Today, 5 Sep 2012, is the anniversary of death of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, foundress of the Missionaries of Charity and who showed the whole world that radically following Jesus in poverty, prayer and service of the poor was possible in our times. May the example of her holy life help us to step out of our own comfort zones in order to follow where ever the Lord Jesus calls us.
About seven weeks ago a dear friend sent me a holy picture with a photograph of Mother Teresa on the front and two printed quotations : ‘How do we learn to pray? By praying’ and ‘The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.’ That holy card has been in a prominent place in my bible during those weeks. Over the years I haven’t really looked into the life of this saintly woman in detail before, since the secular press and religious press would often have an article written about her, and that seemed sufficient. But I knew I had a book somewhere at home about Mother Teresa, and I thought that it was ‘Something Beautiful for God’. While I didn’t find that particular book during my search, I did find ‘A Simple Path’ instead. Can you imagine my surprise to find that the chapter titles of this book were Prayer, Faith, Love, Service and Peace?
Before we get to the teaching in ‘A Simple Path’, a brief biological sketch of Mother Teresa is probably in order. She was born in Albania in 1910 and responded to the missionary vocation God gave her by joining the Order of Loreto sisters. This was how she came to be sent to India. To start with she was a high school teacher and principal for almost 20 years. Towards the end of that time, in 1946, she had a profound experience of Jesus while travelling on a train with Him calling her to serve the poorest of the poor. It took about 2 years for her to work out how to do this, to get the necessary permissions and to actively start responding to that call of Jesus’. From then until her death on 5 September 1997 she followed that call, beginning the Missionaries of Charity and the related orders and lay groups along the way and inspiring countless people to love God more and serve Him better in the poor.
From the chapter on Prayer: ‘I always begin my prayer in silence, for it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks. God is the friend of silence – we need to listen to God because it is not what we say but what He says to us and through us that matters…If you are searching for God and do not know where to begin, learn to pray and take the trouble to pray every day.’
From the chapter on Faith: ‘We do our work for Jesus. He looks after us. If He wants something done, He gives us the means. If He doesn’t provide us with the means, then He doesn’t want that work done. …All things are decided by God. He decides when we live and when we die. We have to put our faith in Him and do the work that He has called us to do right up to when we die.’
From the chapter on Love: ‘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. …To get to love a person, you must contact that person, become close. Everyone needs love. Everyone must know that they are wanted and that they are important to God.’
From the chapter on Service: ‘Prayer in action is love, and love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something (however small) and show you care through your actions by giving your time. …Do not worry about why problems exist in the world – just respond to people’s needs. ’
From the chapter on Peace: ‘Works of love are always works of peace. Whenever you share love with others, you will notice the peace that comes to you and to them. When there is peace, there is God – that is how God touches our lives and shows His love for us by pouring peace and joy into our hearts.’
When the Christian life is explained by someone like Mother Teresa, it is indeed simple. Even more than that, it becomes real and ’do-able’ by us ordinary people. For her life and her spiritual genius we give thanks to God.
Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.