The country and the world celebrates today the birth centenary of one of the great women of our times. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, a little Albanian teacher redefined the meaning of love and service for half a century as she ministered to the destitute as Mother Teresa. Her life was a living description of a true child of God and we, those who witnessed from afar have been blessed for her presence in our times.
She left home and came to India at the age of 19 and never saw her mother and sister again. She taught in the Loreto convent in Calcutta and I feel a tinge of envy for the many students whose privilege it was to have been taught by her. Her years of teaching were not fully cloistered and the extreme poverty of Calcutta, worsened by the Bengal famine of 1943 and the Hindu-Muslim riots of 1946, made a deep impression on her. On 10th September 1946, she heard the call of God to leave the convent and help the poor by living among them. And in 1948, she left the convent, replaced her nun's habit for the white sari with the blue border which we have all become so familiar with and ventured into the slums. The rest of her life was spent with the poor - tending to their illnesses, bandaging their wounds, sharing their pain. The world looked on and appreciated her - she was doing what we could not. She was showing that it was possible to love the unloveable. She was taking the Lord at His word and treating every person rich or poor, healthy or diseased, prosperous or destitute as she would her Saviour.
It could not have been easy. Here is what she wrote in her diary during those initial days when she had no money and sometimes had to resort to begging for her food. 'Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto came to tempt me. 'You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,' the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.'
There are very few who have trusted and loved their God so much that at moment of discouragement, loneliness and hunger, she did not despair and turn back. It is their lives that inspire us. Many who have passed unsung and unheralded. And few like Mother, whose story is told and retold. Whose example lights up the narrow way for those of us who are stumbling along behind. And Mother's story will always serve as a reminder of God's blessing to those who remain faithful. The story of an order that begun with one woman's sacrifical love in the slums of Calcutta and now involves approximately 450 brothers and 5,000 nuns worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 133 countries. The story of the Missionaries of Charity whose vow on joining the order is to give 'wholehearted service to the poorest of the poor'.
My favourite story of Mother is one where a journalist asked her about the long hours that she was known to spend in prayer. "What do you say to God," he asked. She replied, "I listen." Slightly taken aback, but (rather like the rich young ruler in Mathew) wanting to go on with the discussion/argument, he then asked, "And what does He say?" "He listens," was her reply..... I leave you with a few of her words that reveal a glimpse of her heart.
- Do ordinary things with extraordinary love
- Holiness is not the luxury of a few, it is a simple duty, for you and for me.
- Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.
- Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.
- Each one of them is Jesus in disguise.
- I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.
- I do not pray for success, I ask for faithfulness.
- I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much.
- I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
- I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbor. Do you know your next door neighbor?
- If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.
- If you judge people, you have no time to love them.
- In this life we can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.
- Intense love does not measure, it just gives.
- It is a poverty to decide that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.
- Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
- The miracle is not that we do this work, but that we are happy to do it.
- We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.
Rest in peace, Mother, until we meet in Heaven. We thank you for your life and example. Our generation may not see your ilk again.