Archbishop Henry D'Souza: Mother Teresa, an ordinary life and an extraordinary love
by Nirmala Carvalho
On October 23 we celebrate World Mission Day. Through the words of the Blessed, the Archbishop Emeritus of Calcutta recalls some episodes of the mission of Mother Teresa: the beginning of the Missionaries of Charity, the call within a call, working with the poor and the lepers, material poverty and poverty of those who are not loved.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Living with the poor, she realized that material poverty was not the only source of misery and darkness in people's lives. Loneliness and lack of love could leave a home cold and dark" On the occasion of World Mission Sunday (October 23), Archbishop Emeritus of Calcutta Henry D'Souza recounts the beginnings of the mission of Mother Teresa, through the first hand memories of the religious, beatified in 1997 by Pope John Paul II. Bishop D'Souza, for over 35 years alongside the blessed and from 1997 postulator of her cause for canonization, cites passages from the correspondence between the blessed and Msgr. Ferdinand Perier, then Archbishop of Calcutta, where she speaks of the "call within a call", the vision of Jesus that inspired the creation of the Missionaries of Charity. In the interview, even three episodes from the life of Mother Teresa: "A story from Australia", "To die like an angel," "Abandonment is a terrible poverty."
According to Pope John Paul II, “Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a good example of modern missionary enthusiasm.” Your Grace, your detailed understanding of this comment of the Holy Father.
Mother Teresa felt a call within a call. She was a happy Loreto nun and she was a missionary in Calcutta. As she walked the streets of Calcutta on her daily rounds to the Parish school, she saw the misery of the people. The division of India and Pakistan for achieving independence left deep scars on the Indian subcontinent. British India became a divided nation. Calcutta became a refuge for millions living in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. To such refugees and to their misery, Mother Teresa responded with generosity.
She wrote in her autobiography, “I feel sometimes afraid, for I have nothing, no brains, no learning, no qualities required for such a work, and yet I tell Him that my heart is free from everything and so it belongs completely to Him, and Him alone. He can use me just as it will please Him best. To please Him only is the joy I seek.
India is going through days of hatred. Here now, again I hear in Calcutta there is trouble. Would that the Missionaries of Charity were there to overrule this hatred by their love? You will say, what could you and your few Indian girls do? We could do nothing, but Jesus and we few victims can do wonders. Let me go and begin this work, which will be an answer to your burning appeal for apostles. (Pg.67, Mother Teresa – Come Be My Light)
In a later page she wrote (it was in 1947) the words of Jesus to her, “My little one – come – come – carry me into the holes of the poor. – Come be My light.” (Pg.98, Mother Teresa – Come Be My Light)
To Archbishop Perier she talked about her vision. About the third vision, she wrote, “The same great crowd – they were covered in darkness. Yet I could see them. Our Lord on the Cross. Our Lady at a little distance from the Cross – and myself as a little child in front of her. Her left hand was on my left shoulder – and her right hand was holding my right arm. We were both facing the Cross. Our Lord said, “I have asked you. They have asked you and she, My Mother has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for me – to take care of them, to bring them to me?”
I answered, “You know, Jesus, I am ready to go at a moment’s notice.” (Pg.99, Mother Teresa – Come Be My Light)
Thus Mother Teresa became a Missionary of Charity. Archbishop Perier allowed her to go. His decision was not based on the “alleged vision” but on her personal conviction that it was the will of God. Archbishop Perier wrote, “I am deeply convinced that by withholding my consent I would hamper the realization through her of the will of God. I do not think I can do anything else to enlighten myself.”
With the permission received from Archbishop Perier, Mother Teresa began with great enthusiasm to bring the light into the dark hovels of the poor. Jesus had called her to be the light. She did her best to carry that light wherever she went. Her understanding of the poor would change as she went among them. She would come to realize that material poverty was not the only source of unhappiness and darkness in people’s lives. Loneliness and lack of love could leave the home cold and dark.
A story from Australia tells us much.
“On a reservation, among the Aborigines, there was an elderly man. I can assure you that you have never seen a situation as difficult as that poor old man’s. He was completely ignored by everyone. His home was disordered and dirty. I told him, “Please, let me clean your house, wash your clothes, and make your bed.” He answered, “I’m okay like this. Let it be.” I said again, “You will be still better if you allow me to do it.” He finally agreed.
So I was able to clean his house and wash his clothes. I discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust. Only God knows how many years had passed since he last lit it. I said to him, “Don’t you light your lamp? Don’t you ever use it?” He answered, “No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I light it for?” I asked, “Would you light it every night if the sisters came?” He replied, “Of course.” From that day on the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. We cleaned the lamp, and the sisters would light it every evening.
Two years passed. I had completely forgotten that man. He sent this message, “Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still.” I thought it was a very small thing. We often neglect small things.”
Mother Teresa’s Mission was through her multifaceted awareness of mission work. What are your reflections, changes and challenges that have occurred as a result of its impact?
Many were the consequences of the mission of Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was once told that she should not be concerned about actual poverty. She should address the causes of poverty. Her reply was straight forward, “I only understand the reality. I leave it to others to find the causes.” But in addressing the reality, whether it was actual material poverty or loneliness or lack of love, she drew sharp attention to the causes of poverty.
Even actual poverty has begun to be better understood. When this year the Rs.32/- poverty norm began to be discussed, a spokesperson said, “Poverty is not only about food. It has also to be concerned about home, family education, health and other such realities.”
People began to want to offer more than food and shelter. The start of the physio-therapy section in the MC homes is a concrete example. Qualified people are going forward to offer assistance to the poor.
The leprosy apostolate of Mother Teresa is another good example. Leprosy patients were often branded as untouchables and forced to live in distressing hovels outside the town. Mother Teresa began Shantinagar in Bengal. It is now both a home for leprosy patients and a rehabilitation centre. Many leprosy patients have their own homes also, and are employed in self-help works. The leprosy colony at Titagarh is another example of the transforming effect to such afflicted persons. The Cuttack leprosy colony and the Puri leprosy colony in Orrisa have been in existence for centuries. They have been radically transformed after the MC Sisters and Brothers began to get involved in there through Fr. Bill Petrie, CSSH and Marianus Zelezek, SVD.
Your reflections on Mother Teresa’s mission to proclaim Christ and spread the Gospel – Mother’s spirit of evangelization.
The message of Mother Teresa is simple. One does not need to do extraordinary things. She wanted her Sisters to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. Her message goes out very strongly in two events narrated by her.
1. To Die Like an Angel
One evening we went out and rescued four people off the streets. One of them was in a desperate condition. I told the sisters, “You take care of the others, I will take care for this one who is worse off.” I did everything for her that my love could do. I put her into bed, and I saw a beautiful smile light up her face. She squeezed my hand and only managed to say two words, “Thank you.” And then she closed her eyes.
I couldn’t help but ask myself there beside her body, “What would I have said if I had been in her place?” My answer was very simple, “I would have said that I was hungry, that I was dying, that I was cold. Or I would have said that this or that part of my body hurt or something like that. But she gave me much more. She gave me her grateful love.”
2. Abandonment Is an Awful Poverty
One day I visited a house where our sisters shelter the aged. This is one of the nicest houses in England, filled with beautiful and precious things, yet there was not one smile on the faces of these people. All of them were looking towards the door. I asked the sister in charge, “Why are they like that? Why can’t you see a smile on their faces?” (I am accustomed to seeing smiles on people’s faces. I think a smile generates a smile, just as love generates love.)
The sister answered, “The same thing happens every day. They are always waiting for someone to come and visit them. Loneliness eats them up, and day after day they do not stop looking. Nobody comes.” Abandonment is an awful poverty. There are poor people everywhere, but the deepest poverty is not being loved. The poor we seek may live near us or far away.
They can be materially or spiritually poor. They may be hungry for bread or hungry for friendship. They may need clothing, or they may need the sense of wealth that God’s love for them represents. They may need the shelter of a house made of bricks and cement or the shelter of having a place in our hearts.
It is in the small things that love is conveyed – a visit, a smile, holding a hand, offering some concern and sympathy and so on.”
Mother Teresa will be remembered as the saint of small things. In that her example can be contagious and can inspire people of all cultures, faiths and status.