It Is More Blessed To Give Than To Receive
Sebastian Vazhakala, MC
Co-founder with Blessed Mother Teresa of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative
A tribute to Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta on the anniversary of her death, 5 September
We all have witnessed something extraordinary happening around the world since the night of 5 September 1997, when Mother Teresa's soul abandoned her frail body to quench once and for all the infinite thirst of her Lord and Saviour that she tried to quench with every fibre of her being, on the streets of Calcutta and of the world. Although it is hard for us to accept the reality of her not being with us, the fact is that she returned to the Source of Love and Grace from where she will continue to shower many graces.
On the other hand it is absolutely necessary for us to accept the "Kairos of God", the divine hour of God's visitation for which she was always ready. So our beloved Mother whom we all loved and who loved us all so dearly disappeared from the visible horizons of our lives to be totally united to Jesus, like a piece of iron stuck to the magnet and never to be separated.
Already from a distance she might have heard the words of the Master: "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world". We can imagine that there in heaven waiting to welcome her was a long line of the Missionaries of Charity (M.C.) Community, with Sr Agnes and Sr Sylvia in front, as well as an endless line of the poorest of the poor whom Mother Teresa fed, clothed, sheltered, visited and buried; those in thousands who have lived like animals on the street but have died like angels with dignity, loved and cared by her and the members of the M.C. Family in the homes of the dying destitute, and the many lepers and AIDS patients.
I wonder if there has ever been such a reception in heaven or a funeral of the same sort for any person of any time or place. For her, everything was so unique and unprecedented. Never before has any religious had a State and Catholic funeral at the same time.
Moving on from all these unique privileges that our Beloved Mother received both in life and at her death — not only from her beloved daughters and sons of the Family of the Missionaries of Charity but also from the whole world — we now proceed to some of the principal teachings of our "Little Mahatma", Mother Teresa.
If Calcutta can be taken as a cesspool, especially in the 1940s, Mother Teresa can be seen as the Lotus. Immediately after the World War, India became independent from the British but not from problems. There was a continual exodus of millions — especially from East Pakistan — the majority of whom found their home on the sidewalks and in the old, unused buildings of Calcutta. Many could be found lying prostrate on both sides of the roads, a phenomenon that is still present in Calcutta. Deprived of all human comforts and consolations, the poorest and the rejected cried to God for help. God saw the affliction of the poor and heard their cry. He called this woman — simple, humble, small in stature and until that time quite unknown to the world — to be his messenger of love and tender care while she was on her way to Darjeeling on to September 1946.
What did she learn from this experience on to September? She learnt that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth is still hungry and thirsty for love of souls — especially among the poorest of the poor, irrespective of caste, colour, creed or nationality — and that she was being called to satisfy the hunger of Jesus and of the poor through prayer, penance and whole-hearted free service to them.
She also learnt that the needs of the person take precedence over any other consideration such as religion, colour or nationality. Her first question was not what religion a person belonged to or what country he or she came from, but whether that person was in need of any help and what she could do to alleviate the pain.
When I began working in the home for the dying in Kalighat, Calcutta, in 1967, there was a man close to death who was brought by the Calcutta Corporation Ambulance. Once inside, with care and love, the simple medicines available and some food, he was able to regain his strength; as soon as he was a little better he would go out to the street again and then within a few days an ambulance would bring him back. This happened over 15 times within a couple of months. I used to get upset and even angry with him for this. One day when he was brought back, I told Mother Teresa, "This man has been here over 15 times; there is no sense in taking him in again. In a couple of days' time he is going to go back to the street". Mother looked at me and said: "Listen, Brother Sebastian, does this man need your help now or not?" I said yes. "Then do whatever you can to help him. The question is not how many times he has been to us but how we can help him now. Plus, whatever we do to him we do to Jesus".
This then is the point: although the religion of the person was not her first consideration, every person she served was Jesus for her. She was always aware that whatever we do to the least of our brothers we do to Jesus. And therefore she decided to make a fourth vow of wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor among whom she loved and served Jesus.
Mother Teresa understood that the same Jesus whom she loved and adored in the Bread of Life is the same Jesus whom she loved and served in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, and vice versa. She used to say: "The more repugnant the poor person is the more faith is required to help him".
Mother Teresa also repeatedly said: "Our work is not social work; it is God's work we are doing. We are not social workers, we are consecrated persons who are called to do God's work".
This gives a clear answer to the question: what is going to happen now to the Missionaries of Charity? Because [ours] is the work of God and of love, it is going to continue, as long as we remain faithful to her Spirit and Charism.
Mother Teresa realized that she was not called to do extraordinary things, but rather ordinary things with extraordinary love. She always said: "It is not how much we do that matters but how much love we put into our actions".
She learnt that not only should she hear the words of Jesus: "Come, blessed of my Father..." but that she should help all men of good will to hear it. She was called to build the bridge between the rich and the poor, for the rich can find peace and joy in giving and sharing and the poor in receiving and returning. Both the rich and the poor give and receive mutually.
Mother Teresa knew that it is in giving that we receive, in dying that we are born to eternal life. She was called to live the words of St Paul: "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 2o:35).
Through Mother Teresa God opened the eyes of many to see their own poverty and misery and that of those who surround them, and to understand that they must be "their brothers' keepers".
She showed the world that there are two kinds of poverty: material and spiritual, both of which have positive and negative aspects. Spiritual poverty, however, is worse than material poverty.
In conclusion, we can say that although Mother Teresa died, had a most solemn funeral and her mortal remains laid in the tomb, her immortal spirit will continue to operate until the end of time. From Heaven she will go on satiating the infinite thirst of our Crucified Saviour for love of souls, as she has become more powerful than ever.
"Each sigh, each look, each act of mine shall be an act of love divine, and everything I shall do, shall be, dear Lord, for love of you. Take this my heart and keep it true: a fountain sealed to all but you. What is there that I would not do today?". This was her prayer and her life. Let this be our prayer and our life as well.
Weekly Edition in English
9 September 2009, page 12
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