What struck me the most about Mother Teresa when I saw her for the first time was her diminutive size. There stood the world renowned peacemaker, lover of the world’s poor and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient — a giant — but in the body of someone not much taller than my young daughter!
I first caught sight of Blessed Teresa in the flesh a little more than twenty years ago in the Missionary of Charity convent chapel as she came in for daily Mass. I had been visiting the sick and dying at the convent with my family and the Missionary of Charity Sisters invited my family to their private Mass. It was a treasured experience to participate at holy Mass with a chapel filled with pious nuns. And then to my amazement, in walked Mother Teresa! She quietly and unobtrusively walked past me and took her place on the bare floor of the chapel, kneeling down to pray. We celebrated holy Mass together; an experience etched in my memory — forever, I’m sure.
By the grace of God, I was given a privileged opportunity to converse with Mother Teresa after Mass when she came over to me because of my children. She had seen my daughter, Chaldea genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament and was touched to see a child remember to bid Jesus “good bye” before leaving the chapel. Blessed Teresa talked to us about the poor that she cared for, about the blessing of families and her love for life. She asked for our prayers and promised us hers. The grace of those moments is difficult for me to describe.
That meeting with holiness led to a correspondence and visits between the two of us that spanned a decade. I have learned incredible wisdom from this humble little holy woman who continues to teach me even after her death. Her courageous, “Yes” to God in her living out the Gospel has changed the way the world views the poor and also our responsibility to care for them.
“God has identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone; nakedness, not for clothing only, but nakedness of that compassion that very few people give to the unknown; homelessness, not only just for a shelter made from stone but for that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own,” Blessed Teresa has told us.
Blessed Teresa has asked each one of us to do our part to help the poor in our own lives. She reminds us, “Today, the poor are hungry for bread and rice — and for love and the living word of God. The poor are thirsty – for water and for peace, truth and justice. The poor are homeless — for a shelter made of bricks, and for a joyful heart that understands, covers, loves. The poor are naked — for clothes, for human dignity and compassion for the naked sinner. They are sick — for medical care, and for that gentle touch and a warm smile.” We are all capable to respond in love, even in some small way.
This remarkable woman has truly lived the Gospel of Matthew, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-37). Jesus expects us to do the same.
We are all called to live the very same Gospel, and open our hearts to the poor in our own midst. We must ask our Lord to open our eyes to those in need in our own homes and neighborhoods; our own Calcuttas. Our Lord calls all of us in all of our states of life to serve Him in one another. When we begin to see Jesus in our family members, neighbors, and co-workers and respond to Him with love, we will be helping to carry out Blessed Teresa’s work.
I wish to share the blessings I have received and so I have recounted details and memories of my friendship with this “saint” of our time in my book: Mother Teresa and Me: Ten years of Friendship (Circle Press, December 2009). I hope that my simple weaving of words about her life and spirituality will inspire others to follow in her footsteps — one foot in front of the other each day in faith seeking Our Lord, Jesus in all who surround us and responding with love to Him.