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Mother Teresa on You did it for Me

      The following passages are taken from the book, “A Life for God,” compiled by LaVonne Neff and published in 1995.

 

Here we come to the heart of Mother Teresa’s prayer and work:

“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (see Matthew 25:40). When Mother Teresa looks into the face of a dying, worm-eaten, homeless man, she sees Jesus. When she bathes his body, she anoints Jesus for burial. When she puts her arms around him, she worships Jesus.

This vision of Jesus in suffering human beings is what makes

Mother Teresa a missionary and not a social worker. It is what transforms her work from a thankless, menial task to a work of devotion. It is what makes her light shine so that the world, seeing her work, gives glory to the Father in heaven.

Come, O blessed of my Father,

Inherit the kingdom prepared for you

From the foundation of the world;

for I as hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me drink.

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you clothed me,

I was sick and you visited me,

I was in prison and you came to me..

As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,

you did it to me.

Matthew 25:34-36,40, RSV

 

 Come, 0 blessed of my Father,

Inherit the kingdom prepared for you

from the foundation of the world...

 

1. We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with him right now—--to be happy with him at this very moment. But being happy with him now means loving like he loves, helping like he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues, being with him twenty-four hours a day--—touching him in his distressing disguise.  (226)

 

2. Our Savior’s poverty is greater even than that of the poorest of the world’s beasts. “The foxes have holes and birds of the air their nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58). So it was in fact. He had no house of his own, no fixed abode. The Samaritans had just turned him away and he must seek for shelter. Everything was uncertain: lodging and food. He received whatever he used as alms from the charity of others.

Such is indeed great poverty—--how touching it is when we think who he is, the God-Man, the Lord of heaven and earth, and what he might have possessed! But it is this which makes his poverty majestic and rich, that it is a voluntary poverty chosen out of love for us and with the intention of enriching us.

We are blessed in being called to share in our own little way the great poverty of this great God. We are thrilled also at the magnificent vagabondage of our life. We do not roam, but we cultivate the vagabond spirit of abandonment. We have nothing to live on, yet we live splendidly; nothing to walk on, yet we walk fearlessly; nothing to lean on, but yet we lean on God confidently; for we are his own and he is our provident Father. (226)

 

3. In order to help us deserve heaven, Christ set a condition: that at the moment of our death you and I—--whoever we might have been and wherever we have lived, Christians and non-Christians alike, every human being who has been created by the loving hand of God in his own image—--shall stand in his presence and be judged according to what we have been for the poor, what we have done for them.

Here a beautiful standard for judgment presents itself. We have to become increasingly aware that the poor are the hope of humanity, for we will be judged by how we have treated the poor. We will have to face this reality when we are summoned before the throne of God: “I was hungry. I was naked. I was homeless. And whatever you did to the least of my brethren, you did it to me.” (226)

 

4. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of your brothers is in my name. When you receive a little child you receive me. If in my name you give a glass of water, you give it to me.” And to make sure that we understand what he is talking about, he says that at the hour of death we are going to be judged only that way I was hungry, you gave me to eat. I was naked, you clothed me. I was homeless, you took me in. Hunger is not only for bread; hunger is for love. Nakedness is not only for a piece of clothing; nakedness is lack of human dignity, and also that beautiful virtue of purity, and lack of that respect for each other. Homelessness is not only being without a home made of bricks; homelessness is also being rejected, unwanted, unloved. (227)

 

 

...for I was hungry and you gave me food,

I was thirsty and you gave me drink,

I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

I was naked and you clothed me,

I was sick and you visited me,

I was in prison and you came to me... (227)

 

5. A sister was telling me that just two or three weeks ago she and some other sisters picked up a man from the streets in Bombay and brought him home. We have a big place donated to us which we have turned into a home for the dying. This man was brought there and the sisters took care of him. They loved him and treated him with dignity. Right away they discovered that the whole of his back had no skin, no flesh. It was all eaten up. After they washed him they put him on his bed, and this sister told me that she had never seen so much joy as she saw on the face of that man. Then I asked her, “What did you feel when you were removing those worms from his body; what did you feel?” And she looked at me and said, “I’ve never felt the presence of Christ; I’ve never really believed the word of Jesus saying, ‘I was sick and you did it to me.’ But his presence was there and I could see it on that man’s face.” This is the gift of God. (227)

 

6. The fullness of our heart comes in our actions: how I treat that leper, how I treat that dying person, how I treat the homeless. Sometimes it is more difficult to work with the street people than with the people in our homes for the dying because the dying are peaceful and waiting; they are ready to go to God. You can touch the sick and believe, or you can touch the leper and believe, that it is the body of Christ you are touching, but it is much more difficult when these people are drunk or shouting to think that this is Jesus in that distressing disguise. How clean and loving our hands must be to be able to bring that compassion to them! (228)

 

7. How pure our hands ought to be if we are to touch the body of Christ, just as the priest touches it under the likeness of bread. With what veneration and love does he lift up the consecrated Host! The same should our feeling be every time we touch the body of a sick person.   

It was this insight that transformed Father Damien into an apostle to the lepers, that made St. Vincent de Paul the father of the poor. St. Peter Claver used to lick the wounds of the black slaves. St. Francis of Assisi too, when he met a completely disfigured leper, at first wanted to run away but then embraced that horrible face. And this action filled him with unspeakable joy, to the point that the leper went away thanking God for his healing.

Why all this? Because all of these saints wanted to get as close as possible to God own heart. (228)

 

8. Hungry for love, he looks at you.

Thirsty for kindness, he begs from you.

Naked for loyalty, he hopes in you.

Sick and imprisoned for friendship, he wants from you.

Homeless for shelter in your heart, he asks of you.

Will you be that one to him? (228)

 

9. Christ said, “I was hungry and you gave me food.” He was hungry not only for bread but for the understanding love of being loved, of being known, of being someone to someone. He was naked not only of clothing but of human dignity and of respect, through the injustice that is done to the poor, who are looked down upon simply because they are poor. He was dispossessed not only of a house made of tricks but because of the dispossession of those who are locked up, of those who are unwanted and unloved, of those who walk through the world with no one to care for them. (229)

 

10. We give immediate and effective service to the poorest of the poor, as long as they have no one to help them, by:

-feeding the hungry: not only with food but also with the Word of God,

—giving drink to the thirsty not only for water, but for knowledge, peace, truth, justice, and love,

—clothing the naked not only with clothes, but also with human dignity;

—giving shelter to the homeless not only a shelter made of bricks, but a heart that understands, that covers, that loves;

—nursing the sick and the dying not only the body, but also the mind and spirit. (229)

 

11. Nakedness is not only the need for a piece of clothing. Nakedness is the need for human dignity which people sometimes lose, which we unjustly take away from the poor. We think they are useless and hopeless. We have so many adjectives for poor people! That is the real nakedness of our world today. Nakedness is being thrown away by society, unwanted, deserted. That man, that woman, that child--— it does not matter who—--is unwanted and thrown away. (229)

 

12. Our works of love are nothing but works of peace. Let us do them with greater love and efficiency, each one in her own or his own work in daily life; in your home, in your neighborhood, it is always the same Christ who says:

I was hungry not only for food but for peace that comes from a pure heart.

I was thirsty: not for water but for peace that satiates the passionate thirst of passion for war.

I was naked: not for clothes, but for that beautiful dignity of men and women for their bodies.

I was homeless: not for a shelter made of bricks but for a heart that understands, that covers, that loves. (230)

 

13. During the passion, Jesus’ face was like the face of a leper. When I see lepers I think that the passion of Christ is being re-lived in them. They are wonderful. They have no bitterness in their lives. At this very moment we are caring for fifty-three thousand lepers in India. It is wonderful to see how these people want to go on living. We are building rehabilitation centers. They have their own dispensaries and schools. They do their own work, and they lead a normal life. This has brought a new life and a new joy to their old lives. This also makes them feel like beloved children of God. (230)

 

As you did it to one of the least of these

my brethren, you did it to me.

 

14. When we handle the sick and the needy we touch the suffering body of Christ and this touch will make us heroic; it will make us forget the repugnance and the natural tendencies in us. We need the eyes of deep faith to see Christ in the broken body and dirty clothes under which the most beautiful one among the sons of men hides. We shall need the hands of Christ to touch these bodies wounded by pain and suffering. (230)

 

15. We need to be pure in heart to see Jesus in the person of the spiritually poorest. Therefore the more disfigured the image of God is in that person, the greater will be our faith and devotion in seeking Jesus’ face and lovingly ministering to him. We consider it an honor to serve Christ in the distressing disguise of the spiritually poorest; we do it with deep gratitude and reverence in a spirit of fraternal sharing. (230)

 

16. Whatever you do, even if you help somebody cross the road, you do it to Jesus. Even giving somebody a glass of water, you do it to Jesus. Such simple little teaching, but it is more and more important. (231)

 

17. The greatness of our vocation lies also in the fact that we are called upon to minister to Christ himself in the distressing disguise of the poor and suffering. We are called upon every day to exercise our ministry of handling the body of Christ in the form of a suffering humanity and of giving Holy Communion to all those with whom we come in contact by spreading the fragrance of his love wherever we go. (231)

 

18. I know you all love the poor—--otherwise you would not join—--but let each one of us try to make this love more kind, more charitable, more cheerful. Let our eyes see more clearly in deep faith the face of Christ in the face of the poor. (231)

 

19. In the poor, and in our sisters and brothers, it is Jesus, and so we are twenty-four hours in his presence. Therefore we are contemplatives in the heart of the world. If we would only learn how to pray the work by doing it with Jesus, for Jesus, to Jesus, for the glory of his name and the good of souls! (231)

 

20. May we never forget that in the service to the poor we are offered a magnificent opportunity to do something beautiful for God. In fact, when we give ourselves with all our hearts to the poor, it is Christ whom we are serving in their disfigured faces. For he himself said, “You did it to me.” (231)

 

21. If we really understand the Eucharist, if we really center our lives on Jesus’ body and blood, if we nourish our lives with the bread of the Eucharist, it will be easy for us to see Christ in that hungry one next door, the one lying in the gutter, that alcoholic man we shun, our husband or our wife, or our restless child. For in them, we will recognize the distressing disguises of the poor: Jesus in our midst. (231)

 

22. Each time you make these sacrifices, each time you think of the poor both near and far off, every time you give up something you would like and give it to the poor, you are feeding the hungry Christ, you are clothing the naked Christ, you are giving a home to the homeless Christ. Whether you are directly serving the poor or not, whenever you think of the poor and make sacrifices for them, you are really doing it to Christ. (232)

 

23. If everyone were capable of discovering the image of God in their neighbors, do you think that we would still need tanks and generals? (232)

 

24. Q: When will the day come in which the sea of poverty disappears?

MT: When all of us recognize that our suffering neighbor is the image of God himself and when we understand the consequences of that truth. That day poverty will no longer exist and we, the Missionaries of Charity, will no longer have any work to do. (232)

 

25. You may go out into the street and have nothing to say—--all right, but maybe there is a man standing there on the corner and you go to him. Maybe he resents you, but you are there, and that presence is there. You must radiate that presence that is within you, in the way you address that man with love and respect. Why? Because you believe that is Jesus. Jesus cannot receive you: for this you must know how to go to him. He comes disguised in the form of that person there. (232)

 

26. You cannot have the vow of charity if you have not got the faith to see Jesus in the people you meet. Otherwise our work is no more than social work. What if you feel a disgust and run away? Feelings don’t count. Run away but come back without delay. (232)

 

27. On one occasion when we were discussing food supplies and other such things, a senator from the United States said, “Turning our backs on the poor is the same as turning our backs on Christ.” You can apply this truth to yourself. If you truly strive to give your whole lives to Christ and try to help people to see Christ in others, if you love Christ in your neighbor and love one another as Christ loves you, you will understand. (233)

 

28. It is the individual that is important to us. In order to love a person, one must come close to him or her. If we wait until there is a given number of people, we will get lost in numbers and will never be able to show respect and love for one concrete person. To me, every person in the world is unique. (233)

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