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Mother Teresa on Christianity is Giving
The passages below are quotations of Mother Teresa from the book “Heart of Joy,” edited by Jose Luis Gonzalez-Balado
What is Christianity? (31-32)
Following is Mother Teresa’s address at the university parish of Cambridge, England, June 10, 1977, when she was awarded the honoris causa doctorate by the Duke of Edinburgh, Chancellor of that university.
To the question, What is Christianity? a Hindu gentleman answered, Christianity is giving.
God so loved the world that he gave his Son. He gave him to Mary, that she would be his mother. Jesus became a person, just as you and I, except without sin. And he showed his love to us by giving us his life, his whole being.
He made himself poor though he was rich—--for you and for me. He gave himself up completely. He died on the cross. But before dying he became the bread of life—--in order to meet our hunger for love.
He said, “If you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). The greatness of his love made him feel hunger. And he said “I was hungry and you gave me food. If you do not give me food, you cannot enter eternal life” (see Mt 25:31-46)
Such is Christ’s gift. God continues to love the world in our day. He sends you and me to show that he still loves the world and that he has not stopped having mercy on it. It is we who today have to be his love and mercy to the world.
But in order for us to be able to love we need to have faith because faith is love in action, and love in action is service. This is why Jesus became the bread of life: so that we may be able to eat and live and to see him in the faces of the poor. In order for us to be able to love we have to see and touch. And so Jesus made the poor the hope of salvation for you and for me. In fact, Jesus said, “As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me” (Mt 25:40).
The Missionaries of Charity are not social activists but contemplatives in the very heart of today’s world. We take literally the words of Jesus: “I was hungry, I was naked, without a home, and you gave me food, you clothed me, you gave me shelter” (see Mt 25:35-36). In this way we are in contact with him twenty-four hours a day. This contemplation, this touching of Christ in the poor, is beautiful, very real, and full of love.
Our poor do not need compassion or condescendence; what they need is love and aid. But we have to be aware that the poor are worthy of love, that they are great. This will lead us to love them and serve them.
Love Begins at Home (32-34)
Do we know our poor here and now? There may be poor within our own family: let us not forget that love begins at home. Do we know them? Do we know those who live alone? The unwanted? The forgotten?
One day I found among the debris a woman who was burning with fever. About to die, she kept repeating, “It is my son who has done it!”
I took her in my arms and carried her home to the convent. On the way I urged her to forgive her son. It took a good while before I could hear her say, “Yes, I forgive him.” She said it with a feeling of genuine forgiveness, just as she was about to pass away.
The woman was not aware that she was dying, that she was burning with fever, that she was suffering. What was breaking her heart was her own son’s lack of love.
St. John says, “How can you say that you love God, whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor, whom you see?” He uses a strong expression for such an attitude: “You are a liar if you say that you love God but do not love your neighbor” (see 1 John 4:20).
I think this is something we all have to understand: that love begins at home. In our day we see with growing clarity that the sorrows of the world have their origin in the family. We do not have time to look at each other, to exchange a greeting, to share a moment of joy. We take still less time to be what our children expect of us, what our spouse expects of us. And thus, each day we belong less and less to our own homes, and our contacts are less.
Where are our elderly people today? Usually in institutions. Where is the unborn child? Dead! Why? Because we do not want him.
I see a great poverty in the fact that in the West a child may have to die because we fear to feed one more mouth, we fear to educate one more child. The fear of having to feed an elderly person in the family means that this person is sent away.
One day, however, we will have to meet the Lord of the universe. What will we tell him about that child, about that old father or mother? They are his creatures, children of God. What will be our answer?
God has invested all his love in creating that human life. That is why we are not entitled to destroy it, especially we who know that Christ has died for the salvation of that life. Christ has died and has given everything for that child.
If we are really Christian, then for us too, as for that Hindu gentleman, “Christianity is giving.” We have to give until it hurts. Love, in order to be genuine, has to have a cost. For Jesus the cost was loving us. Even God had a cost in loving: he gave us his Son.
There’s nothing I can give you today because I have nothing. But what I desire from you is that when we look together and discover the poor in our families, we may begin to give love in our homes until it hurts. May we have a prompt smile. May we have time to devote to our people.
A few days ago, a man came toward me on the street and asked, “Are you Mother Teresa?”
“Yes,” I answered.
He asked, “Send one of your sisters to our home. I am half blind, and my wife is on the fringe of insanity. We long to hear the echo of a human voice. This is the only thing we miss.”
When I sent the sisters, they realized it was true. The couple lacked nothing materially. But they were being suffocated by the anguish of not having any relatives nearby. They felt unwanted, useless, unprofitable—--doomed to die in utter loneliness.
This wounds Christ’s heart. He loved to the point of suffering. But how will we be able to love the poor if we do not begin by loving the members of our own family?
Love—--I will never get tired of saying it—--begins at home.
God Provides (34-36)
My sisters are very busy with the poorest poor, with the handicapped, the blind, the abnormal. We have homes for the seriously ill and for the dying.
We are about to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our House of the Dying in Calcutta. Throughout these twenty-five years we have picked up more than thirty-six thousand seriously ill people in the streets, of whom about sixteen thousand have died among us.
I feel that the most adequate way of commemorating this anniversary is by celebrating it on November 1, the feast of All Saints. I am more than sure that all these people who have died with us are in heaven. They are genuine saints. They are already in the presence of God. Perhaps they were not loved on earth, but they are favourite children of God.
Therefore I want to pray and to thank God for all the beautiful things that my sisters have done in the House of the Dying. Even though that house is a part of the temple of Kali, the goddess of terror, what reigns there above all is the joy of helping the ill to die in peace with God.
You would be amazed to see the calmness with which these people die. One day the sisters picked up a man who was already half eaten by worms. He said, “I have lived in the streets like an animal, but I am going to die like an angel, surrounded by love and care.” He really died like an angel, with a very serene death.
Some time ago, we in Calcutta underwent a period when sugar was very scarce. Somehow the story spread that Mother Teresa had no sugar for her orphans.
A child said to his parents, “For three days I won’t eat sugar: what I save I want to give to Mother Teresa.”
So his parents, who had never been to our house, brought the child with a can of sugar. He was four years old and could barely speak, but that small child had a great love: he loved with sacrifice.
We who know Jesus, who love Jesus, who are even consecrated to Jesus, have to love as Jesus has loved. He has given us the bread of life so that we may love as he has loved us. He continues to say, “As the Father has loved me, I have loved you” (John 15:9).
How has Jesus loved us? By giving himself to us. This is how we are to love each other: by giving ourselves to each other, giving ourselves to the point of feeling pain. I don’t want you to give me your surplus. I want you to give with personal deprivation.
I and my sisters have deliberately chosen to be poor, depending exclusively on divine providence. It would take me a whole day and night to tell you the thousands of proofs of the loving providence and fatherhood of God toward us. We deal with thousands of people, and we have never had to tell anyone, “We are sorry, but we have run out of everything.”
In Calcutta we care for some seven thousand people every day. If one day we don’t cook, they will not eat. A sister came to me one day and said, “Mother, there is no rice for Friday and Saturday. We should let the people know.” I was surprised because throughout twenty-five years I had never had to hear anything like that.
Friday morning, about nine o’clock, there came a truck full of thousands of small loaves of bread. No one in Calcutta knew why the government had closed the schools that day, but it had happened, and all the bread was brought to us. For two days the people we cared for were able to get enough bread.
I guessed why God had closed the schools: he wanted the people we care for to know that they were more important than grass, than birds, and than the lilies of the field—--that they were his favorites. Those thousands of people needed proof that he loved them, that he cared for them. That was a clear proof of God’s tenderness toward his children.
Prayer and Sacrifice (36-38)
In order to be able to carry out her task, every sister consecrates her life to the Eucharist and to prayer. You might be surprised to hear that we have hundreds of young and generous vocations. Young women write to us wonderful things: “I want a life of poverty, of prayer and sacrifice, to go along with my service to the poor.”
That’s what our young women are like: full of love and generosity. In a moment they can be sent anywhere, to carry out the most humble task. We also have brothers—--the Missionary Brothers of Charity—--who carry out a task similar to ours in complete submission to God’s will. It is exciting to see our young people so fully committed, overflowing in love toward Christ’s poor.
Our congregation is fully devoted to feeding Christ who is hungry, clothing Christ who is naked, aiding Christ who is ill, offering shelter to Christ who is ousted. We profess the three vows of loving Christ with undivided love in chastity, through the freedom of poverty, in total commitment through obedience. We assume a fourth vow whereby we commit ourselves to offer from our hearts voluntary service to the poorest among the poor, that is to say, to Christ under the humble appearance of the poor.
We need prayers in order to better carry out the work of God. Pray for us, so that the work we do may be God’s work and so that in every moment we may know how to be completely available to him.
The ideal of our congregation consists of quenching the thirst of Christ on the cross for the sake of souls. The spirit of the congregation is total commitment to God, a loving confidence in the superiors, and loving care. For without joy there is no possibility of love, and love without joy is not sincere and genuine love.
We have to take that love and that joy to today’s world. We have no need of cannons or bombs to bring peace: we only need love and kindness. And we also need a deep union with God and prayer—--prayer accompanied by sacrifice, and sacrifice accompanied by adoration.
A family that prays together stays together. As we are united at this moment, let us join also the prayer of all and everyone. What you can do I cannot do. And what I can do you cannot do. But all of us together are doing something beautiful for God.
Let us now pray thus:
Lord, make us worthy to serve our brothers,
men of all the world
who live and die in poverty and hunger.
Give them this day, through our hands their daily
And through our love and understanding, give them
peace and joy. Amen.
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