Essays, Theology

The Saint of Calcutta: Mother Teresa and the Pain of Joy

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On September 4, 2016, the woman who claimed that if she ever became a saint she would “surely be one of ‘darkness’”[1] will enter the canon of the Church in broad daylight, for all the world to see. Till the end of the age, the universal name of charity that was “Mother Teresa” will become “Saint Teresa of Calcutta.” With the possible exception of St. John Paul II, no saint in the history of the Church has been known by so many people at the time of canonization, which makes the holiness of this saint both more available for observation and more difficult to discern. Knowing more about someone is not the same as knowing them well and in coming to know Mother Teresa as Saint Teresa, we are asked to deepen our knowledge of her according to her holiness, which her very public persona both hides and discloses. If she is a saint of darkness she is also a saint of joy. Yet, knowing her as the one in darkness and the one in joy is not knowing two Teresas, but rather coming to know the one Teresa as a saint.

Mother Teresa left happiness to find joy. The difference between happiness and joy is that happiness avoids suffering and joy endures suffering in hope. To say that Mother Teresa left happiness to find joy means that she went towards suffering in hope. The suffering was not first hers, though it became hers because she stayed close to those who suffer. The suffering in Teresa’s joy was first of all Christ’s, who suffered in and with the Poorest of the Poor. With them—they who were “unwanted, unclaimed, unloved”—Teresa heard, over and over again, the plaintive cry of Christ on the Cross: “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). Thirsty for care, thirsty for contact, thirsty for love. Mother Teresa left her own comfort to comfort those whom no one comforted. To leave comfort was painful, but that pain bore “something beautiful for God.”

In order to hear Christ’s words—“I thirst”—Mother Teresa had to love Jesus very much. She had to love him very much because no one can hear those words from a distance, but only when very close to him in the place where he suffers. Teresa stayed near the Cross to hear Christ’s words and contemplate them. Beneath the Cross, she learned that the one who loves much suffers much.

To say that Mother Teresa left happiness to find joy means that she went towards suffering in hope. The suffering was not first hers, though it became hers because she stayed close to those who suffer.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ Mother and the beloved disciple stand with Mary Magdalene and others at the foot of the Cross. In the synoptic Gospels, the disciples who witness Jesus’ Crucifixion are watching from afar (see Mk 15:40–41; Mt 27:55–56; Lk 23:49, NAB). But here in John’s Gospel, those who love him much are close, and among them is the one who, at the Last Supper the night before, laid his head close to Jesus’ heart (see Jn 13:23–25). Looking to those close to him, Jesus gives his Mother to the care of this beloved disciple and gives the beloved disciple to the care of his Mother. He gives them each other in compassion, for comfort. He then speaks those words that became the center of Mother Teresa’s spiritual life: “I thirst” (see Jn 19:25–28).

The life of Mother Teresa is a life spent at the foot of the Cross, listening for Christ’s thirst, learning what it means, sharing in it, and seeking to slake it. But for what does Christ thirst? In Psalm 69, his thirst is articulated: “My throat is parched . . . I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none” (vv. 4, 21). Christ’s thirst is for compassion, his thirst is for comfort, and he thirsts with those who have neither.

Teresa loved Jesus very much so she stayed close to his Cross, where he thirsts with those who have been denied compassion, denied comfort, denied contact and care and consolation. The story of Saint Teresa of Calcutta is the story of a beloved disciple who left happiness to find joy at the foot of Christ’s Cross, where Christ thirsts for those the world leaves behind. In her singular mission to bring “tender love and care” to the Poorest of the Poor, she gave her Beloved something to drink.

The Happiness of Home

Mother Teresa was born into the love of Nikola and Drana Bojaxhiu, who named this third and youngest child of their family Agnes. Of her early years, Mother Teresa rarely shared much: “Mine was a happy family,” she said, “but I do not like to talk about it. It is not important now. The important thing is to follow God’s way, the way he leads us to do something beautiful for him.”[2] Though she describes her family as happy, the family did not rest in the comfort of happiness. Even in the security and relative prosperity her family enjoyed in Teresa’s earliest years, her parents practiced leaving their own comfort to find joy in giving comfort to others.

Teresa’s father, Nikola, was a politically astute man who was deeply involved in the civic life of Skopje and later in the Albanian independence movement. He conducted his home with discipline but also, and more importantly, with charity. The Bojaxhiu home was an open home, where guests were always welcome as one might expect from a man active in political and civic life; what is unexpected is that the most special welcome was given to the poor whose company had nothing at all to do with political connections or social status. In regard to one particular elderly woman who would come to their home regularly for meals, Nikola instructed his children to “welcome her warmly, with love . . . never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.”[3]

For her part, Drana raised her children in regular prayer at home and in “errands of mercy” outside the home. On a weekly basis, Drana went to feed and clean the home of a widow whose family had abandoned her. She also regularly bathed and served an alcoholic woman covered in sores. She took over the maternal care for six children orphaned when their parents died in succession. Out of a happy home, Drana led her own children towards those who were suffering, neglected, hungry, dirty, sick, and lonely. The Bojaxhiu family gave the comfort of their home to those who needed it and they left the comfort of their home to serve those in need.

The rhythm of this stable and charitable family life was interrupted upon Nikola’s death when young Agnes was only eight. In the wake of his death, the financial security he provided was lost, as was the family’s place in the social life of Skopje. If ever there were a time to cling to what they had and seek after greater security for themselves, this was such a time. But Drana persisted in practicing charity for the poor and weak even now that her own family’s future was in a more precarious state.

Raised by a father who joined political acumen to concern for the poor and a mother whose piety was translated into Works of Mercy, the “happy family” Teresa later remembered was one that formed her to know the abiding joy of leaving happiness to tend to the suffering of others. And this is precisely what Agnes did at the age of eighteen when she kissed her mother for the last time and made her way by train and by boat to India as Sister Teresa of the Loreto Order:

I’m leaving my dear house
And my beloved land
To steamy Bengal go I
To a distant shore.[4]

The Happiness of Loreto

The pain of leaving home brought Sister Teresa to the joy of educating the Bengali poor. She initially taught history and geography alongside catechism, and when she professed her perpetual vows in 1937, now-Mother Teresa also served as religious superior of one of Loreto’s schools. This work and way of life was the fulfillment of the desire of her heart, a desire that sparked in her when she was merely twelve years old and first felt the call to religious life and missionary work in India. She loved the Loreto community. She loved the work and she applied herself to it tirelessly for more than eighteen years. The first time she had to break from the work was in 1946 when serious illness and utter exhaustion forced her to remain in bed for three hours every afternoon, and then upon the order of her superiors, to take a retreat in the hill country to try to recover. That period of retreat would prove decisive, but the context of what happened to her in those days of 1946 was slowly set out in her preceding years as a Loreto sister.

Though engrossed in her missionary work and deeply content in the religious community of Loreto, the comfort that Teresa found in her way of life in India was slowly troubled. From within the walls of the Loreto schools, Teresa welcomed the poor of the lower castes of Indian society. Like her family home that her father opened to the poor in need of the food of their table, the home of Teresa’s religious family was open to the poor in need of the food of education.

To remain in love with Jesus suffering on the Cross would mean going to the dark holes of the poor, the holes in the shadow of neglect and abandonment.

What disquieted Teresa in this stable and demanding mission was her contact with the deprivation in which her pupils lived and later her contact with those living in Calcutta’s slums. She was “full of anguish” when she first saw where her students slept and ate, believing that it was the worst poverty imaginable.[5] But then in her walks through the streets of Calcutta she witnessed the previously unimaginable poverty of those who were forced to live outside of organized society, not of lower castes but in fact those who were excluded from India’s caste system altogether: “the outcastes,” “the untouchables.” She saw the dying destitutes, the abandoned and lonely, the mentally and physically impaired who were left without help, without company, without notice in the filth of the streets. In the ancient Jewish imagination, these would be the ones whose lives were reduced to “Sheol,” outside the zone of the communication of the living. They were worse than dead: they were abandoned, forgotten, unwanted.

These Poorest of the Poor[6] were the ones she saw disposed of and mangled in inhumane neglect when she went outside the walls of the Loreto community on August 16, 1946: the day of the “Great Calcutta Killings.” With more than 5,000 people killed on the streets in a single day amid violence between Muslims and Hindus, she saw the poor and starving lying abandoned among the bodies of the dead. She did not look away; she remembered their pain and contemplated their suffering in compassion when she was escorted back behind the walls of Loreto. Less than a month later she was on a train to the hill country for retreat—as ordered—and it was then that the Lord spoke to her.

Photo: Fr. Gaurav Shroff; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

Photo: Fr. Gaurav Shroff; CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0.

On September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa began receiving a series of inner locutions that would persist for much of the next year. What she heard was a direct and specific call—“a call within a call” as she later described it—that would once again and definitively have her leave a place of happiness for the sake of joy. The Voice spoke with tenderness, calling her “My own spouse” and “My own little one.” In her heart she responded with the same tenderness: “My Jesus” or “My own Jesus.” In the name of love this Voice called her to “Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light.”[7] To her, the call was clear. The Lord, who hears the cry of the poor—was answering their cry by calling Teresa to go to them. She was to go to the Poorest of the Poor—the ones she had glimpsed in the streets and the slums of Calcutta—to live among them and to serve their immediate needs. As clear and startling as their suffering had been to her, this call was even clearer and more forceful. “It was an order,” she later recalled, “to fail it would have been to break the faith.”[8]

The suffering she had seen and dared not forget was revealed to her as the Cross of Calvary where Jesus cries, “I thirst.” To remain in love with Jesus suffering on the Cross would mean going to the dark holes of the poor, the holes in the shadow of neglect and abandonment.[9] Heeding this call demanded an act of love that would draw her out of happiness and towards suffering for the sake of joy, which endures in hope. She who loved Jesus very much vowed never to say “no” to him, vowed always to say “yes” to him, and enshrined that special vow in the fourth and unique vow of what would later become the Missionaries of Charity: “to offer wholehearted free service to the Poorest of the Poor.”

Waiting in Love to Make Haste

Though radical in practice, the call Teresa received was clear to her, the mission specific, and the way forward apparent. With all the passion of one deep in love she yearned to make haste in this mission, and yet she waited. She waited because love not only makes haste but also obeys. Teresa would remain obedient to the Loreto Order and, ultimately, to the authority of the Church.

She disclosed her call first to her spiritual director, the young Jesuit Fr. Celeste Van Exem, who prayed over what she confided in him for two months before acting further. When Fr. Van Exem then went to the Archbishop of Calcutta on Mother Teresa’s behalf, the Archbishop considered the matter for a full year before finally allowing Teresa to begin her application to leave the Loreto Order. She then submitted a request to her superior general that she might be permitted to leave her Order and pursue her new mission. Only once her superior’s blessing was imparted would she formally petition the Vatican to release her from her vow of obedience to the Loreto Sisters but not, as it would turn out, from her vows of poverty and chastity. The new vow of obedience would be transferred from Loreto to her Archbishop. She was finally freed to pursue her mission two years to the day after she had witnessed the horrible killings and destitution on the streets of Calcutta, and twenty-three months after “Inspiration Day,” when she first heard Christ’s special call to her on the train.[10]

In submitting to the authority of the Church, Mother Teresa saved her special vocation from becoming a private call, one that would have testified to her own uniqueness rather than to the mission of the Church in Christ. Not unlike St. Paul—the Apostle to the Gentiles—who obediently passed on the testimony of the Twelve as more important than the Lord’s revelation to him individually (see 1 Cor 15:3–8), Mother Teresa—who became the Apostle to the Unwanted—offered her call to the ministry of the Church. Even with the fervor of urgency and the power of a singular conviction, she waited in obedience, she honored her vows, and she accepted the counsel and wisdom of others who would verify her call. Before moving too quickly to consider all the remarkable things that emerged from her special mission, it is worth marveling at the humility she exercised in this period of waiting, in that most difficult space between certainty and permission.

At last, on August 16, 1948, Mother Teresa exchanged her religious habit for the white sari with blue stripes that would become the habit of her future congregation, and she took the hardest steps she ever had to take.[11] As she confessed afterwards, leaving Loreto was the greatest sacrifice of her life, for she whose parents taught her to leave the happiness of home to find the joy of comforting others was now leaving the greatest happiness she had ever known in order to bring the light of Christ to the dark holes of the poor:

The first step towards the slum is over. It cost a very good deal, but I am grateful to God for giving the grace to do it and also for showing me how very weak I am.[12] 

Into the Mission

Teresa’s special mission was not a private mission but rather a particular expression of the vocation of all Christians. She was a servant of beauty and the call to beauty is the simple and direct vocation of every Christian. Far from an aesthetic relativist, Teresa’s understanding of beauty was quite definite, even if quite simple. Beauty is what Christ desires but lacked on the Cross—again, from Psalm 69: “I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none” (v. 21). Beauty is the offer of comfort when comfort is lacking, receiving comfort when comfort is needed, and that person-to-person contact where suffering is borne together.[13] In short, our common vocation is to love and be loved.

It is the shape that vocation took that reveals the special witness of Teresa, the saint. With the same degree of obedience that she exercised in heeding the authority of the Church, Teresa heeded the authority of the suffering poor on the streets of Calcutta, whose actual, desperate needs shaped her special mission into definite form. And with the same degree of passion with which she acted upon Christ’s call to leave her comfort in Loreto and make haste to the dark holes, Teresa acted directly and immediately in response to the call of those who suffered in whatever way she found them.

The genius of a saint is always in navigating the holy tensions of clinging to both God and man, and Teresa’s genius was carved out in between a posture of waiting on the Word of the Lord and hastening to heal suffering. Her apostolate had a Marian character, for it was from the Blessed Mother that Teresa learned how to receive the Word of God and then make haste to act on it, as Mary did when she went to her cousin Elizabeth (see Lk 1:39–56). Teresa would consecrate the Missionaries of Charity to the Immaculate Heart of Mary because Mary’s heart is the one that loved much and suffered much, pondering all things and never failing to move with the urgency of love, even at the foot of the Cross.[14]

Photo: Zero Jeden; CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Photo: Zero Jeden; CC-BY-SA-3.0.

On the first day that she walked into Motijhil—the slum she had glimpsed from the Loreto convent—Teresa gathered the scattered children and taught them. On the second day, the children were waiting for her to arrive—twice as many as the day before, in fact. They were illiterate, so she gave them lessons in the alphabet; they were unclean, so she gave them lessons in hygiene; they did not have a classroom, so she used the dirt as her chalkboard. Then she took them to visit the sick.[15] Each day she headed into the slums to be close to those who were suffering and to respond directly to what she found. It was the suffering of the poor that taught her what she was to do and how she was to do it; it was her love for Christ who loved them that made her faithful to them. The suffering of the Poorest of the Poor preceded her plans and established the pattern of the Missionaries of Charity.

The first home that she and the quickly growing number of companions who joined her founded was built in response to a particular form of suffering that Mother Teresa witnessed on the street. As she recounts in her journal:

I saw a woman dying on the street outside Campbell Hospital. I picked her up and took her to the hospital but she was refused admission because she was poor. She died on the street. I knew then that I must make a home for the dying, a resting place for people going to heaven.[16]

Teresa opened her first Home for the Dying in 1952. In this place, Missionaries cleaned wounds, washed bodies, cut hair and nails, and held the hands of the dying, who now would not die alone.

The Home for the Dying was a place for beauty, where Mother Teresa’s most basic conviction was made manifest: that the quality of life for a human being is to love and be loved. In these homes she and her sisters and the poor they gathered into their care did not ward off death; rather, they healed loneliness and neglect. When recovery was not possible—as with about half of the people brought into these homes—the Missionaries of Charity accompanied the poor to a beautiful death: being loved and wanted. She would later tell stories of beautiful deaths like this one:

One evening we went out and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in most terrible condition. And I told the sisters: “You take care of the other three; I will take care of this one that looks worse.” So I did for her all that my love can do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand, as she said one word only: “thank you”—and she died.[17]

This kind of beauty is a very definite thing in the midst of the modern world where we seem always to be deferring meaning. We tend to obsess over extending life indefinitely, keeping all options open and lusting after limitlessness. Mother Teresa was called to something far more definite: beauty—the beauty of comfort, the beauty of compassion, the beauty of making others wanted, claimed, and loved, even in dying. Especially in dying.

The same mission led Teresa to found her homes for abandoned children. In the seemingly uncountable unwanted children who would otherwise have had to fend for themselves or die on the streets of Calcutta, Mother Teresa “saw the infant Christ for whom a Nazareth must be provided.”[18] For the sick children who could be healed, the sisters set about restoring health and then educating them. For those who were already too sick, too malnourished, too close to death for recovery, whether because of premature birth or an attempted abortion or neglect, Teresa and her sisters held them. “These babies must not die uncared for and unloved,” Teresa proclaimed, “because even a tiny baby can feel.”[19]

Teresa found and claimed the dying, she found and claimed the abandoned children, and she went towards those from whom everyone else fled: those suffering with leprosy. Her love for Christ in them was stronger than the tide of fear that carried others away. Perceiving their needs, she developed mobile leprosy units to dispense medication and, more important still, to bring personal love and care to those who were ostracized and exiled, left to deteriorate in isolation. She founded a stable community for them—“The Place of Peace” she called it—where these “untouchables” could work, live with dignity, and enjoy company. When she traveled to the West decades later and discovered the horrifying condition of those suffering with AIDS in New York and elsewhere, she and her sisters hastened to bring the same gift of accompaniment and dignity to these whom she saw as “the lepers of the West.”

In response to the call of her beloved Jesus, Mother Teresa and her sisters taught, healed, clothed, fed, and buried the Poorest of the Poor. All of that is the work of her mission, but the mission itself is something deeper still, something more direct and something that comes from the Crucified One who thirsts. The mission to which Christ called Mother Teresa on September 10, 1946—the mission she pursued unceasingly from that day to her last—was the mission of healing what she came to know as the greatest disease of our day. It is a disease more terrible than leprosy or tuberculosis or cancer or AIDS: it is the disease of being unwanted.[20]

To bring “tender love and care” to those who were otherwise unwanted, unclaimed, and unloved is to make something very beautiful, in obedience and out of love for the One who seeks comfort and compassion for the poor from the Cross. The heart of this mission was not simply to be useful—to heal and educate—but to bring joy. “We want to make them feel that they are loved,” Mother Teresa would say. “If we went to them with a sad face, we would only make them much more depressed.”[21] In going to the Poorest of the Poor, the Missionaries of Charity were going to their beloved Christ in distressing disguise, and that is all the reason in the world for joy.

To the Ends of the Earth

By bringing tender love and care to the dark holes of those who were unwanted and unloved, Teresa painted Calcutta with the beauty of Christ’s love. She was his light in the darkness and that light drew many, many others to join her as missionaries, whether as religious sisters, or later as brothers, priests, and lay co-workers. But not only did the missionaries bring the love of Christ in their comfort and compassion, they also found Christ and touched him in the broken bodies, in the lost children, in the dying.[22] The work of a Missionary of Charity is contemplation of Christ in the poor, the same Christ they adore and receive in the Eucharist that is the center of their life of prayer. In serving the poor, they touch Christ’s wounds and they love him; in receiving this love, the poor in turn receive the peace of Christ who has mercy on them. Caring for those with no one to love them was, to Teresa, the way to practice heaven right now: “loving as Christ loves, helping as he helps, giving as he gives, serving as he serves, rescuing as he rescues.”[23]

Missionaries of Charity serving in Naples. Photo: Eric Parker; CC-BY-NC-2.0.

Missionaries of Charity serving in Naples. Photo: Eric Parker; CC-BY-NC-2.0.

Since the Poorest of the Poor are not limited to Calcutta, the mission of charity was not to be limited to there either. Beginning with Cocorote, Venezuela in 1965 and expanding to more than 130 other countries since, Mother Teresa began to spread her mission of charity to the Gospel’s own boundaries, which means to the ends of the earth. She once even remarked that if the poor were found on the moon, the Missionaries would go there, too.[24]

Using every ounce of her father’s political acumen and her mother’s dedication to practicing mercy, Mother Teresa made her way into countries and territories closed to all others, especially Christians. The record of her questioning at the imperial court of Ethiopia about her desire to bring her Missionaries into that country provides a window on to the simplicity and directness of Mother Teresa’s holy ambition:

What do you want from the Government?
Nothing. I have only come to offer my Sisters to work among the poor suffering people.

What will your sisters do?
We give whole-hearted free service to the Poorest of the Poor.

What qualifications do they have?
We try to bring tender love and compassion to the unwanted and the unloved.

I see you have quite a different approach. Do you preach to the people, trying to convert them?
Our works of love reveal to the suffering poor the love of God for them.[25]

Despite all expectations to the contrary, the emperor welcomed the sisters into Ethiopia.

To bring “tender love and care” to those who were otherwise unwanted, unclaimed, and unloved is to make something very beautiful, in obedience and out of love for the One who seeks comfort and compassion for the poor from the Cross. The heart of this mission was not simply to be useful—to heal and educate—but to bring joy.

From the mid-1960s until the mid-1990s, Mother Teresa crisscrossed the globe in the fierce obedience to and joyful passion of the call she had received to serve the Poorest of the Poor. This former history teacher became the poor jet-setting explorer who found, in lands long ago discovered and populated, the undiscovered loneliness of those abandoned to the neglected regions of modern life. This former geography teacher became the Lord’s city planner who redrew maps on six continents not according to commerce and convenience, but according to care and concern for the poor, situating her sisters in the midst of the unclaimed to bring companionship and comfort where it was lacking in her re-imagined geography of compassion. This Apostle to the Unwanted became what her namesake—St. Thérèse of Lisieux—always desired to be but never could become: the one who traveled to distant lands to claim the unclaimed for Christ, who had—like Mother Teresa after her—the cry of Jesus continually sounding in her heart: “I thirst!”[26] United in obedience and passion to the Blessed Mother at the foot of the Cross, the “living fire” of charity that burned within St. Thérèse was the same inspiration by which Mother Teresa reproduced the pattern of beauty she designed in Calcutta for the dark holes of the rest of the world.

All across the world Mother Teresa became the first living image of charity in the age of global communication. Her diminutive frame adorned by the now iconic white sari with blue stripes instantaneously expressed poverty, simplicity, dedication, and above all holiness. She counseled heads of state, she conferred with popes, she intervened in international disputes on behalf of the poor, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet hidden within this image—this figure that the world thought it knew—was one last dark hole of abandonment where the thirst of Christ moved Teresa to leave happiness to find joy. It was not until ten years after her death in 1997 when we could begin to understand the depths of this saint of joy who professed that “joy is often the mantle that hides a life of self-sacrifice.”[27]

Leaving Christ to Stay with Him

Photo: Raso MK; CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Mother Teresa left the happiness of Christ’s consolation to find the joy of sharing his thirst. When her private writings were published in 2007, we learned for the first time what we might have guessed but did not suspect previously: she who was joy for others truly spoke the words of the psalmist in Christ: “I looked for compassion, but there was none, for comforters, but found none” (Ps 69:21). What a strange paradox is holiness.

The cost of going to India in the first place was leaving her “happy family.” The cost of going to the Poorest of the Poor was leaving the happiness of the Loreto Order. The cost of sharing in the passion of those who were “unwanted, unclaimed, unloved” was leaving the happiness of Jesus calling her “My own spouse . . . my little one.” For fifty years, she herself thirsted for what she gave:

. . . this terrible sense of loss—this untold darkness—this loneliness—this continual longing for God—which gives me that pain deep down in my heart. —Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason. —The place of God in my soul is blank. —There is no God in me. —When the pain of longing is so great—I just long and long for God—and then it is that I feel—He does not want me—He is not there. —God does not want me. —Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—“My God” and nothing else comes. —The torture and pain I can’t explain.[28]

Did Christ betray her? No, Christ loved her. He loved her to the point of allowing her to share in his love for the poor, in the same way he loves them. She practiced heaven on earth because Christ allowed her to “love as he loves, help as he helps, give as he gives, serve as he serves, rescue as he rescues.” The secret in the heart of the saint is that she moved not by the power of consolation but by the power of thirst. Like the lover that she is, she trusted the word of her Beloved and she acted: “I spend hours and hours in serving the sick and the dying, the unwanted, the unloved, the lepers, the [mentally ill]—because I love God and I believe his word: ‘You did it to me.’”[29] In loving Jesus very much, she took on the condition of abandonment in which she found the Poorest of the Poor; and in loving the Poorest of the Poor, she entered ever more deeply into the love of Jesus who thirsts.

On the night before he died, Jesus allowed his beloved disciple to rest his head against his Savior’s chest and incline his ear to his Savior’s heart. What did the beloved disciple hear in the beats of that Sacred Heart? Whatever he heard led him on the very next day to stay with the Blessed Mother close to the Cross, drenched in his Savior’s thirst. We do well to imagine the life of Mother Teresa according to this mystery of love. Herein lies the beauty of the saint of Calcutta.

Featured Photo: Manfredo Ferrari; CC-BY-SA-4.0.

[1] Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 230.

[2] Kathryn Spink, Mother Teresa: An Authorized Biography (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 3.

[3] Ibid., 6.

[4] Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 15.

[5] Spink, Mother Teresa, 17.

[6] Mother Teresa made a habit of capitalizing “Poorest of the Poor” just as one would capitalize the name of “God,” for Christ’s love for them and in them was the presence of God in “distressing disguise.”

[7] Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 44, see also 98.

[8] Spink, Mother Teresa, 22.

[9] Mother Teresa repeatedly referred to the condition, the abandonment, and the plight of the poor of Calcutta in terms of their “dark holes.” See, among others, Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 42–43, 66, 104–121, 168–169.

[10] “I go of my free choice with the blessing of obedience” (ibid., 104, 121).

[11] See Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God: The Classic Account of Mother Teresa’s Journey Into Compassion (New York: HarperOne, 1971), 72.

[12] Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 124.

[13] See Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, 118.

[14] See Spink, Mother Teresa, 24–25; and Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, 69.

[15] Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, 88.

[16] Spink, Mother Teresa, 36.

[17] Mother Teresa, “Nobel Peace Prize Lecture” (1979).

[18] Spink, Mother Teresa, 58.

[19] Ibid., 61.

[20] Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God, 73–73.

[21] Ibid., 98.

[22] Ibid., 114.

[23] Ibid., 68.

[24] Spink, Mother Teresa, 102.

[25] Ibid., 98.

[26] Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, trans. John Clarke (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1996), 98–99.

[27] Spink, Mother Teresa, 181.

[28] Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 1–2 [from a 1961 letter to Father John Neuner].

[29] Spink, Mother Teresa, 156; cf. Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, 232.

Leonard J. DeLorenzo

Leonard J. DeLorenzo is the director of Notre Dame Vision, the Notre Dame Catechist Academy, and the Notre Dame Character Project.