ROME, OCT. 15, 2003 (Zenit.org).- 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.
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.
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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.