Mother Teresa on What Prevents Me from Loving 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.
Created by God and for God, who is infinitely good, we are to live in a loving relationship with Him and with one another. Not only has the Creator placed in every human heart a basic moral code to direct each person to do good and to reject evil, He has also spelt out the ways of love in the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, we discover within ourselves many obstacles to love and struggle to overcome them. Stemming from the sin of our first parents when they abused the freedom God had given them and disobeyed His command, we have a tendency to prefer ourselves to God and to act against His will and our own good. Mother Teresa puts it bluntly: “When I choose evil, I sin. That’s where my will comes in. When I seek something for myself at the cost of everything else, I deliberately choose sin. Say, for example, that I am tempted to tell a lie, and then I accept to tell the lie. Well, my mind is impure. I have burdened myself. I have put an obstacle between me and God. That lie has won. I preferred the lie to God.” To attain the happiness for which we have been created, we must constantly use our will to act against any sinful inclinations, and reject all sin, for it distances us from God and enslaves us to our inordinate desires.
Being part of the fallen human race, every person is a sinner and has a “root” sin to battle against. We are therefore to refrain from judging or condemning others for their weaknesses and sins. In this regard, Mother Teresa counseled, “We must not judge … we cannot say they are doing the right thing—but why they are doing it we do not know.” While being ever merciful to the sinner, she did not shirk from the duty of addressing behaviors that were sinful.
She often spoke of “uncharitableness,” referring mainly to the sins of the tongue: detraction and calumny, or any form of gossip. These sins pained her deeply. From her own mother, she had learned a few salutary lessons about respect for others’ honor and good name, especially in speech. Refusing to focus on what is negative or allow it to interfere with her choice to love, she always found something positive to say about even the most distressing situation. One felt instinctively uneasy to criticize in her presence. If anyone did pass a negative remark or criticized someone else, especially the poor, she directed their attention to a sobering reality: “If we were in their place, we do not know how we would be or what we would do-maybe worse.”
Another seemingly minor fault that occupied a prominent place in Mother Teresa’s list of “significant” sins was grumbling. For her, grumbling pointed to a lack of practical faith, to the failure to see God’s hand in the particular circumstances, to reluctance to surrender to His will. Grumbling or murmuring are killers of joy; they destroy the joy of giving and the joy of loving. By her own example, she showed that it is much more constructive and beneficial to all to look for a way to bring out good from a situation, however far from perfect it may be.
Mother Teresa saw bitterness as a major obstacle to love and an impediment to one’s spiritual life. Unwillingness to forgive results in resentment and bitterness or a desire for revenge, and is a sturdy “link” in the chain of evil. In our interactions, it is inevitable that we will get hurt and will hurt others-usually unintentionally. Holding onto hurts and bearing grudges is detrimental to all, especially to the one who does not forgive. Sensitive by nature, Mother Teresa suffered keenly from hurts, but she was determined not to let them control or influence her choices. Instead of focusing on herself, she focused on the person who hurt her, actually feeling sorry for them because she knew that in reality they were hurting themselves more than her. By her forgiveness, she offered everyone the opportunity to start anew.
“Moodiness is sickness.” With this terse statement Mother Teresa placed moodiness on the list of spiritual ailments that seriously hinder love. Moodiness, a form of passive retaliation, manifested by stubbornly and silently showing one’s dissatisfaction, revealed the inner reality of many hidden sins: pride, anger, lack of forgiveness, resentment. Moodiness has a paralyzing effect on others (community or family), but even more so on the one who gives into this fault, as it cripples his or her ability to love and grow in love. If joy is contagious, so is the lack of it.
God’s command to love one another allows no room for indifference, no exceptions to the obligation to love, no excuses for a lack of concern. We are required, as Mother Teresa would say, to “have eyes that see” the needs of our brothers and sisters and do something to help them. Indifference or hardness of heart toward the pain and suffering of others is an evil that she challenged. To the message, “I couldn’t care less,” conveyed by some, Mother Teresa’s actions declared, “I couldn’t care more.”
Rejecting or shunning others on account of their poverty or blaming them for it, was a great injustice in Mother Teresa’s eyes. Whatever the reason for a person’s problems, she was convinced that help and care were their due. Her first response when encountering someone in distress was to seek to offer immediate and effective help, and only later to find out the reasons for the difficulty. Coming to the defense of the poor if someone blamed them for their poverty, she would ask, “What would you do if you were in their place?” In fact, she made her listeners aware that perhaps they might be more responsible for others’ poverty than they thought.
A frequent topic in her public speeches was respect for human life from conception to natural death. In her profound respect and love for the Giver of life, she staunchly upheld His rights by opposing any form of violence against human life, speaking out in defense of the weakest and most vulnerable human beings.
She considered abortion the greatest destroyer of peace in the world. The reason behind such a statement is logical: Once it is permissible and socially acceptable to kill one’s own flesh and blood, others not bound by family ties have much less “right” to love, care, and life; much more easily can they be “disposed of ” at will. If, in order to protect often unjust and selfish interests such as love of comfort and pleasure, a society turns directly against the child in its mother’s womb, it will eventually and without scruple eliminate other defenseless beings as well. It can become a very slippery slope.
The elderly, sick, or disabled, increasingly considered “a burden” to society, are among the vulnerable in the world today. Mother Teresa particularly deplored any form of disregard or neglect shown to the elderly members of one’s family in need of care. As “love begins at home,” our first responsibility is to our own. Incapacities or sufferings do not diminish the inherent dignity of each person. Suffering is part of every human life and, depending on one’s attitude, can be a source of tremendous blessing, not only for the sufferer but for those close to him or her. Through the receiving and giving of needed love and care, both can be drawn closer to each other and to God and to the realization of the true purpose of one’s existence: to know, to love and to serve God and so attain eternal happiness.
Another regular theme of Mother Teresa’s public discourses was the sacredness of marriage and the importance of family life, as the family constitutes the basic nucleus of society. The well-being of society rests upon the wellbeing of the family. This “domestic school of love” provides the authority, stability, and relationships that children need in order to become mature adults, able to contribute to the building of a healthy society. Her opposition to divorce, which was roundly criticized by some, was based on her faith in the permanence of marriage, the sacred bond between a man and a woman. Not unaware of the difficulties that exist, she advocated that it is possible to learn to live together in love.
The home is (or should be) the primary and the most natural environment in which love is given and received. The love and unity of the family serves as the foundation for the growth of the children, providing a sense of identity, peace, trust, openness, and joy that will prepare them to take their place in society. Small acts of thoughtfulness to those closest to us make them feel welcome, accepted, worthy, and appreciated. The home offers ample opportunities for sharing joys, bearing hardships together, providing support in suffering, putting oneself at the disposal of others, seeking not to be served but rather to serve—all expressions of love. Where “tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule,”1 the family, both parents and children, will grow in holiness.
Still, Mother Teresa was aware that a family is affected by each member’s weakness and sinfulness, so that the home can be at times a place where deep hurt is experienced. She insisted on the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, while being under no illusion of how demanding this could be. “The family that prays together stays together,” Mother Teresa never tired of repeating, quoting Fr. Patrick Peyton, CSC. Like the saints before her, she was sure that all difficulties can be overcome with prayer.
When faced with the temptation to sin—to fail in love—Mother Teresa’s primary counsel was to seek help where help is always available: to turn to God in prayer. She knew that God’s grace would always accompany good will and effort. In this way temptations become opportunities for growth and for (even greater!) good. Counting on divine help and opening oneself to receive it were important strategies for fighting temptation and overcoming barriers to love.
To overcome temptations, a strong resolve to stay on the right path is needed. “I don’t want it” was her recommended response to the lure of sin. One must not be swayed by feelings or moods or by others’ opinions. She frequently quoted St. Teresa of Avila: “Satan is terribly afraid of resolute souls.” For Mother Teresa, everything depended on these two words: “I will” or “I won’t.” Thus a “strong resolution” was essential to achieve good and to avoid evil.
A resolute soul, she affirmed, has no need to be afraid even of the devil for “nobody, not even the devil, can make you do what you don’t want.” Aware of the pitfalls one can encounter on the way, Mother Teresa warned against the tactics of “the father of lies” who comes disguised as “an angel of light.” With a bit of humor she commented, “If I were to give a Nobel Prize for patience to anybody, I would give it to the devil, for he is very clever [in] the way he works and he has infinite patience.”
“Do not hide” was another of Mother Teresa’s maxims. Openness with the right person (e.g., one’s superior, spiritual director, or confessor) regarding some difficulty helps to prevent one from becoming preoccupied or even obsessed with oneself and one’s problems. She used to advise to “speak in time,” as she knew how helpful a word from someone qualified could be in the time of struggle.
“Keep busy,” Mother Teresa finally recommended when faced with impure thoughts or temptations. Doing something useful to divert one’s attention from such thoughts could be very salutary. Not dwelling on the problem or not struggling with it to the point of becoming obsessed by it were further practical counsels that Mother Teresa gave to help people not to lose their equilibrium.
Mother Teresa never gave in to discouragement on encountering any failure to love in herself or others. Knowing that God’s mercy is greater than any sin, she turned to Him for forgiveness and encouraged others to do likewise. The sacrament of confession this marvelous gift of God’s healing love-was the great means of being reconciled with the Lord and with all one’s brothers and sisters. Recognizing herself as a sinner, she approached the sacrament of reconciliation after a careful examination of conscience, admitting to the wrong done, repenting of it, and resolving to amend her behavior. From this meeting with Jesus she emerged forgiven, healed, and strengthened. Mother Teresa often repeated, “We go to confession as a sinner with sin, and we come out as a sinner without sin.”
If she had wronged anyone, Mother Teresa was prompt to acknowledge her fault and apologize. It requires courage and humility to say, “I am sorry,” but it is often the only path to reconciliation and peace. She not only sought reconciliation with anyone she might have wronged, but also with those who wronged her. Faithfully practicing the principles she had taught her sisters, she would “be the first to say `sorry,”‘ even if she was not the one at fault, so as to give the offender the opportunity to be reconciled and begin anew. Going a step further, she even accepted being falsely accused, seeing it as an opportunity of imitating Jesus: “When somebody blames you if your conscience is clear, thank God. Grab the beautiful chance. That is the best way to come closer to Jesus.” [63-70]
1. CCC 2223.