Mother Teresa on be a Cause of Joy to One Another from Brian Kolodiejchuk
All the passages below are taken from Brian Kolodiejchuk’s book “Mother Teresa—Where there is Love, There is God” published in 2010. This book is in some ways a sequel to “Mother Teresa—Come Be My Light,” published in 2007.
Of the eight Beatitudes, “the heart of Jesus’ preaching” (in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 1716), Mother Teresa most frequently mentioned the sixth: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Only a clean heart, as she rendered it, can “see God under the appearance of Bread and in the distressing disguise of the poor.” A pure heart is a heart freed from all attachment, a heart centered on God and able to perceive His presence in others. And “if you see God in each other you will love each other as God loves you,” you will “become a cause of joy to each other.”
Purity of heart enables one to perceive God’s presence and His loving action in all the events of life, the most trivial as well as the most demanding. The natural response, then, is to return love for love. “Take whatever He gives and give whatever He takes, with a big smile.” This exhortation that Mother Teresa formulated while in deep spiritual aridity reveals her characteristic response to God in any given circumstance: that of total surrender, loving trust, and cheerfulness.
“Let Him do with me whatever He wants, as He wants, for as long as He wants.” These words express the degree of her surrender to God. A conversation she had makes explicit the reason for such a response: “Once a nun told me she was surprised at my surrender to God because she was afraid to give God her fingers lest He take her hand. I am not afraid of the one who is in love—who loves me in such a way as to die for me.”
She abandoned herself to His good pleasure, not out of fear but because she knew she was loved and was drawn by the force and tenderness of that love. Determined to “give Jesus a free hand and let Him use [her] without consulting [her],” she held nothing back, endeavoring to give always more, to give all, surrendering to Him unconditionally and without reserve.
“God in the New Testament is the God of love, compassion, and mercy. That is why we can trust Him fully, there is no more fear.” Believing that God’s love was without limit she in turn placed no limit on her trust in God. No obstacle or failure could lessen her trust in God’s infinite wisdom and unfailing love; she knew that He could work out His designs in spite of the inadequacies of the instruments.
The confidence by which Our Lady lived inspired her own: “Mary too showed her complete trust in God by accepting to be used for His plan of salvation in spite of her nothingness, for she knew that He who is mighty can do great things in her and through her.” Hence Mother Teresa put her own “nothingness” at God’s disposal, trusting that He would do marvels through her while she fulfilled the mission He entrusted to her. And her trust was not disappointed.
Joy, expressed by her radiant smile, was one of Mother Teresa’s distinctive traits. Hers was “the joy of loving,” “the joy of sharing,” “the joy of giving,” and it is this joy that made God’s presence tangible to those she met. It required faith, and was an expression of faith.
It was a challenge at times not to give into discouragement in the face of her interior darkness and the daily encounter with the terrible sufferings of her poor; she deliberately chose not to act not on her feelings but on her convictions, taking the firm resolution to offer “a hearty `Yes’ to God and a big smile for all.” From her own lived experience, she could tell her sisters: “An MC must be an MC of joy. By this sign the world will know you are MCs.”
“I prefer you to make mistakes in kindness than to work a miracle in unkindness,” Mother Teresa wrote to her sisters. This was a principle she herself followed. It was precisely this attitude of being kindly disposed that led her to look at others’ actions in a favorable light, to give them the benefit of the doubt or to overlook a mistake. This kindness made her approachable and sought after even by people whose opinions were opposed to hers. Such kindness that communicates love was what she demanded of her sisters: “Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting. In the slums we are the light of God’s kindness to the poor.”
Compassion—not just sympathy for the sufferer, but a suffering with the person—had become “second nature” to her. She never grew accustomed to other’s suffering; nor could she ignore it or resign herself to being a helpless spectator. Rather, she consistently challenged herself and others to do something for those whose distress she witnessed, even when it involved sacrifice on her part or on the part of those who could help.
Mother Teresa was spontaneous and natural in what she did and in the way she attended to her work. No matter how simple or seemingly insignificant the task at hand, she performed it with deliberateness and with care for the least detail. This was how she expressed her love. She often repeated, “it is not how much we do but how much love we put into our doing.” Attracted by the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa’s well known exhortation to do “small things with great love, ordinary things with extraordinary love,” was an expansion of her patroness’ teaching. She further added, “The smaller the thing the greater the love.”
“Love begins at home”; this is where the practice of doing small things with great love begins. It was “at home”—in one’s family or in one’s community, with those closest—that the genuineness of love is easily tested and proved. “How can you love other people if you do not have love in your own family?” she would ask. She herself was noted for her thoughtfulness, and expressed her love through small gestures, often hidden, that caused the recipient to “light up” with joy and gratitude.
Mother Teresa held that loving those closest to us is the way to begin transforming the world: “Love begins at home and so from here from our own home—love will spread to my neighbor, in the street [where] I live, in the town [where] I live, in the whole world.” She reminded those desiring to share in her service to the poor that loving the members of one’s family could be more challenging than doing occasional service to the distant needy but just as valuable.
Mother Teresa focused on bringing comfort to those on the fringes of human society, showing to those who felt unwanted, unloved, and uncared for, that God wants them, God loves them, God cares for them. This was her lifework. Her accomplishments were extraordinary, but in reality they were made up of simple, ordinary actions, “humble deeds of love,” which anyone could perform. Daily life, by and large, is made up of precisely these “small things,” while opportunities to do great things are relatively few and far between. Mother Teresa therefore availed herself of the thousand and one opportunities of “doing ordinary things with extraordinary love” that allowed others to recognize that they are loved and cared for.
She was wholly convinced that her mission to the poor was God’s work because she had embarked on it in answer to His call. She was afraid of her weakness and limitations, yet God had shown her numerous times that He was “in charge.” Answering her complaint that she was inadequate for the mission He was entrusting to her, Jesus had told her, “You are, I know, the most incapable person, weak & sinful, but just because you are that I want to use you, for my Glory! Wilt thou refuse?” These words, not all that flattering, had a sobering effect for her. Her weakness and sinfulness were not sufficient reason for rejecting His call or an excuse for not doing what Jesus asked. How could she refuse? And God kept using her as a channel of His love to the poor for years to come. This awareness made her assert: “God is using nothingness to show His greatness.”
Consciousness that her work among the world’s poor was not her own, Mother Teresa stated: “I am only a pencil in God’s hand.” She knew her gifts as well as her weaknesses. Her gifts did not make her proud or fill her with self-complacency nor did her weaknesses cause her to despise herself or wallow in self-pity. She accepted the reality of who she was and welcomed all she received with gratitude. Desiring always and only to do God’s will, she feared losing her role of being a simple instrument.
“I want the work to remain `God’s work’ in every detail. It is true, I do it with my whole heart and soul but I do it for Him—letting Him use me as He pleases—to the full of His will—I claim nothing in the work as I know by myself I have nothing in me which could do this work.” Great respect for the sacredness of her mission kept her on guard against pride in the face of her visible accomplishments and the subsequent praise it brought. She warned her followers as well against this danger and often concluded her speeches asking, “Pray for us that we may not spoil God’s work.”
Mother Teresa traversed the world numerous times to bring help and solace to the poor. Despite all the good she did, however, changes were not particularly notable. Many challenged her efforts by citing lack of results: There were still so many poor, and the causes of their poverty for the most part remained unchanged. But she had never promised or pretended that she could change social structures and eradicate poverty. God had not called her to deal with the social or political problems of the world but to touch the individual sufferer in his or her immediate need. She was aware that her work was but “a drop in the ocean,” yet as she said, “without that drop the ocean would be one drop less.” She contributed what she could and encouraged others to do the same.
“Many people say that we should work with social programs and with development programs; we are not here for that. Those are some other peoples’ work. Let everyone do what each can. I beg you sisters, never get mixed up. Love is for today, programs are for the future.” Though she sincerely appreciated the efforts of those working to improve the lives of the vulnerable members of society, she insisted that she and her followers were not social workers. Her mission, while similar in its attempt to bring help to those in need, was of a different scope. It had its origin in a precise call from God and its aim in a mandate received from Him. By her concrete service, she was to bring “souls to God, and God to souls.” She remained dedicated to this call with utmost fidelity, proving to those she served that—even if they felt abandoned and rejected they were truly loved and cared for.
Mother Teresa brought hope to those who felt helpless in their suffering, often by simply reminding them of God’s love. When people came to her with any difficulty, she always found a way to console and encourage them. Her support in suffering, advice in doubt, or practical aid in a time of need were a sign of God’s love to many. At other times, all she could give was a smile, a kind word, a holy card, or a medal with a promise of prayer, yet these small tokens of love also helped to restore hope, enthusiasm, a reason to live, or a desire to love.
Even during her lifetime, people recognized Mother Teresa’s exceptional holiness and called her “a living saint.” To indiscreet remarks made about her sanctity, she would respond with utter simplicity: “Holiness is not a luxury of the few, but a simple duty for you and for me.” Since sanctity should be our normal state, there was no reason for self-glorification.
In stating that holiness was a simple duty for everyone, Mother Teresa was not implying that it was easily achieved. Fully aware that holiness is a fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit in the soul, she also stressed that it required effort and a strong resolution on our part. “I will, I want, with God’s blessing, be holy,” was a recurring refrain on her lips in the last years of her life. Though her physical strength failed over time, her determination to strive for holiness never diminished.
Mother Teresa touched what is most fundamental in every person: the need to love and to be loved. Directing her life’s work to those in whom this need was least met, she revealed to them something of God’s love and compassion. Thus she became a sign that God IS, that He is present and that He still loves the world. She used to repeat often, “God still loves the world through you and through me.” For this reason, she insisted that her followers live conscientiously their calling of being a Missionary of Charity—a carrier of God’s love.
The situations of extreme material or spiritual poverty that she identified and confronted in the developing as well as in the developed world were often a challenge to society’s structures and to the individual conscience. Inspired by her example, many desired to participate in her mission of love, but not everyone was called to work directly with the poor. All, however, are called to carry out his or her particular mission and contribute to building up a “civilization of love,” as John Paul II called it. Mother Teresa knew how to respect, appreciate, and encourage the distinctive talents and efforts of others: “All God’s gifts are good, but they are not all the same.” To those who wanted in some way to imitate her example, she replied: “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.” Doing something beautiful for God in every instant of her life was precisely her way of making the world a better and more loving place to live in.[287-295]