she got to know them she gained the trust of their families and got to know their needs as well.
In 1950 she started (with Vatican permission) The Missionaries of Charity to care for “The hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled the blind, the lepers, and all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for though out society, people that have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.” [Mother Teresa]
The little congregation of 13 women had grown to over 4,000 sisters by 1997.
They opened a Home for the Dying, a place offering free hospice care for the poor , in Calcutta in 1952. Next they opened a home for people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) called City of Peace. They also started outreach clinics in the city where those suffering from the disease could get medicine,clean bandages and food. The Children’s Home of the Immaculate Heart, an orphanage for the city’s many homeless youth and orphans was opened in 1955.
Throughout the 1960s similar houses of care were opened by the Missionaries of Charity throughout the world. In 1963 the Missionaries of Charity Brothers was founded for men who wanted to follow Mother Teresa’s leadership in feeding, clothing, housing and caring for the poor. Branches of the organization for contemplative Sisters, Lay workers (both Catholic and non-Catholic) and Priests followed. Today there are more than 4,500 Missionaries of Charity and over a million Co-Workers working at 610 mission in 133 countries around the world.
She was awarded the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Price in 1979. (She gave the prize money to the poor in India). She thought that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world’s needy. When asked what we can do to promote world peace she answered “Go home and love your family.”
The “Saint of the Gutters” suffered a heart attack in rome in 1983, and a second in 1989. In 1996 she fell and broke her collar bone, suffered from malaria and had heart failure. On March 13, 1997 she died.