Remembering Mother Teresa

Author: Thomas Malipurathu, SVD
Subject: Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Language: English, Spanish

God’s preferential love for the poor and the disinherited—the little ones—is one of the recurrent themes in the Bible. In the New Testament, the Gospels depict Jesus’ ministry as predominantly addressed to those beyond the pale of wealth and respectability. Right at the start of his public ministry, Jesus declares with stunning realism that his mission is to bring good news to the poor (see Lk 4:18-19). On another occasion, in a paroxysm of concern for those in the periphery, he identified himself with them, insisting that whatever is done to bring solace to them is indeed done to him (see Mt 25:31-46).

Over the centuries millions of Jesus’ followers have drawn inspiration from his example and exhortation and devoted their life to the care of the poor. Among this vast multitude, arguably no one has stirred the emotions of the modern world so profoundly as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, that diminutive nun whose frail and bent figure has become in our times the icon of selfless service to the marginalized. The widespread celebration of her birth centennial in various parts of the world is a renewed reminder of the deep esteem in which she is held by people everywhere.

Born as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in a remote village in Albania on August 26, 1910, Mother Teresa made a distinct choice for God early in her life. At the age of 18 she left home to join the Sisters of Loreto as a missionary. Her arrival in India in 1929 changed everything for her. The sight of Calcutta’s staggering army of the poor forced her to redefine her vocation. In 1946 she decided to leave her job as a teacher to devote herself entirely to the care of the destitutes on the streets of that sprawling city.

Actually there is no need to tell the world who Mother Teresa is. The story of her nearly nine decades-long life is indelibly etched in gold in the annals of 20th century’s tumultuous history. For many she is the symbol of the survival of human values in an era which has witnessed the appalling disappearance of those values due to the mindless onslaught of hedonism and secularism. Hers was a life set apart for the suffering and the hurt, the abandoned and the forgotten. Through her, humanity was gifted with a remarkable specimen of true nobility, something that happens perhaps only once in every thousand or so years.

Why should we remember Mother Teresa? I think the occasion of her birth centennial should above all serve as a moment of introspection for all of us. If our era represents precisely the eclipse of all those values that Mother Teresa’s legendary life was an example of, it is because most of us have made a contribution in one way or other to that distressing development. Day after day we hear or read about the many outrageous things happening in our world. Wars and armed conflicts keep repeating; environmental degradation is increasingly becoming a threat to the survival of the planet; wasteful celebrations—which often turn into a vulgar display of wealth—are frequently indulged in to boost the collective and the individual ego; suicide rate is alarmingly on the rise; criminal activities are committed in broad daylight; and so on and so forth.

It would appear that for most people the only important thing in life is to make money in whatever way they can and make it as quickly as possible. There seems to be no moral considerations about what methods we can employ for enriching ourselves. We are all collectively responsible for putting in place a culture that considers making money and having the good life as the only worthwhile pursuit in life. When we become partakers of that culture, values such as selfless service, sense of sacrifice, active concern for the other, love for the poor, etc., gradually disappear from among us. The ills plaguing our society today are the consequence of that. If there is to be any way out of this devastating situation, it only is possible through a whole-hearted embrace of true human and Christian values. Undoubtedly Mother Teresa through her life and mission has blazed the trail of such a path. Remembering her therefore becomes an invitation to check our own priorities.

Published in Arnoldus Nota – December 2010

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Thomas Malipurathu, SVD
Thomas Malipurathu, SVD

Father Thomas Malipurathu was born in Kanjirapally, India, on October 24, 1952. He professed his perpetual vows on June 12, 1979. After completing his studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, he joined the staff of the Divine Word Seminary in Pune. From 1990 to 1994 he received his doctorate from the Gregorian University in Rome. He returned to India, where he taught and served as vice rector of the Divine Word Seminary. From 2004 to 2012, he was secretary for formation and education of the Society of the Divine Word. After serving as rector of the Divine Word Seminary in Pune for six years, he is currently on the staff of Ishvani Kendra.

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