Mother Teresa Her Spirit still Lives on
By Fr. Niall O’Brien
Vocation within a vocation
A year ago, Mother Teresa of Calcutta died, this extraordinary woman was born in Albania which subsequently became the first officially atheist country in the world. They young Albanian woman joined the Loreto Sisters. She was sent to Ireland to train.
Dying in the Streets
From there she was sent to India to teach in a Catholic School run by the Loreto Sisters. That was were she found her second ‘vocation within a vocation’. When the young Teresa went though Calcutta she saw people dying right here along the streets. She began to try to help. However she soon realized that this was a full time job. So she asked to be releases from the Sisters of Loreto and to start a small group of Sisters who would look after the dying in the streets.
First, she was allowed a period of trial but eventually Rome accepted this new religious order with the special emphasis on looking after the dying and dedicated to a life of simplicity. For example, the posses only two saris and a bucket – no, TV, radio, or tape recorder is allowed in their convent
Soon Mother Teresa’s works develop. From looking after the dying, she took up other works like looking after abandoned babies, lepers, aids, victims and her own campaign for the unborn. Her Order spread from country to country. It‘s now all over the world including the Philippines. Today she has some three thousand sever hundred professes sisters in some hundred and twenty two countries.
When Mother Teresa died last year the whole world mourned. She has become a legend. The Indian Government gave her a state funeral and her body now rests at the Mother House in Calcutta.
In Australia I met an Indian Bishop of the Church of St. Thomas. We ate together at the airport. I think that the Church of South India is connected to the Anglican Church. Anyway we got to talking about Mother Teresa who had just buried. I asked him if there was any negative reaction in India to the fact that she had been given a military funeral. “No,” he said. “That was the highest honor we could show her.” Only two Indians ever received this honor: Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru, the founder of the State. [Even Indira Gandhi did not receive a military funeral.] The Bishop felt that the military trappings were irrelevant and had no military significance. But he Indian people were claiming Mother Teresa as their own forever and this was the traditional way to express this.
However, there have been vehement critics of Mother Teresa. For example, some have said, “Would it not have been better to look for medicine for the sick than to just prepare them for death.” The people who made that criticism have obviously never spent much time in coping with the abandoned in the streets of Calcutta. This people were dying when Mother Teresa went off to look for medicine. By the time she got the medicine and came back they were already dead.
That was her actual real life experience. Soon she realized that even more than medicine these abandoned people needed affection, they needed the caring touch of a loving hand, the needed a tender word in the ear. Someone is here. Someone cares. Of course, some could be cured. But we must realize she was dealing normally with the very desperate cases. I am sure that that when Mother Teresa got a little on top of things and medicine flowed in she was able to give medicine (as do her sisters here in Bacolod, Negros) but showing love has always been her priority.
The Social Question
Another criticism was that she didn’t work to change the social situation or the political structure which gives rise to these unspeakable conditions. Not directly, that’ true. But Mother Teresa, like Diana, brought the images of the dying and destitute before the whole world so that their situation willy-nilly got on the social and political agenda of the world, in a way it would never have done if Mother Teresa had not made those gesture of love. Apart from that, if you’ve tried caring for a few healthy babies, not to mention caring for many dying people, you won’t have too much time left for changing world structures. The irony is that a woman who was formed before Vatican II and who did not therefore explicitly asked the social questions nevertheless that woman has so pierced the soul of India that the social question is now branded on its conscience.
She Spoke out Courageously
Yet another criticism was that she accepted money from what could be called ‘tainted’ sources: Duvallier, Imelda Marcos and so on. In fact she took it from anyone for the poor. I am one of those who believe that we should question the source of money we ask for our projects. But what if the money is for dying? For the destitute? Well that’s another thing. I become less sure. But listen to this: it’s one thing to accept money from a tainted source and not to say anything to that person who gave the money. We priests are in this position frequently. Are we prepared to tell someone who is generous to us for our new Church of their obligation to look after the people on their obligation to look after the people on their farm properly? The fact is that Mother Teresa did speak out her unpopular views to president or whoever. She didn’t care how much money was given her. She spoke about abortion or the needs of the poor and the danger of riches. So much so that some people were shocked. President Clinton is said to have leaned over to someone next to him after she chided him publicly on his abortion stand and said: I wish I had the faith of that woman.” So no one can accuse her of toadying to the powerful. Anyway she looked on the rich and powerful too as being loved by God. She did not see them merely as social category. She saw them as individuals in need of a reminding word. She was not afraid to give that word.
I suppose what is most threatening about Mother Teresa was her strong supernatural outlook. Certainly I myself felt threatened by her strong belief that this world is only a passing place and that we would prepare ourselves now in heaven. Who else in the world but Mother Teresa would have handed to the beautiful Diana a rosary beads. A reminder of the world to come. That’s the rosary beads that accompanied Diana to the grave.