Anjene Gonxhe Bojaxhu was born of Albanian parents on 26th August 1910 in Skopje, which is present day Macedonia. She first felt called to religious life at a tender age of 12. When she was 18, moved by a desire to become a missionary she left her home and went to Ireland where after her training, she became a Loretto nun and took the name Sister Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux. Soon thereafter she came to India and worked as a teacher at St. Mary’s School in Kolkata and in 1937 she made her Final Profession of Vows, becoming as she said the “spouse of Jesus” for “all eternity“. From that time on she was called Mother Teresa. A person of intense prayer with a great love for her students, she was noted for her charity, courage, unselfish attitude and a capacity for hard work.
On 10th Sept 1946 during a train ride from Kolkata to Darjeeling for her annual retreat, Mother Teresa received her “call within a call“. In a way she could never explain, she was filled with a great thirst for souls and a longing to care for the poorest of the poor. After much prayer and discernment, she established the Missionaries of Charity. Starting each day in communion with Jesus in the Eucharist, she would roam the streets of Kolkata, a rosary in her hand, to find and serve Jesus in the unwanted, the unloved and the uncared for. Her whole life was spent with the downtrodden and was a testimony to the greatness and dignity of every human being, to the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of an intimate friendship with God.
The home for the destitute which she established in Kolkata was just the beginning of many such homes in India and all over the world. During her visit to one such home in the city of Panaji, Goa, I had the great fortune of meeting her. Distinct details of this meeting remain etched in my memory. I was especially struck by her short stature from which emanated an immense power which could not be described. As she moved down the line, greeting those present I noticed two things: Her frail body and her lively eyes. She touched each one present, spoke a word here and there but looked into the eyes of each one as though reading our souls and leaving an indelible print there.
There are so many inspiring and life changing lessons we can learn from this woman of God. I’d like to share just a few for us to reflect on:
- She loved selflessly. She said, there is no greater disease than being unwanted, unloved and uncared for and the only cure for loneliness, despair and hopelessness is love.
Jesus gave us only two commandments, one to love Him and the other to love one another. He didn’t tell us to love the whole world. And yet, we find it so easy to love the world but cannot find the courage to love our near and dear ones, those whom we live within our homes.
- She prayed stoically. Mother Teresa was a woman of prayer. God was the source of her strength. Daily prayer and the sacraments were the fuel to carry out her mission. She prayed for understanding, she prayed for help and she prayed for strength. By praying she was able to continue to do what she loved the most, working with the poorest of the poor.
What about us? Is prayer the driving force of our lives that propels us to work for the glory of God? Or is prayer merely a tool to ask God to meet our selfish wants?
- She lived humbly. Mother Teresa lived a simple life and saw herself as a vessel of God’s love. Her motto was “live simply so others may simply live“. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize but always felt she was unworthy. She often said, if you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.
Do I really know who I am? How do I rate myself? According to my qualifications and my achievements?
- She smiled serenely. Mother Teresa had this advice to give
“Smile at each other, make time for each other, enjoy each other”.
In the fast paced world we live in, we seldom find time for others. There’s so much to achieve in this rat race that we never have time to lend a listening ear. We talk endlessly but have forgotten to really listen to the cry of another. She reminds us that by sharing a real smile with others, you share a part of yourself.
As Catholics we are inspired by our Saints. We celebrate them for their miracles and for their lives of prayer and sacrifice. We ask them to intercede for us. But are we filled with a desire to emulate them?
May the prayer of Mother Teresa be the passionate cry of each of us:
Dear Jesus, help me to spread Your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly,
That my life may only be a radiance of Yours.
Shine through me, and be so in me
That every soul I come in contact with
May feel Your presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as You shine,
So to shine as to be a light to others;
The light, O Jesus will be all from You; none of it will be mine;
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise You the way You love best, by shining on those around me.
Let me preach You without preaching, not by words but by my example,
By the catching force of the sympathetic influence of what I do,
The evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.