Bishop of Vasai: Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters" that put the poor at the centre
by mons. Felix Machado*

Mgr Felix Machado says that before the canonisation, everyone already revered Mother Teresa as a saint. Brooding over the past, without thinking about what one can do in the present, is a waste. Offences, which haunt us because we keep them alive, must be forgiven. “People who find themselves unhappy, sad and depressed are often mostly those who are very self-centred and selfish in their life.”


Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Even before the canonisation on 4 September, Mother Teresa was already acclaimed as the "Saint of the Gutters". This is because she had placed the poor, the marginalised, and the needy at the centre of her life, explains Mgr Felix Machado, archbishop of Vasai (Maharashtra). Like Jesus, who became incarnate to save man, the Mother spent her life "to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed."

At this point, the archbishop says, it is pointless to waste our lives "brooding or crying over the past or day-dreaming for the future. Neither past nor future is at hand.” Rather, now is the time to act. Now, not later, because "Each moment is all we need, not more". Here is Mgr Machado’s message.

On September 4, 2016, Pope Francis will canonize (1) Mother Teresa a Saint. She had already earned a spontaneous acclaim from the common people throughout the world, who called her “the Saint of the gutters”. She literally went out searching in the gutters (where people throw litter/trash) for those who were breathing their last breath. She knew that she could not do much for them but she said to herself: “at least, let them die in dignity as angels”.

Last year, during my visit to Varanasi, I spent an afternoon on the banks of the river Ganges. The Missionaries of Charity (Religious Order founded by Mother Teresa has a huge house for those devout Hindus who come to die there). The old and the dying are often left there by their children so that when the hour of their death comes they would die there and become one with the holy waters of the Ganges. The Sisters of Mother Teresa pick these helpless old and dying, bring them in the “home” and lovingly take care of them (400 at a time) until they die. Once dead, the Sisters then bring the dead to the Hindu priests so that desired rituals are performed on them, according to their expressed wishes.

What has Mother Teresa to teach us? She did live her religious vocation seriously and we all might not become consecrated religious. But we all can learn to do from Mother Teresa  ‘something beautiful for God’. Although she began her selfless service to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the downtrodden alone, Mother was always open to receive support from whoever wanted to join her; and many of all religions and no religion did. She won the confidence of so many people of all creeds, cast and religions who helped her in kind or in service to reach out to the poorest of the poor. Some like Sister Nirmala Joshi joined her and even became her successor to lead the religious order she founded. Sister Nirmala was born in an orthodox Hindu family and loved her upbringing. Without denying her beautiful religious past she discovered that her past was a good preparation for what was to come in future. She lovingly and willingly accepted the Faith of the Church and lived an exemplary Christian life.

Many interesting things have been written about Mother Teresa. I have personally known her and heard her message, especially by her gestures and silence, yes by her example. One of the things she kept saying to many is: “Be happy in the present moment, that’s enough! Each moment is all we need, not more!” I have never stopped reflecting on this her simple message. How true it is that many of us live either brooding or crying over the past or day-dreaming for the future. Neither past nor future is at hand. The past has gone and the future is not here. The Christian mystical tradition teaches us that “the Kairos”, the now is the right moment to live. Why do we often get stuck in the past?

There are some who, for example, never want to forgive some hurt, albeit a grave one, and remain attached to it, even if it happened a long time ago. This attachment to the past obviously paralyses them and disables them from living in the present. There are others who only dream about that which is not there. Dreaming about that which is not there can be a good thing surely if one committed oneself to make that dream come true. However, dreaming about the future as a mere wish also paralyses a person and disables the person from living in the present moment.

A devout religious person makes the best of the present moment and that is why the whole life of this person – past, present and future – becomes the joy of heaven on earth. For example, if I am committed to praying at a particular moment, I’d better pray and think or do nothing else than praying. Reversing my mind into the nostalgia of the past, not for learning or obtaining inspiration from the past, but to divert myself or to brood and cry over some hurts, then I am certainly wasting my precious life. Or, watch the person who is in the act of eating but does it in a hurry because his mind is set on the next thing to come; he is losing the joy of eating: She or he even biologically loses on life, in the sense that instead of eating (manducare), tasting and enjoying the act of eating the person might perhaps suffer from indigestion or a lack proper nourishment!

Mother Teresa’s wisdom is experientially proven and we would experience joy in our life if we were to follow her advice. “The moment now is the only time you will ever have, it is the best time to live; if you are thinking of the past hurt, you will not notice the people smiling around you and won’t notice raindrops pattering on a puddle. Thinking of your past hurt – the only reason past hurt still lives is because you are the one keeping those images alive by constantly thinking about it”.

Mother Teresa said: “What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight, build it anyway”. How often do we not want to put our hands to that which seems difficult or almost impossible? But it is precisely the impossible which is worth putting our hands to if we want to be really happy in our life. God has given us life so that we may live it to the fullest and there is no life to the fullest unless we venture into the impossible and difficult areas of life.

The joy of a music concert, for example, is not in the last musical note when the audience explodes in a thundering applause! We know it well that the joy is in every musical note that is played or sung; even the silence in between the sound of the musical instruments or voices of the singers bring us joy. The fun of a journey is not experienced only at the end when we reach our destination; it is in every step we walk, distance we fly or ride or still, in moments we stand quiet in the course of our journey. The joy of a festive celebration is not just in the unfolding of the event itself for a few hours (like a wedding Day) but, more so in the meticulous, detailed and tedious moments one spends in preparing the coming event.

“It is kingly to act to assist the fallen,” so said Mother Teresa and so did live as “mother” to so many destitute and needy children of God. People who find themselves unhappy, sad and depressed are often mostly those who are very self-centred and selfish in their life. When one is obsessed only with one’s own happiness, when one only thinks of oneself, one finds in despair and life seems boring and uninteresting. Someone else, on the contrary, when goes out of oneself to help the fallen, to assist in whatever, even in a little way, reaps much richer and lasting fruit of satisfaction and joy.

Living in the shanty places of Kolkata, Mother Teresa strongly criticized the affluent and filthy rich, even those of Europe and America. The poor seem to live in a “city of joy”; whereas, she felt that rich people construct walls around them, shut themselves in and cry over their own doings. She concluded that “Loneliness is the leprosy of the modern world”. It is in wanting this kind of lonely life that people begin to limit the number of their family – husband, wife and one or two children.

This kind of family, closed in upon itself, in spite of having affluence, rolling in wealth and comfort finally experiences life like that of a leper who is not really wanted by anyone. Instead of reaching out to serve the dire need of some poor person or family around them, they choose loneliness and then cry over it for the rest of their life. Mother Teresa would propose: How about helping one person at a time? Start then with the needy person next to you, without worrying about numbers; this way, one can certainly do a lot for the betterment of our society and thus live a joyful and contented life. 

Mother Teresa had only the interest of the need person before her. Obviously that came because of her deep faith in God who is revealed finally, completely and definitively in Jesus Christ, Saviour and Lord of all. Because the Incarnate Son of God became one like us and identified himself, especially with the poor and the needy.

You may have heard this that Mother Teresa, once her prayer and the Holy Mass was over, went to beg in order to feed the  poor and the needy whom she had given shelter. An angry shopkeeper spat his “paan” in her begging folded hands and shouted at her. Mother Teresa still looked at him with a smiling face and said: “Sir, this is for me. Please now give something for my poor and needy children”! The man later converted and spent his life always helping Mother Teresa.

The official name of the “Saint of the gutter” will be St Teresa of Calcutta. But in the hearts of millions she will always remain “St Mother Teresa”. We have a Church which is dedicated to Blessed Mother Teresa in our Vasai diocese - Virar West (not far from Virar Suburban Railway Station). Novena services have been organized by the parish, nine days prior to the Feast Day, which will be on 4 September 2016. Concelebrated by priests, I will celebrate a Solemn High Mass at 5.00 p.m. on Sunday, 4 September 2016 at 5.00 p.m. which will coincide with the canonization ceremony in Rome.

The name of the parish from Blessed Mother Teresa will then become ST MOTHER TERESA CHURCH! Please come in numbers to praise and glorify God by honouring the poor, the forgotten, the destitute, the marginalized, the exploited, the oppressed, the voiceless – our dear brothers and sisters for whom Mother Teresa spent her life and her sisters continue to do so! These abandoned ones are God’s preferred children! Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, identified with them (Matthew 25: 31-46). These, said Jesus, will precede us in the Kingdom of God! St Mother Teresa will keep reminding us of this important truth. St Teresa of Calcutta, our dear Mother Teresa pray for us!

*Archbishop of Vasai

(Nirmala Carvalho contributed to this article)

(1) The message was released before the canonisation.

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