Pope Francis mentioned an extraordinary personal vow made by Mother Teresa, on proclaiming her a Saint a year ago. He said: “Throughout her existence, this Saint was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, rendering herself available through the reception and defense of human life, life in the maternal womb, as well as abandoned and rejected life.
“She spent herself in the defense of life, in proclaiming ceaselessly that one ‘who is not yet born is the most feeble, the smallest, the most miserable.’ She bent down over utterly dejected people, left to die on the side of roads, recognizing in them the dignity that God gave them.
“She made her voice heard by the powerful of the world, so that they would recognize their faults in face of crimes – in face of the crimes – of poverty that they themselves created.
“Mercy was for her the ‘salt’ that gave flavor to each of her works, and the ‘light’ that lit the darkness of those who no longer had tears to weep over their poverty and suffering.
“Her mission in the peripheries of cities and in the existential peripheries endures in our days, as an eloquent testimony of God’s closeness to the poor among the poor.”
In the wake of our Pope, I permit myself to make known two “secrets” in her heart, which marked and inspired her relationship with Jesus. The first concerns an extraordinary personal vow, which Mother Teresa made in 1942. The second is linked to the source of Mother Teresa’s inspiration to serve the poorest of the poor. These two three phenomena lead us to appreciate more amply the depth of Mother Teresa’s sanctity as well as the pertinence of her example and of her message for our time, particularly if they are put in relation to one another.
- The Vow of 1942 – “Something Beautiful” for Jesus
Mother Teresa was above all a woman in love with God. She seems to have fallen in love with Him very early in her life and to have progressed in that love without a serious obstacle. Her education was marked by the Catholic faith and a serious spiritual life. In a certain number of personal letters, she reveals that Jesus was the first and only one to captivate her heart. “Since childhood, the Heart of Jesus was my first love.” In this intimacy with Jesus, Mother Teresa received a particular grace at the moment of her First Communion: “Since the age of five and a half, when I received Him for the first time, the love of souls came with it. This increased with the years.”
In fact, Mother Teresa’s love for Jesus and her neighbour so increased that at the age of 18, she left her family and her homeland to answer Jesus’ call to a missionary life in India as a Sister of Loreto. Eight years later, she made her final vows to Christ as a Religious. Six months after pronouncing her final vows, she was seized by fright mixed with respect when she thought of the intense joy that the event had caused her. “If you knew how happy I was,” she wrote to her Spiritual Father at Skopje, Father Jambrekovic, S.J. “I could have lit fire to my holocaust … I want to be entirely for Jesus … I would give everything for Him including my life.”
In April 1942, she pronounced a special vow: to give to Jesus whatever He should ask, not to refuse anything.
Hence, if one wishes to imitate Mother Teresa, one must “do something beautiful for Jesus,” living love in truth and in joy.
- Mother Teresa’s “Inspiration”
After she made her first vows in May 1931, Mother Teresa was sent to the Community of the Sisters of Loreto at Calcutta, where she taught at St. Mary’s Middle School for young girls of Bengali. The school was attached to the Convent and it accepted orphans and poor children as well as day and boarding pupils. Among other responsibilities, the young zealous Religious worked in another Loreto school, St. Teresa’s Middle School of Bengali, located on the Lower Circular Road. The daily trip through the city enabled her to observe the needs and sufferings of the poor. In May 1937, after Mother Teresa made her final vows as a Sister of Loreto, she continued at St. Mary’s, teaching catechism and geography. In 1944, she became the school’s principal.
In class, Mother Teresa was more than a presence. She wished to have her pupils share her supernatural vision of life and lead them to a more profound faith. She also had the occasion to serve the poor in clinics run by the Loreto Sisters. These encounters made a great impact on her. It was the providential environment in which God was about to prepare her for her future mission, although she was not aware of it.
During these years at Loreto, Mother Teresa was remarkable for her charity, her generosity, her courage, her capacity for painful work, a natural talent for organization and a joyful spirit. She was a Religious who prayed a lot, believing and fervent. Although no one knew of her personal vow in 1942, her love and her generosity were evident to all. She was much loved and admired by the Sisters of her Community as well as by the pupils and boarders of St. Mary’s.
Mother Teresa left the Loreto Convent at Entaly, Calcutta, for a leave of absence and an eight-day Retreat at Darjeeling on the evening of Monday, September 9, 1946. The next day, when she was on the train, Mother Teresa heard Jesus’ voice for the first time, in the form of an interior locution. During the following months, through the means of other interior locutions and interior visions, Jesus asked her to establish a Religious Community that would be at the service of the poorest of the poor, and as Mother Teresa formulates it, ‘To slake His thirst for love and for souls.” This experience on the train was the turning point in Mother Teresa’s life. She always made reference to it in as much as a “call within a call.” September 10 became the feast of the “Day of Inspiration” among the Missionaries of Charity.
Finally, in my opinion, there is a third thing to underline, which isn’t a secret, but which isn’t widely known: Mother Teresa was joyful.
She said: “The best way to show our gratitude to God and to people, is to accept everything with joy.”
“Joy is prayer, may it be the sign of our generosity, of your altruism, of our friendship with Christ. Joy is love: a joyful heart is the normal result of a heart that burns with love; hence it is necessary to the greatest possible with joy. Joy is a network of love. Joy is our strength” (No. 8, 10), Mother Teresa also loved to say.
When I discovered for the first time that Mother Teresa’s spirit is not made up only of loving trust and total surrender, but also of cheerfulness, I was surprised. Yes, I was surprised by joy!
Afterwards, on meting this holy woman and her Sisters, I always saw them smiling, their joy shared in giving food to the poor, but above all in giving themselves with joy and tenderness to God and to the poor. I also understood better that the Gospel is the happy news that is communicated with and by joy.
One of Mother Teresa’s phrases that touched me most is: “Let no sadness be so strong to the point of making you forget that Christ is resurrected.”
Sanctity is gratuitousness and gratitude.