| streams |
The fruit of silence is prayer
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love and
The fruit of love is service
The fruit of service is peace. (Spink 267)
Though certain streams stand out more than others, Mother Teresa’s life is a beautiful intermingling of the contemplative, evangelical, charismatic, compassionate, holiness, evangelical, and incarnational streams of the faith.
As a contemplative, she practiced (and encouraged those in her order to practice) unceasing prayer and silence of the eyes, ears, tongue, mind, heart (74); for her, action was fully dependent upon a deep spiritual life and the cultivation of inner stillness (137). Her insistence that the Missionaries of Charity were never to seek converts did nothing to place Mother Teresa outside the evangelical stream. If anything, this tradition of the faith was even more deeply woven into her life as she lived a clear testament to the grace of God. Within the charismatic stream, her life was a flourishing garden of the fruits of the Spirit – “love” was her battle cry…“loving until it hurts” (61). Compassionate seems a dull word to describe her life. She didn’t give money to a cause and leave it at that. She didn’t attend activist meetings to demand change and then go her merry way. She acted. She entered into full solidarity with the poor by finding immediate and practical ways to meet needs as she found them (87). Holiness, for Mother Teresa, was not “a matter of this or that pious practice; it consists of a disposition of the heart which makes us small and humble in the arms of God, aware of our weakness, yet confident, boldly confident in the goodness of our Father” (235). Her life was intensely incarnational – a seamless fusion of the “sacred” and “secular” facets of life. She found beauty in the most unexpected places and required fidelity in small things.
| struggles | challenges | victories | growth |
I think that Mother Teresa’s areas of struggle and challenge and her areas of growth were one and the same…or else very closely correlated. She faced the challenge of leaving her family, moving to a foreign land and becoming fluent in a foreign language. She faced the challenge of creating a regula vitae for her order and dealing with the daily demands of living in and supervising a community and caring for the ocean of needs around her. Her struggle with being in the spotlight was ongoing as the work of the Missionaries of Charity grew in the world’s attention. And yet she lived a life of humble submission. She didn’t fly off the handle in the face of something that seemed too big or too small or too uncomfortable. Where she struggled and was challenged, there she grew. Mother Teresa adamantly lived the truth that God’s will for us, our cross to carry, may be found in wherever the present moment finds us. Yet this ethic did not prevent her from acting, as she sensed God’s call, to affect change.
Much of her struggle was in the pain of waiting. But this was not a passive, tepid kind of waiting. It was an active rest (if Christianne doesn’t mind my borrowing some language from her journey). She waited as one request after another to higher ups in the church was turned down or delayed – but she continued to pray and work. She waited to see her family but she took care of her Missionaries of Charity family and the poor whom they served. She waited to be allowed to retire. She patiently continued her work in the face of criticism and other obstacles, waiting for God to come to her defense. She actively sought to open doors and somehow managed to carry the incredible tension of waiting for them to open.
“Victory” for Mother Teresa was not in establishing state of the art medical facilities or inspiring fan clubs. She wasn’t much interested in how many sick people they could cure, but how many they could love. The “victory” was in the small, everyday things. Doing small things with great love.
| intersections |
We’ll never be able to pin down all the specific elements that factor into the formation of a person’s heart, but…it is certainly worth meditation.
Personality, natural giftings and desires, and upbringing definitely had a part to play. Her brother, Lazar, once said that his sister had always been “naturally obedient and thoughtful,” always ready to go to church (8). A fellow missionary of charity remarked on her “charism” for opening doors (I know that I know that I read this…and I looked and looked and can’t find it again!) – and it’s easy to see in the ways she went about seeking permission from government leaders to bring her missionaries into various countries. Father Langford saw in her a “charism of renewal” (192) – a gift that inspired (and still inspires) so many to take up her vision for doing small things with great love, both as members of the order and as ‘co-workers’ in their own homes and neighborhoods.
Mother Teresa’s relationship with Drana Bojaxhiu (anyone wanna have a go at pronouncing that?), her mother, was probably one of the most formative in her life. Her mother’s wise sayings (such as, “When you do good, do it quietly, as if you were throwing a stone into the sea”  and “Be only all for God” ) and generous actions were echoed and embodied in Mother Teresa’s life. It was her mother who urged her to remember that she “went to India for the sake of the poor” (19), and not for the relative comfort of the Loreto convent. And it was her mother who influenced, by example, Mother Teresa’s traditional ideas about family – particularly regarding the woman’s place in the home (4).
The politics and geography of her life were wide and varied simply given the number of countries where she worked and the extent of time she gave (nearly seventy years from the time she joined the Loreto order). I wonder if her life was really very affected by these things, though. She gave as much of herself in love to democratic leaders as she gave to communist ones; as much to the comfortable wealthy as to the destitute and dying in Calcutta.
Her ties to the Catholic Church were strong and had a major impact on her life and work. This is obvious, given the fact that she was a catholic nun, but her faithfulness and submission to the authority of the church was intense – though she was not blind to its faults (109). “For Mother Teresa the authority and the requirements of the Church were not issues to be challenged” (82), and she often allowed her desires to be put on hold by the ‘red tape’ and long approval processes of the institution. She was faithful to the Pope, seeing him as holding God-given spiritual authority, and deeply devoted to Mary, mother of Jesus – ideas that can easily offend staunchly protestant sensibilities (the less denomination and ritual oriented, the more easily offended is my guess).
In a scientific age, dominated by rational thought, Mother Teresa left room for the miraculous. “Her spirituality was not a question of thinking, reasoning and logic, but of transcending rational thought” (158). She was intensely practical and realistic, but full and overflowing with hope. Her life was ascetic in a world smothered with decadence. She was Albanian by birth, a citizen of India…but she belonged to the world, because she gave herself to the world. She saw beyond national boundaries and was a bridge between social classes.
| extraordinarily ordinary |
Mother Teresa was an extraordinary human being to the extent that she faithfully lived as an ordinary person with an extraordinary desire and willingness to serve God. She was “a very simple nun, very devout, with an interest in the poor but not particularly remarkable in any respect” (21), and “nothing was too menial, nothing too great an obstacle in her path” (48). “She herself consistently countered all attempts to credit her with exceptional skills by protesting her own ordinariness all the more vehemently, and pointing constantly to the God at work through his imperfect instruments” (95).
As saintly as her life may seem, this little nun was not a flawless, imperfection-proof superhuman. Being flesh and blood, she had her little quirks – Spink says of Brother Andrew’s relationship with Mother Teresa that, “The richness, beauty and meaning she gave to his life were beyond his ability to acknowledge, but that did not necessitate denying her her humanity” (112). Brother Andrew admitted that in their close working relationship (founding the Missionary Brothers of Charity), his “ego and conceit” played a part but was met with “traces of the same in her” (112). He and Mother Teresa did not always see eye to eye on matters, and “it has to be said that she could be annoyed and piqued – and show it” (112). Other times, it seems that she could be quite oblivious to the fact that others had things to do and lives to live. She spoke of each person beginning love in his or her own home…but then demanded quite a lot more than that from some she encountered. “Mother Teresa could be quite blind to many considerations when she felt that something important was in question” (121). In the daily grind of community life, she sometimes found it difficult to smile at some of her sisters; in the dailiness of her marriage to Christ, she sometimes found it difficult to smile at him (133)!
But does this proof of her humanity make her any less a saint – less worthy of our admiration and imitation? No. This proof of her humanity makes her devotion and desire that much more astounding and within the reach of our very ordinary and everyday lives.