Like Mother Teresa, we are not social workers, but co-workers in the love of God
by Fratel Yesudas, MC*
Charity must be inspired by Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est. Compassion towards others is the image of God's compassion for man. Mother Teresa said: "I was not asked to have success, but to have faith."
Taipei (AsiaNews) - The Pontifical Council Cor Unum held a course of spiritual exercises in Taipei in September last. The initiative was aimed at religious and lay people in Asia involved in the Churches charity work and was attended by 450 people from 29 countries. Brother Yesudas, former superior of the Missionaries of Charity, the male religious order founded by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, led the five-day retreat entitled "... you did it to me" (Mt 25, 40). He himself told AsiaNews that he had used as a source of inspiration the encyclical Deus Caritas Est, by Benedict XVI, the Holy Scriptures and the testimony of Mother Teresa. We publish here one of his addresses.
Our Holy Father said in a recent homily that, “We must bring the reality of God back into our world, make him known and present.” He prayed “That our lives may speak of God, that our lives may be…an announcement of God, a door through which the distant God may become the present God and a true giving of ourselves to God.”
In 1977, to a group of coworkers and brothers in Los Angeles, Mother Teresa spoke: “We owe deep gratitude to the Church for allowing us to live, and to be the presence of Jesus among the poorest of the poor, and so be God’s love and compassion to them. For God still loves the world; He keeps on loving the world. God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son, and today, He still loves the world and HE keeps on giving Jesus through you & through me. Just as Jesus came into the world because God loved the world, His father loved the world; He was the gift of God to the world. And we too, each one of us in our own way, have to be that love, that compassion of the Father for the world.”“And that’s why the vocation of our brothers is so beautiful, and the sisters and the coworkers and each one of us”
It is good to ask what kind of image we have of God and Jesus? Our image of God and Jesus affects our perception of the Christian way of life. It will affect all our charitable activities. We shall make a brief Journey through the Gospel and open our hearts to God for a transformation. Jesus’s mission was to reveal the Father to humanity, & to the world. He was filled with the Spirit of God. We see Jesus as a person united to the Spirit of God. His ‘authority’ was flowing from this unity with the Father. As we read the Gospel we come across in it, that His followers experienced a presence around Him that was palpable and contagious. It was a presence that brought liberation and peace. Jesus’s relation with His Father expressed a dramatic simplicity. He never had any banners to tell people -- who He is and what He is doing, as we do in our charitable works. Instead of banners He was filled with the Spirit. In Luke we read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives. And recovery of the sight to the blind, To let the oppressed go free, To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”(Luke 4:18-19)
People who encountered Jesus experienced a spiritual presence in Him. There was as an experience of the Sacred. To be in His presence was to Experience something extraordinary.
One journalist who watched Mother Teresa walking out of Mother House in Calcutta wrote; “In her, there is Someone directing her where to put her right foot and left foot, and directing every word she speaks.”
For all of us who are involved in charitable work, knowing this Spirit of God and being in the Spirit of God, in and through Jesus has a significant implication for our life today. As Holy Father said “We must bring the reality of God back into our world, make him known and present.” He is not a God removed from this world, but one who is all around us- “the one in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:18).
In the Gospel we not only see Jesus as a Spirit filled person but also as a person filled with compassion. Compassion is an important word in the Gospels. The Gospel writers, speak of him as having compassion and of His being moved with compassion (cf Mt 9:36;Mk 6:34; Lk 7:13). The word compassion is a summary of the teaching about God and the way of life in God. For Jesus, compassion was the central nature and quality of God. I believe it is the central nature and moral quality of a life centered in God. Filled with the Spirit Jesus spoke to us: - “Be compassionate as God is compassionate” (Lk:6:36).
Jesus’s life & message speaks of a way of life - rooted in an imitation of God. Image of God and way of life – what is God like and how are we to live - are blended together. Jesus’s parable of the prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32) and Good Samaritan (Lk: 10:30-37) are parables that invite us to see the character of God and invite us to reflect - how we respond to life around us. The parable of the prodigal Son, the focus is on the Father, “The longing and waiting Father, the loving Father, and the compassionate Father”. We all know this story well - yet it is good to make a reflection together. We have three scenes in this parable. The first is the younger son’s journey into a distant gentile country with all his share of property. When he had spent everything, he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself to one of the citizens of that gentile country, who sent him to his field to feed the pigs. First scene is a description of the misery of the younger son – it could be of all of us- the misery being of faraway from enduring love.
The second scene is the son’s return from the distant gentile country. The prodigal son “comes to himself” and undertakes a journey of return. He has his - mea culpa. his confession prepared, “I have sinned against heaven and before you”, but his father sees him, a long way off and filled with compassion, runs to his son, embraces him and kisses him before his son can speak his - mea culpa. The father’s behavior is one of - joyful celebration. In the JOY, the Father virtually ignores his son’s confession. What do you think of a Father who acts that way? Do you think God is like this?
As the third Scene begins, it shows the (elder) faithful and dutiful son’s reaction. He is not happy, he refuses to join in. Filled with a sense of unfairness, he remains outside. So his father goes to him and listens to his complaint. The parable then ends with the father’s simple justification of the celebration: “We had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.”
The center of the parable is an invitation to see the character of God in a particular way. God is like the father who yearns for his son’s return from the distant gentile country. When he sees him coming, he is “filled with compassion” and joyously celebrates his homecoming. His compassion extends to his dutiful son as well: he goes outside to invite him to join the celebration, the father invites him to change his most basic vision of the way of life & how it should be. This dutiful son’s focus is on his dutifulness, wealth and money - but the Father’s focus is on life. Let us listen to the words of the father – “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.” The elder son missed two things of life – “Compassion and Joy”. We can be like the dutiful son focusing on our project, activity, administration, management, money for our charitable work and not on life and something most noble in us :– Compassion and Joy.
The parable is inviting us to reflect about the character of God and the kind of life we should live from seeing God’s character in a particular way. We are to be compassionate as God is compassionate. The centrality of compassion is underlined in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In this famous story, a priest and Levite passes by a man beaten by robbers, but a Samaritan stops to help, he bandages his wounds, brings him to an inn, takes care of him, and then leaves money with the inn-keeper for continuing his care. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? The answer: “the one who showed compassion”. Then Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”
As Jesus spoke of imitating God’s compassion, he invites us to a transformation of life. Compassion is a vision of human life in community, and this compassion is a God given quality of the human heart. It is nourishing, caring, embracing, and above all encompassing and life giving. God loves us and feels for us. To be compassionate is to feel as God feels and act as God acts: in a life-giving and nourishing way. Jesus invites us to see, compassion as the central quality of a life faithful to God, the Compassionate One. This faithfulness is the center of our charitable work in the Church. When Mother Teresa came to New York to open her mission of Charity, one of the journalists asked her: “Mother Teresa, do you think your work will be as successful here as in Calcutta?” Mother replied, “I am not called to be successful but to be faithful.” If we aim at success, we will be trapped in our mind but if we remain faithful, we will be in touch with the heart beat of God, the heart beat of others and the heart beat of ourselves.
Holy Father in his first encyclical writes: - “Those who work for the Church’s charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with their heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity”(DCE 31). This heartfelt concern grows from our union with Jesus and we are continuing the mission of Jesus and therefore we are all coworkers of Christ; whatever role or service in the Church. And for this - we need a deeper life of prayer, we need great zeal. Mother Teresa explained this in her simple way: -
“A co-worker is a person - who has to be the love and compassion of God today. God loves the world so much, that He gave His only Son, and today, He gives you to the world… He says, give me your heart! That heart has to be the Sunshine of God’s love in the world, the hope of the eternal happiness, the burning flame of God’s love in the world today. So, a coworker is not a figure of speech… you are the coworker of Christ Himself and He wants you to be so totally His wherever you are, whatever work you are doing there, , to be that sunshine of God’s love. There is so much darkness in the world today and you, a co-worker, have to be that sunshine there. There is so much less hope , there is so much despair, so much distress in the world and a coworker has to be the hope of eternal happiness. There is so much hatred, there is so much killing, so much destruction in the world, & a coworker has to be the burning flame of God’s love and compassion and that’s why we need to pray.”
This spirit of love and compassion make us different from other social workers. The Church’s charitable activity is a contemplation of the presence of Jesus, who made Himself present, in the hungry, in the naked, in the sick and the homeless. That’s why, Mother Teresa said to her Missionaries of Charity,- “We are not social workers, we are really contemplatives right in the heart of the world, for we are touching the body of Christ -- twenty-four hours.
There is a truth about our work of charity in the Church. The more we make this journey in the works of charity, the more our hearts are reshaped. A reshaped heart is a caring heart. It is filled with compassion. When compassion flows, gratitude arises; the whole existence becomes a temple of prayer, a tabernacle, our touch becomes prayer, what so ever we do becomes prayerful. Each time we deeply love, we are deeply caring and there we are -- flowing into compassion. We come to know, like Mother Teresa, a humbling experience. It is not my work, it is His.” Our work belongs to Him. We have a tremendous power in all our charitable centers of the Church - the Presence of the Lord, “a tabernacle”. That’s why Mother Teresa, whenever she opened a new community of the Missionaries of Charity, she would say,- “I have opened one more tabernacle.” Or Brother Andrew, co-founder of the M.C. Brothers with Mother Teresa said: “One caring heart is better than thousand heads and that heart is moving towards the things of beauty and grace.”
*Brother Yesudas is a consulter of the Missionaries of Charity