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“Understanding Mother Teresa,” in La Vanguardia, Spain (September 4, 2016)

“I vividly remember her diminutive figure, bent over by a lifetime at the service of the poorest of the poor, but always filled with an inexhaustible interior energy. The energy of love for Christ.” These moving words were spoken John Paul II shortly after the death of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He knew her very well.


We all felt the impact of that diminutive figure, bent over by the years, but with a surprising spirit and a moving mission of serving the most helpless. She described herself in this way: “By blood I am Albanian. By citizenship, Indian. In what refers to faith, I am a Catholic nun. By my vocation, I belong to the world. In what refers to my heart, I belong totally to the Heart of Jesus.”


When she began, she could not have suspected that she would become world famous. She never intended this. But in her person, we saw very clearly an essential aspect of the Christian message: concern for the most neglected. And thus she moved many people. Also, at the end, she had a few critics, who thought that serving the poor out of love for Christ was to deform that service, with the intention to evangelize.


Certainly one can work for others, and many do so, without a religious motive, through a philanthropic conviction or through feelings of compassion. These are very good and deeply human intentions and concerns. But the tie between love for God and love for our neighbor reveals something more: a keynote of the Christian message that, by canonizing Mother Teresa, the Church wants to remind mankind of.


Confronted with Jesus’ invitation—to give one’s life for others, loving everyone, including one’s enemies—we come face to face with our human limitations: lack of energy and strength and talents, but also the resistance of laziness and selfishness. And our heart can end up saying: it seems very beautiful, but I don’t see myself as capable of it. 


Christian faith and our experience in life teach us that, if we really want to undertake this dedication and ask God for it, his help doesn’t fail us. Therefore the hearts of the saints always have that curious combination of deep humility: sensing both one’s own incapacity and the strength of God’s love.


The Christian saints are not supermen or superwomen who achieve everything by their overwhelming personality, relentless will power, overflowing energy and irresistible drive. Neither do they usually stand out for their economic or technical expertise. The explanation of their strength and their importance for other Christians resides not in their being exceptions to nature, but rather in their letting God’s love work in them.


On the same occasion that we recalled at the beginning of this article, Pope John Paul II pointed out the key to understanding this small and at the same time gigantic woman: “Her mission began each day, before dawn, in front of the Eucharist. In the silence of contemplation, Mother Teresa of Calcutta felt resonating in her heart Jesus’ cry on the Cross: ‘I thirst.’ That cry sensed in the depth of her heart impelled her through the streets of Calcutta and through all the slum areas of the world, in search of Jesus in the poor, in the abandoned and in the dying.” And I would like to add: in orphans and those not wanted by their parents.

Romana, No. 63, July-December 2016, pag. 307-309.