Written by Becca Simoneaux, a Catholic blogger at www.delightfulinklings.com
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, also known as Mother Teresa, is a saint of and for our times.
Sitting down to write this, I realized how little I knew about her. Despite having more books about her on my bookshelf than any other saint, I have yet to read a single one from start to finish. Saint Teresa seems somewhat unreachable at first glance, having lived for Jesus in ways I could never hope to. As a wife and mother, my life generally looks very different from how Mother Teresa spent her days in service to the poor of her community. However, the more I reflected on the real Saint Teresa of Calcutta—and not my preconceptions of who she was—the more I realized what we have in common, and how much I can learn from her.
The Life of Saint Teresa
Teresa was born as Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhu on August 26, 1910, in what is now Macedonia. At the age of 18, she joined the Sisters of Loreto, which eventually brought her to Calcutta, India. While in Calcutta, she began a new community called the Missionaries of Charity to serve “the poorest of the poor.” Over time, her work began to attract international attention, and she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. After a lifetime of service for the glory of God, she passed away on September 5, 1997.
The Struggles of Saint Teresa
Saint Teresa lived a life of extreme faith, trust, humility, and charity. She also experienced spiritual darkness which she fought internally even while maintaining the practice of loving her neighbors. She may have struggled with her faith at times, but she continued to believe that God loved her and was guiding her even when it was too dark for her to see Him. During those periods of desolation, Saint Teresa continued to love God and to spread His love to others.
Despite their trials and sufferings, all the men and women that we call saints continued to strive for Heaven while walking on Earth. Saints provide us a roadmap to holiness, but no two saints are alike—and neither are we. As God designed, we all have unique stories with very personal crosses and blessings. We are not all called to follow Saint Teresa’s path through life in perfect imitation; however, reflecting on how she grew in holiness can inspire our own journey, regardless of sex, vocation, or age.
Saint Teresa's Works of Mercy
Throughout her life, Saint Teresa embodied the people described in Matthew 25:31-46, those whom Jesus said were blessed by the Father and would inherit His Kingdom because they fed, welcomed, clothed, cared for, and visited Jesus in the "least" of these. Teresa humbly lived out the works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal, in daily life. She saw the face of Jesus in every person she encountered and treated them likewise. Isn't that what we all should strive to do?
Saint Teresa always provided charitable love to the poor, the ill, the addicted, the abused, and anyone who felt rejected or forgotten. As she said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Each of us has the opportunity to “do small things with great love” on a daily basis by caring for those in our family and community. It can be as simple as taking a breath to calmly respond to your toddler’s umpteenth tantrum of the day, patiently forgiving your spouse when they forget something you told them, reaching out to a friend who is struggling with loneliness or grief, being a welcoming presence to a new coworker, or spending time with our parents or grandparents and taking care of their needs.
Spreading Love Close to Home
During her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Saint Teresa acknowledged how important it is to focus our efforts close to home first:
“And so, my prayer for you is that truth will bring prayer in our homes, and the fruit of prayer will be that we believe that in the poor, it is Christ. And if we really believe, we will begin to love. And if we love, naturally, we will try to do something. First in our own home, our next door neighbor, in the country we live, in the whole world.”
Regardless of who surrounds us each day, from newborns to the elderly, loved ones to strangers, every person is created in the image and likeness of God with inherent worth and dignity. When we love and care for another human, be it our spouse, child, parent, friend, coworker, boss, or a stranger in the grocery store, we love and care for God's beloved.
Let us ask Saint Teresa of Calcutta to teach us to find Jesus in the eyes of those we meet. May we open our hearts for the Holy Spirit to work through us so those who need Love the most might see Him in us today.
Daily Prayer of Saint Teresa
I leave you with this prayer known as the “Fragrance Prayer” or “Radiating Christ”, which is attributed to Cardinal St. John Henry Newman but was adopted and prayed daily by St. Teresa of Calcutta:
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with your spirit and life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us that every soul we come in contact with may feel your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be light to others. The light, O Jesus, will be all from you. None of it will be ours. It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best by shining on those around us. Let us preach you without preaching, not by words, but by our example; by the catching force – the sympathetic influence of what we do, the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you. Amen.