The Legacy of Love of Blessed Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa of Calcutta accompanies Pope John Paul II as he greets people at the Home For the Dying in Calcutta, India, in 1986. (CNS photo/Arturo Mari) (Jan. 14, 2011)

Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was initially called to religious life with the Sisters of Loreto.  Taking the name of Sister Teresa, this young Albanian woman was sent to India in 1929 after first learning English in Ireland.  It was not until she had been teaching at a school for girls in Calcutta for 15 years that she received her “calling within a calling” – a summons to serve the poor, living among them.  By then she was called Mother Teresa, having taken her final vows several years before.  However, because this was not part of the mission of the Sisters of Loreto, a teaching order, nearly two years passed before she was given permission to begin what she saw as her work.  In 1948, she put on her famous white and blue sari for the first time and entered the world of the poor.

Each day Mother Teresa went out, rosary in hand, to find and nurse the sick and dying who were lying in the streets, wash the sores of the diseased, and care for the orphaned.  She called it the Gospel on five fingersYou did it to me.  “‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me’; for I was hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, unwanted, untouchable – and you did it to me” (cf. Matthew 25:34-40).

Soon, students from the Loreto school were helping her in the streets of Calcutta and, in 1950, a new congregation was established, the Missionaries of Charity.  Mother Teresa and her sisters were driven, she explained, by the desire to quench the thirst of Jesus on the Cross for love (John 19:28).  Their aim was, and is, to see and care for Jesus in the poor, most especially the poorest of the poor, that is, the unwanted, unloved, forgotten, abandoned, and uncared for throughout society.  “Let us not make a mistake,” she said, “that the hunger is only for a piece of bread. The hunger of today is much greater: for love – to be wanted, to be loved, to be cared for, to be somebody.”  Today, there are Missionaries of Charity serving all around the world, including their Gift of Peace Convent, which has served the homeless and terminally ill here in Washington for 27 years.

Upon her beatification, six years after her death in 1997, Blessed Pope John Paul II said that Mother Teresa “wanted to be a sign of ‘God’s love, God’s presence and God’s compassion,’ and so remind all of the value and dignity of each of God’s children, ‘created to love and be loved.’”  This is the legacy that she leaves us.  Having had the privilege of meeting and praying with Mother Teresa and visiting some of the centers of the Missionaries of Charity, I thank God for the grace given to the world in her.  What a witness for us all to emulate.

Blessed Mother Teresa exhorts us to be missionaries of love, “You are God’s love in action. Through you, God is still loving the world. Each time people come into contact with us, they must become different and better people because of having met us. We must radiate God’s love.”  This is how his kingdom is built up.  Following her namesake in religion, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Mother Teresa teaches that this does not require big things, but doing small things with great love.  We do this one day at a time, one person at a time, but without delay, she reminds us.  “Our work is for today, yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come – today, we have only today to make Jesus known, loved, served, fed, clothed, sheltered, etc. Today – do not to wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come. Tomorrow we will not have them if we do not feed them today.”

Today as much as ever, Mother Teresa’s message is an invitation addressed to the world.  May her life be a light to us all.