As I was cooling down from a workout, I came across a two-part (Part One, Part Two) interview with St. Teresa of Calcutta (before she was a saint.) It was a simple, one-on-one interview that really intrigued me. Although the interview is a little dated, it is still inspiring; I think for anyone who wants to grow in holiness, observing a saint is a good place to start.
During the interview, Mother Teresa was asked to tell her story of how she got started with the poor. She described her first encounter of picking up someone out of the street (who had been eaten by rats) and pleading with the local hospital to take them in. After that, she decided she would make a place for them herself, and as they say, the rest is history.
The Irish interviewer seemed intrigued with how someone could go about doing this type of work, and Mother Teresa gave her familiar statement about Jesus being in the poor.
She was asked how she keeps from becoming despondent over this work, knowing that the rest of the nation is not doing what it should be doing. How does she deal with the burden of it?
As you might suspect, she didn’t see it as a burden at all.
“Jesus is only one. He said, ‘You did it to me.’ We take one individual person, one person at a time. We love one at a time. Jesus said, ‘I was hungry and you fed me.’ It is Jesus, because Jesus said so.”
We are “doing it to Jesus. ... The poor are Jesus.” She described her concern for those living with poverty (both material and the absence of love). She said that there are so many people who “hunger for love” and are being “abandoned” in their own homes, such as shut-ins. They are “hungry to be recognized and respected,” she said, referring to those with disabilities, as well, who are often forgotten.
Mother Teresa started doing this work by herself, then some of her former students joined her, so the initial band was about 12. As we all know, the Sisters of Charity are huge now. She was asked how it is that she was able to grow her order, when other orders are shrinking:
“Give people a chance to do works of love, that reaches people,” she said. In other words, she didn’t have to tell them what to do, but gave them the means to do it. Humanity responds when given a chance.
But here’s the quote that struck me the most, as she was describing leaving her vocation of teaching to work with the poor in the streets:
“The work is a means to put our love for Christ into action.” She simply “changed the means, the work, to work for the poorest of the poor.”
And here is where you and I fit in:
It really doesn’t matter what you do: if you see your work as the way to love Jesus, you’re good. For someone with a quasi-“save the world” perspective, this is a good gut check.
Maybe all you need to do is take care of one person, to love them and give them dignity in their life. That can be enough, because you are doing it to Jesus himself.
St. Teresa’s familiarity to us might blind us, as familiarity often does. We think we know what someone’s about, heard it all before. But for the work of parents, for instance, who day in and day out don’t save the world, but work hard to provide a home and stability for their children, St. Teresa’s message is life-giving.
For the laborer who feels stuck in a job that they can’t stand, that feels their work is without purpose, imagine how they have the power to change their situation! Maybe they cannot change the means of the work they do, but they can certainly change their approach to it.
Think about it. What if you could see Jesus in every single person you encounter today? What if you made it your mission to “see” everyone, even those who are passed by or ignored? What if you listened — really listened — to your coworker who is suffering, feeling alone or unloved?
Mother Teresa said there are four conditions for a woman to join the Sisters of Charity:
- Health of mind and body
- Ability to learn
- Plenty of common sense
- Cheerful disposition
Maybe you could join the Sisters of Charity in spirit, right where you live and work. My guess is, if you adopt St. Teresa’s thought on this, it will change your life.
Copyright 2019 Janet Cassidy About the author: Janet Cassidy offers engaging stories and messages of faith that teach and inspire. She is a Lay Dominican and a Lay Ecclesial Minister and holds a Master’s Degree in Theology from Augustine Institute. Contact Janet today at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her blog, JanetCassidy.com, to book a speaking engagement. Entertaining and approachable to any audience, she will tailor topics to your specific needs. She travels from Michigan.
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