I’ve written before in this blog that for most of my Christian walk, I was an observant and very active Catholic. Nonetheless, I have never known all that much about one of the most famous and beloved Catholics of the twentieth century: Mother Teresa. Like most people I have admired her dedication to and selfless love for the poor. But until recently I had never read anything by or about her.
Not long ago, I found a new book by Mother Teresa at my local library’s new releases shelf: Where There is Love, There is God. The title seemed intriguing, so I picked it up on a whim as I ran to keep up with my kids, who were scampering to the kids’ section.
When I got home, I have to admit I was a little disappointed. Where There is Love, There is God is a posthumous collection of relatively brief quotes of Mother Teresa. The quotes are edited together with some commentary by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was associated with Mother Teresa for twenty years and now directs the Mother Teresa Center. It is not a book or journal that Mother Teresa penned herself before her death in 1997. As a result, the book has a somewhat disjointed feel to it.
Nonetheless, if you can get past the style, there is actually a lot that is good about the book. I gave up early on trying to read it straight through. It is too disjointed for that. There is also too much being expressed to take it all in when reading straight through. Instead, I used the book as a daily devotional. And with that approach to the book, I was quite pleased.
There are several passages from the book I would like to share:
“One man told me: ‘I am an atheist,’ but he spoke so beautifully about love, Mother told him: ‘You cannot be an atheist if you speak so beautifully about love. Where there is love, there is God. God is love.”
“There is great talk going on all over the world that Mother Teresa is spoiling the people by giving them things free. In Bangalore, once at a seminar, in the name of the whole group, one nun got up and said to me, ‘Mother Teresa, you are spoiling the poor people by giving them things free. They are losing their human dignity. You should take at least ten naya paisa for what you give them, then they will feel more their human dignity.’ When everyone was quiet, I said calmly, ‘No one is spoiling as much as God Himself. See the wonderful gifts He has given us freely. All of you here have no glasses, yet you all can see. Say, if God were to take money for your sight, what would happen? We are spending so much money for Shishu Bhavan to buy oxygen for saving life, yet continually we are breathing and living on oxygen and we do not pay anything for it. What would happen if God were to say, ‘You work four hours and you will get sunshine for two hours.’ How many of us would then survive?’ Then I also told them: ‘There are many congregations who spoil the rich, then it is good to have one congregation in the name of the poor, to spoil the poor.’ There was profound silence; nobody said a word after that.” (pp. 9-10)
“Rejecting or shunning others on account of their poverty or blaming them for it, was a great injustice in Mother Teresa’s eyes. Whatever the reason for a person’s problems, she was convinced that help and care were their due. Her first response when encountering someone in distress was to seek to offer immediate and effective help, and only later to find out the reasons for the difficulty. Coming to the defense of the poor if someone blamed them for their poverty, she would ask, ‘What would you do if you were in their place?’ In fact, she made her listeners aware that perhaps they might be more responsible for others’ poverty than they thought.
A frequent topic in her public speeches was respect for human life from conception to natural death. In her profound respect for the Giver of life, she staunchly upheld His rights by opposing any form of violence against human life, speaking out in defense of the weakest and most vulnerable human beings.
She considered abortion the greatest destroyer of peace in the world. The reason behind such a statement is logical: Once it is permissible and socially acceptable to kill one’s own flesh and blood, others not bound by family ties have much less ‘right’ to love, care and life; much more easily can they be ‘disposed of’ at will. If, in order to protect often unjust and selfish interests such as love of comfort and pleasure, a society turns directly against the child in its mother’s womb, it will eventually and without scruple eliminate other defenseless beings as well. It can become a very slippery slope.
The elderly, sick, or disabled, increasingly considered ‘a burden’ to society, are among the vulnerable in the world today. Mother Teresa particularly deplored any form of disregard or neglect shown to the elderly members of one’s family in need of care. As ‘love begins at home,’ our first responsibility is to our own. Incapacities or sufferings do not diminish the inherent dignity of each person.” (pp. 66-67)
“A grumbling sister can’t pray. And, you can see on their faces—there is something there worrying them. When I have tried to find out, it is always because of grumbling, misunderstandings, carrying tales. If this happens when you are four or when you are six, community life will become so difficult; al right when you are a big community. Just as the Americans go for a [medical] check-up, ‘Have I got cancer,’ we need to check and see that. Grumbling and criticism are always the fruit of jealousy. Jealousy, again, is nothing but hidden pride.” (p. 81)
“Our lives must be connected with the living Christ in us. If we do not live in the presence of God, we cannot go on. One thing more is lacking—silence. When there are two together, they start talking. Then, without silence, there will be no good prayers. We must also control our temper. Temper means pride. We must control our temper for the love of God. In a good, ordinary family, it does not happen that we are losing our temper and answering back. It should not happen here, either.” (p. 81)
“I want you to pray and examine your conscience [regarding] Sins of omission. Have the courage to say sorry. The best way of saying sorry is to do the opposite in action. If you have been moody, be happy….I want you…not to change your place or work but to change your heart. Death can come any time.
The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards those who are victims of exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease. Love has to be built on sacrifice. We have to give until it hurts.” (p. 82)
A woman of gentle grace gets respect, but men of rough violence grab for loot.