MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA
Grief all over the world for the death of the angel of the poor
MOTHER TERESA: A LIFE COPIED FROM THE GOSPEL
She lived for the poor. But now the world has become poorer since, on the evening of Friday 5 September, unable to withstand the last of many heart attacks, Mother Teresa died in the house where she and her sisters had lived in Calcutta since the 1940s. She was 87 years old and her face - tiny like her whole figure, and deeply wrinkled - had become the very epitome of charity and of the total gift of self to others. She was called the Mother of the poor. But even among the various forms of poverty Mother Teresa managed to push herself to the extreme limit, just as her love of Christ was extreme and total. She chose to be with the poorest of the poor and, in this search she made the world - believers and non-believers - read pages of a living Gospel, of a Gospel at work among the conquests and contradictions of our times. The death of Mother Teresa aroused very strong emotion and sorrow in every corner of the world. Her charity has left traces in every continent. But beside the sorrow, the feeling that prevails is serenity. Mother Teresa has gone to take the place to which she is entitled.
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«At this time of prayer I am pleased to recall our very dear sister, Mother Teresa of Calcutta... Missionary of Charity. Her mission began every day, before dawn, in the presence of the Eucharist. In the silence of contemplation, Mother Teresa of Calcutta heard the echo of Jesus' cry on the cross: "I thirst". This cry, received in the depths of her heart, spurred her to seek out Jesus in the poor, the abandoned and the dying on the streets of Calcutta and to all the ends of the earth. Dear brothers and sisters, this sister, universally known as the Mother of the poor, leaves an eloquent example for everyone, believer and non-believer. She leaves us the witness of God's love, which she accepted and which transformed her life into a total gift to her brothers and sisters. She leaves us the witness of contemplation which becomes love, of love which becomes contemplation. The works she accomplished speak for themselves and show the people of our time that lofty meaning of life which unfortunately seems often to be lost».
(John Paul II at the Angelus of Sunday 7 September)
THIS IS HOW I REMEMBER HER...
Archbishop of Loreto and President of the National Committee for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000
She looked at me with two clear and piercing eyes. Then she asked me: «How many hours do you pray a day?» I was surprised by such a question and tried to defend myself by saying: «Mother, I expected you to speak about charity, to invite me to love the poor more. Why do you ask me how many hours I pray?» Mother Teresa took my hands and held them tightly in her own as if she wanted to pass on to me what she had in her heart; then she told me in confidence: «My child, without God we are too poor to be able to help the poor! Remember: I am only a poor woman who prays. When I pray, God puts His Love into my heart and so I can love the poor. By praying!» I have never forgotten this meeting: Mother Teresa's secret is all here. We met again many times (the last time on 22 May this year), but I found all Mother Teresa's actions and decisions wonderfully consistent with this conviction of faith: «When I pray, God puts His Love into my heart, and so...».
In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize: she accepted it with surprise, remaining quietly small in God's hands. She went to collect the Prize clutching a rosary in her large hands, accustomed to the toil of work and the sweetness of a caress: no one dared to reproach her for her love of Our Lady, not even in a rigidly Lutheran country!
On her way back from Oslo, Mother Teresa made a stop-over in Rome. Several reporters were gathered in the outer courtyard of the Missionaries of Charity's humble house on the Coelium Hill. Mother Teresa did not try to avoid the reporters, but she received them like children, putting a miraculous medal into the hand of each one of them. The reporters were generous with their photos and questions; one question was a little naughty: «Mother, you are seventy! When you die, the world will be as it was before. What has changed after so much effort?» Mother Teresa could have reacted with a little holy indignation, instead she smiled brightly, as if they had kissed her affectionately. And she added: «Well, I never thought I would be able to change the world! I have only tried to be a drop of clean water in which God's love could sparkle. Does that seem little?»
The reporters did not know what to answer, while an attentive and emotional silence had fallen around Mother Teresa. She started to speak again and asked the "cheeky" reporter: «Why don't you try to be a drop of clean water, and then there will be two of us. Are you married?». «Yes, Mother».. «Tell your wife as well and then there will be three of us. Have you any children?». «Three children, Mother». «Tell your children too and then there will be six of us...».
There was no need to add anything else: Mother Teresa had said clearly that each of us holds a small, but indispensable, capital of love; it is this personal capital of love that we must be anxious to invest: the rest is useless digression or sterile polemics or a pretence of doing our duty.
In 1988 she came to Porto Santo Stefano (GR), where I was parish priest: it was a wonderful, immense and unexpected gift. It was 18 May and, after a sudden storm, the sky was blue and cloudless again merging with the smiling sea. Mother Teresa gazed like a child at the unique scenery of Mount Argentario and this is what she said: «How beautiful this place is! In such a beautiful place, you too must try to have beautiful souls».
These words were sufficient to arouse the attention and stir the hearts of more than twenty thousand people. Then, with the logic of faith, Mother Teresa added: «Life is God's greatest gift. This is why it is painful to see what is happening today: life is voluntarily destroyed by wars, violence and abortion. And we were created by God for greater things: to love and to be loved! The greatest destroyer of peace in the world is abortion. If a mother can kill her own child in the cradle of her womb, who will be able to stop me and you killing one another?».
These words seemed luminous rays shining in the dark sky: each of us felt we had been found out and every crumb of egoism burnt and became a healthy rebuke. At the end of the Prayer Vigil something happened which I will always remember. Even when I remember it now, I am still deeply moved. A rich industrialist had told me of his intention to give Mother Teresa his villa for Aids patients and he had the keys in his hand ready to give them to Mother. I told Mother Teresa of his proposal and she answered immediately:
«I must pray, I must think about it: I don't know whether it is a good thing to bring people suffering from Aids to an important tourist spot. And if they were to be rejected? They would suffer twice over!». What wisdom! What inner freedom!
But to all of us, men and women of little faith, it seemed that Mother Teresa was about to lose a wonderful and rare opportunity. A distinguished gentleman, who had heard what had been said, felt he ought to give his advice: «Mother, in the meantime take the keys and then we will see...». Mother Teresa, without hesitation, perhaps feeling hurt in what she held most dear and precious, ended the conversation by saying firmly: «No, sir! Because what I do not need is a burden to me!».
These words are a masterpiece. They remind me of what Saint Bonaventure wrote about Saint Francis: «No one loved wealth as much as Francis loved poverty!». Mother Teresa was like that. She was a clear river of faith that blossomed into works of charity: faith, and only faith, was the source of her actions.
In 1991, always during the month of May, she came to Massa Marittima (GR). To my great surprise she told me of her decision to open a house for Contemplative Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity in Piombino: «They will pray before Jesus in the Tabernacle - she told me - and so the light of his goodness will spread. Pure hearts are needed to receive Love! Pure hearts!»
We went by helicopter from Massa Marittima to the Island of Elba for a second prayer meeting. During the journey I pointed out to Mother Teresa various places on the Tyrrhenian coast, while she sent them all the gift of a Hail Mary. At a certain point, a man who was with us on the flight, fell to his knees beside me and, in a trembling voice, said to me, «Father, I don't know what is happening to me! I feel that God, God himself, is watching me through the eyes of that woman».
I told Mother Teresa immediately what I had just heard. She, with disarming calmness, commented: «Tell him that God has been watching him for a long time: it was he who did not realize it...! God is love!». And, turning to the man, she squeezed his hand affectionately and gave him some medals of Our Lady: they seemed kisses which bore the fragrance of God's love. Mother Teresa was like that: simple, humble, crystal-clear, evangelically transparent.
On 22 May last she sent me a message for the 6th World Day of the Sick, which will be held in Loreto on 11 February 1998. This is what the Message says: «Dear brothers and sisters who suffer! You are so close to the heart of Jesus Crucified that, without coming down from the cross, he can kiss you and let you share His Love. Be Saints! All for Jesus through Mary...». It is her testimony: love... love! Letting it be Jesus, however, the Face and Presence of God's Love, who fills us with Love.