Mother Teresa of Calcutta: The Light of Love

REV. JOSEPH LANGFORD

Ahead of Mother Teresa of Calcutta's beatification this Sunday, Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford shared with ZENIT his thoughts about her mission and the impact of her life.


Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
(1910-1997)

Together with Mother Teresa, Father Langford is a co-founder of the priestly branch of the Missionaries of Charity. This is the first of two parts.

* * *

In the midst of this world's poverty and pain, Mother Teresa of Calcutta has shone the warm light of God's love and compassion on us all. This is what the Church affirms in raising her to the rank of blessed — that it was his light we beheld in her. "You are the light of the world," Jesus told his disciples, in words that echo down to this day. "Come, be my light," Jesus similarly urged Mother Teresa at the outset of her mission. "Bring me into the dark holes of the poor. Come, carry me, I cannot go alone."

Throughout her life on earth, and now even more fully in the Kingdom, she stands as a beacon of light reflecting the heart of God to those who seek him, who seek signs of his nearness and care in the darkness of human suffering and sin.

Through her message, proclaimed not as much with words as deeds, rich and poor alike have felt inexplicably drawn into the mercy and solace of God's tender embrace. Her life has truly become "something beautiful for God" — and what is more, something beautiful from God. She is indeed a "sign for this generation" — an incontrovertible sign that "God still loves the world today."

Her work, though touching every social ill, was not only or even primarily social work. In Mother Teresa's vision, feeding the hungry and caring for the dying are not ends in themselves, but a share in Jesus' own redemptive "work of love" for the least and the lost.

In the face of the overwhelming needs of the poor, abandoned in Calcutta's streets and slums, where all would seem to mock the existence of God and his love, Jesus himself led Mother Teresa in a new approach to bringing his Gospel and his love to the poor.

At the beginning of Mother Teresa's mission, Jesus revealed to her a light that would illumine and animate all her work — the conviction that God not only accepts us in our misery and sin, but longs for us, thirsts for us with all the infinite intensity of his heart. She herself experienced how God longs to love us and to be loved by us, both now and in the kingdom. In fact, the more we are in need, the greater our poverty and misery in body or spirit, the greater is this divine thirst. Mother Teresa understood, and wanted her followers to understand, that the words Jesus first spoke to express this longing on Calvary, "I thirst," echo now through every time and place, within every human heart, and most urgently for those furthest away and most in need:

"The strong grace of divine Light and Love [ I ] received on the train journey to Darjeeling on 10th September 1946 is where MC begins — in the depths of God's infinite longing to love and to be loved" (Mother's Letters, 1996).

"Right now, today and every day, Jesus is thirsting for my love. He is longing for me. This [thirst] is His longing for love, for my love."

Mother Teresa would satiate this "thirst of Jesus for love and for souls" by following him into the "dark holes" where Calcutta's poor huddled, living among them and like them, loving them in his name, and serving his hidden presence in them — who bear the burden, and the sacredness, of his cross.

By serving the poor through "small things done with great love," she wanted to imitate him who came to serve rather than to be served. These humble works of love aimed not so much at medical expertise or the righting of social ills, nor even at producing verifiable results, but rather at the "salvation and sanctification" of the poorest of the poor.

Jesus had promised Mother Teresa that he himself would be the one to touch the poor through her. In imitation of Mary, she was called to a life of such union with her Lord as to "be his radiance" on souls. For this, holiness and oneness with Christ would become her all-consuming goal — so to allow Jesus to live his own life in her among the poor.

This required a deep interior life, the diligent practice of prayer, and the total surrender and sacrifice of self — precisely that it might be "he and not she" doing the work. This union was constantly nourished by Jesus' special presence in the Eucharist, received in Communion and adored in silent prayer. From there she went out, carrying him and caring for him at the Calvary of his mystical body. In this way, whether in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or following Our Lady's example by "going in haste" before the urgency of Jesus' thirst for love in the poor, she would be with him, united to him, "touching him 24 hours a day."

The reality of directly touching Christ in the poor, so precious to Mother Teresa, was the source of her most characteristic expression. Referring to the work for the poor she would always cite Jesus' words "You did it to me," counting them off on her five fingers as the teacher she once was. The great secret of her holiness was the absolute conviction that, no matter how small or humble, every act of charity toward those in need is truly and eternally done to Jesus himself.

Along with Mother Teresa, who will be beatified this Sunday, Father Langford is co-founder of the priestly branch of the Missionaries of Charity.

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Mother Teresa's mission and message have touched not only the poorest of the poor, but those well beyond the slums of Calcutta, as the Church proclaims on this joyful day of her beatification. Today, her words are a message of comfort for countless many across the globe, across all social strata. And for all, her witness remains a moving invitation to serve those more needy than ourselves.

Over the years, and still today, many have felt drawn to do exactly as Mother Teresa did, giving their lives as male and female religious in mission lands. Others have become her "co-Workers," or "lay missionaries," serving alongside her communities in Calcutta and throughout the developing world, or assisting at the often less-visible calvaries hidden beneath the spiritual poverty of the West. While diocesan priests from every continent have found inspiration and fraternity in the "Corpus Christi Movement," which she herself founded and so deeply loved, out of her great love for Jesus' priesthood.

There are still others who, in the midst of their ordinary lives, feel an extraordinary attraction toward Mother Teresa's example. Even if not called to mission lands or formal ministry, they nonetheless make up an unseen cohort of simple people, all around the world, who are called to be as leaven in the dough. These are the hidden 'little ones' of the kingdom — insignificant before the world, yet precious to the heart of the Father. These are the little ones — like any and all of us — who try to live something of Mother Teresa's example of love in the midst of their burdened lives. They are hidden carriers of the same light Mother Teresa bore, each reflecting Love's radiance in their own small way, as the sun sparkling in a sliver of glass.

All around the world they weave small miracles of love with their daily lives, which from Mother Teresa's one charism, unfold and multiply in all directions, like ripples in a pond. These are the simple ones from every walk of life, God's unknown heroes unknown even to themselves, who are spreading far and near Mother Teresa's vision, her message, her example.

Among these little ones Mother Teresa still gladly counts herself, even from above. She too, like her patroness of Lisieux, promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth, bending over the same "dark holes," of brick and of spirit, that she lit with love while on earth (e.g., her miracle for beatification).

Each of us marking her beatification this day are called to be one with them, and one with her, in this great work of Love — which is his, not hers. In a very real sense, "Something Beautiful for God," the first book written about Mother Teresa, is still not complete — for each of us are still in time to write its concluding chapter with our lives.

We may not be called to go to Calcutta; we may not be called to do what Mother Teresa did. But all of us, no matter who or where or what we are, are indeed called to do as Mother Teresa, to love as she loved. As she used to say, "What I can do you cannot; and what you can do I cannot."

Each of us, with our own unique gifts, with our own relationships, with our own place in history, can touch people and do good in a way that neither Mother Teresa, nor anyone else on earth, can do. We are each called, in our special way, to do as Mother Teresa — to make our own lives, as hers, "something beautiful for God."

Around the world, in all these small though important ways, the thirst of God for man and of man for God is being sated — and Mother Teresa's mission to "Come, be my light," continues to be fulfilled.

And so we rejoice for and with Mother Teresa, as we rejoice with the poor and weak of every type and place to whom she showed the immense love of God, as we rejoice with the great and the small everywhere who have been, and will be, blessed by her whom the Church this day in turn has blessed.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Rome, Oct. 15/16, 2003

ZENIT is an International News Agency based in Rome whose mission is to provide objective and professional coverage of events, documents and issues emanating from or concerning the Catholic Church for a worldwide audience, especially the media.

Reprinted with permission from Zenit - News from Rome. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2003 Zenit


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