Serving the Poorest of the Poor With a Love That Never Dies
Sebastian Vazhakala, MC
Co-founder with Blessed Mother Teresa of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative
Reflection by the Co-founder of the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative on making Christ present today
This Christmas, Christians everywhere celebrate with great joy and enthusiasm the incredible event of the birth of the Only-Begotten Son of the eternal Father who came to dwell among us. The Father sent his Son into this world doomed to destruction, not to be its judge, but to be its Saviour (cf. Jn 3: 7).
Why does the feast of Christmas bring such great joy to the entire world? The opening verses of the canticle of Zachariah give one of the main reasons for the great joy: namely God has visited his people, and he has set them free (cf. Lk 1: 67-68). Elsewhere St Luke says very sadly that Jerusalem did not know the time of her visitation (Lk 19:44). "He came into his own, and his own people did not receive him" (Jn 1:11).
So our interior experience of joy or sorrow depends on how we recognize "the time of the Lord's visitation". It is so easy for us to miss the Lord's visits to us, as we often are so much caught up with the material things, worries and anxieties. Even our Christmas celebration loses its real spirit and tenor. One of the things we come to understand from the Scriptures is God's sharing of his love and life with us. This sharing of divine life makes us all joyful.
The experiences that I often go through in some of the international airports are worth recalling. Very recently in one of the airports I was prevented from travelling and made to go through incredible hardships, and not only lost the day but the whole program I was supposed to be doing. Worse still, when they allowed me to travel on the following day, reaching the next airport, the police took me to a special room where I had to wait in anxiety, as my travelling companion did not know what was happening to me, and also the people were waiting in the Church for Holy Mass. Each moment was so long and agonizing.
Then one of the policemen picked up my passport and started going through my bio-data on the computer. They even had my medical report. After a while the police called me and wanted to know what I was going to do, how I lived, who I was, etc. I told him that I am a Missionary of Charity and give whole-hearted free service to the poorest of the poor, and I depend entirely on divine providence. He fell into a deep silence for a moment. Then he looked at me and said: "And so you work with the poor people?". "Yes", I said, "that is my work and my profession". He then asked me to return to my seat, which I did. He went through my bio-data a few more times on the computer and then called me back to question me again.
This time the question was what my status in the Missionaries of Charity was. My answer was, "I am a servant of the servants who are chosen by the Lord and appointed to serve my Brothers and Sisters, especially the poorest of the poor of any colour, caste, religion or nationality. When we see a poor person", I said, "our first question is not what religion or country he or she belongs or comes from, but what is his main need and how we can help him".
This is confirmed by the passage in the Gospel of Mathew 25:31-46, which says: "As long as you did to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me". Here Jesus identifies himself with the hungry, the thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and imprisoned.
What an incredible difference between the two judges — the King of the last judgement, who judges us on love, and here the police who thought that perhaps I was one of the most dangerous terrorists.
Many such experiences make me reflect on Jesus' words: "In truth I tell you, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful but your sorrow will turn into joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child, she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So it is with you. (cf. Jn 16:2o-22)
For me these words of our divine Teacher are always consoling, especially when I see the eagerness, the enthusiasm, the gratitude and the joy of our LMCs, our M.C. Sisters and others. Then one forgets all the pain, hardships and tiredness.
One can only thank God for his merciful love and unfailing help. God not only walks with us, but works with us. Here the words of St. Chrysologus come to mind:
"God walked with Abraham on his journeys, protected him in foreign lands, enriched him with earthly possessions, and honoured him with victories.... Favoured with so many graces and drawn by such great sweetness of divine love, Abraham was to learn to love God rather than fear him, and love rather than fear was to inspire his worship" (Sermon of Peter Chrysologus, Bishop).
We come to know that trials and sufferings, even intense ones, are not meant to be stumbling blocks but stepping stones. Not always do we have such faith.
Life experience is our best teacher and the best way of preparing for Christmas. Here the simple yet significant words of our Blessed Mother Teresa, MC, come to mind: "Accept whatever he gives, and give whatever he takes with a big smile".
This sounds so simple and yet to put it into practice demands heroic faith and deep humility. Every time I am able to accept whatever Jesus gives and give whatever he takes from me with a big smile, I have Christmas. How many are the ways and the times a day in which I have the opportunity to do that — like Jesus, Mary and Joseph did, like many Saints have done and still do and like even so many poor people often do!
We experience every single day the unfailing providence of God, especially in our homes for the orphaned, homeless, disabled boys and men in India. We get cooked food for over one hundred people every single day from one of the nearby factories. Our children and our people are fed then by the Lord's providence. He shows that these helpless, homeless and parentless boys and men belong to him first of all. It is his work we do.
There are also about seven teachers employed by various clubs and organizations to teach these children, God's chosen ones. From morning to evening people of all ranks and status come to visit our children with gifts. They are like the Magi. Deepashram is the Bethlehem of our time for so many people who do not belong to our faith but belong to the traditional Hindu religion. They come to Deepashram like the wise men from the East, who came to see the newborn babe of Bethlehem with gifts. Hardly anyone comes with empty hands.
For our Brothers, Deepashram has become the Bethlehem of our time and our Brothers witness the event of Christmas every day and the daily influx of the Hindu people, who are the Magi of our time. After having the Deepashram/Anandashram experience no one remains the same, nor do they remain silent. They become messengers and missionaries of the Good News: they speak to their friends of what they have seen and heard, of what their hands have touched.
In our rehabilitation centre at Bandhuvari, one of the big banks sent their workers to plant fruit trees and vegetables in our garden for our disabled orphaned boys and men. What an edifying example of real love and concern for one's fellow men! Even the thought of doing such admirable acts can only come from God, who constantly tells us to trust him more lovingly, to obey him more promptly and without any questions.
In November, when I was in India, I told one of the physically disabled boys how handsome he is, how beautiful he looks. His spontaneous reply continually makes me reflect, humbling me all the time. Do you know what the boy of thirteen said? "God made me beautiful". In other words he recognizes that he is God's handiwork. I had never before heard such a profound statement from anyone.
There is no room for pride. God made me so beautiful and handsome. The boy's words echoed St Paul's great declaration about himself: "I am what I am by the grace of God".
Our home for the disabled in Albania, known as Bethel, now houses just about twenty boys and men, all of whom are very heavily handicapped. The majority of them are mentally disabled, while the rest of them are totally bed-ridden. They require constant personal care and individual attention. As it is a very demanding work of God, our Brothers, our workers and all those who are involved are in need of our constant prayers and generous support.
"Casa Serena" in Rome is one of God's Inns in the city of Rome, where so many good Samaritans come to attend the needs of the wounded people. These good Samaritans belong to all walks of life and all ages and status.
I recently went to visit a terminally ill cancer patient in a nursing home in another part of Rome. As I walked in they started asking: "Father, have you come to celebrate Mass for us?". The sick and old people are hungry for God and they have no shepherds. The words of our Lord came to my mind:
"The harvest is great, but labourers are few" (Lk 10:2). And the Lord says: "I am filled with compassion for these people" (cf. Mt 16:32).
We may get old and go into retirement, but love never gets old or goes into retirement. Even if we die, love never dies. In the evening of life, when we travel to God, we take nothing with us except love. The only baggage we carry with us is the baggage of love.
For many people Christmas is still just a word and a remembrance, not a personal experience of the presence and nearness of a loving and caring God. We are called to be Jesus' love, Jesus' presence. We are meant to be the Christmas, especially for our people today.
Weekly Edition in English
23/30 December 2009, page 20
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