St. Teresa of Calcutta once met an old man living in what she called “a most terrible condition.” One of the many ways she and her Missionaries of Charity sisters took care of their beloved poor people was to go into their homes, where the sisters would clean their houses, wash their clothes, and give them baths. Mother talked with this old man and asked him for permission to clean his home. At first, he refused, but at last she convinced him to allow her to do it.
While she was cleaning, she found a very beautiful old lamp, covered with dirt and dust.
“Do you not light the lamp?” she asked him, as told in the book Mother Teresa: My Life for the Poor.
“For whom?” he replied. “Nobody comes here. I never see anybody. Nobody comes to me. I don’t need to light the lamp.”
“If the sisters come to you, will you light the lamp?” Mother Teresa asked.
“Yes, I’d do it!” he answered. After that day, the sisters would go to visit him, and he would light the lamp.
Years later, the old man asked the sisters to deliver a message to Mother Teresa: “Tell my friend, the light she lit in my life is still burning!”
The physical light that Mother Teresa uncovered in that old man’s house was beautiful, but the spiritual light she and the sisters gave him burned even more brightly. It is not a coincidence that one of Mother’s favorite prayers was a fervent supplication for this very light. The prayer, called “Radiating Christ,” is by Cardinal John Henry Newman, and Mother prayed it daily with her sisters:
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 all 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 in 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, the sympathetic influence of what I do, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears to You.
That light for which Mother Teresa prayed every day in Newman’s prayer was the same light that kept on burning in the life of the old man and countless others with whom she shared it.
In fact, the light that emanated from her love was so real and tangible that internationally renowned British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge believed it constituted the “first authentic photographic miracle,” as he explains in the book Something Beautiful for God.
Muggeridge first met Mother Teresa when he interviewed her for the BBC in 1967. She made such a deep impression on him that he later traveled to Calcutta to film a documentary about her work. While filming this documentary, Muggeridge and his photographer entered the Home for the Dying, where the sisters would bring the dying people they picked up in the streets of Calcutta so that they could “die within sight of a loving face.”
At the time, this building was dimly lit, as the windows were small and very high in the walls. The photographer said it was impossible to film in that building. He took pictures there but harbored no hope that any would turn out.
When the pictures were processed, however, the ones taken inside the Home for the Dying were, Muggeridge writes, “bathed in a particularly beautiful soft light.” The photographer said that, technically speaking, the results were impossible. He used the same film elsewhere in a similarly poor light, and nothing came out.
Muggeridge was “absolutely convinced” it was the same light that Newman wrote about.
“Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying is overflowing with love, as one senses immediately on entering it,” he writes. “This love is luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on a photographic film. …The light conveys perfectly what the place is really like; an outward and visible luminosity manifesting God’s inward and invisible omnipresent love.”
The Light Shines in the Darkness
The light that burned in the old man’s lamp and in his life, the light for which Mother prayed every day, the light that illuminated the Home for the Dying, and the light in Mother Teresa’s face were one in the same. It was the light of Christ, and Malcolm Muggeridge did not fail to recognize its source.
Muggeridge was not Catholic when he wrote about Mother Teresa in Something Beautiful for God. He admired her greatly, and he knew that her light was from Christ, but the controversies and conflicts that he saw within the Church prevented him from entering it. He could not reconcile himself to believing that a Church plagued by such scandals could be anything more than a human institution.
Mother did not give up on him, though.
“I don’t know why,” she wrote to him once, “but very often in my heart a desire has come to be with you in England when you make your first Holy Communion with Jesus. I don’t know—but Jesus never gives desires which He does not mean to fulfill.”
Muggeridge was deeply touched by her desire but did not foresee that it could ever happen.
“I know perfectly well that, however much I long for it to be otherwise, the bell does not ring for me,” he wrote. “Nor is there a place for me at the altar rail where they kneel to receive the Body of Christ. I should be an outsider there, too.”
Still, despite his seeming conviction that he did not belong in the Church, Muggeridge left a window cracked open in his otherwise closed house: “I can only say for myself that if it ever became clear to me that I could enter the Church in honesty and truth, I should rush to do so, the more eagerly and joyously because I should know that it would give happiness to Mother Teresa.”
In 1982, more than a decade after Muggeridge wrote those words, he entered the Catholic Church. It gave him, he said, “a sense of homecoming, of picking up the shards of a lost life.”
The light he saw in Mother Teresa’s love had illuminated the way home. It was, as Mother Teresa prayed in Newman’s prayer, not her own light, but the light of Christ, shining on others through her, piercing the darkness with rays of hope.
As St. John said, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)
May St. Teresa of Calcutta, whose feast day is September 5, pray for us all to receive that light, and to share it, as she did, with those who wait in darkness for someone to bring them the radiance of Christ.