Mother Teresa in her religious life and work with people was never on “auto pilot.” There was integrity every day in her prayer and association with people. Her spirituality and interaction with others was always fresh and authentic. For Mother Teresa, prayer and work was not performed in a boring routine manner. Every day were opportunities to identify with the words of St.Paul: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body which is the Church…” (Col.1:24). Whenever Mother Teresa ministered at the House of the Dying it was truly with a new pure heart. The new day brought challenges and opportunities for giving glory to God. Neither people or hands-on activities were taken for granted. If I was shaving, washing or spoon feeding a patient, Mother Teresa might give a word of encouragement about sharing in the Calvary of a dying person or express gratitude for being present at the House of Pure Heart. Those were treasured moments as Mother Teresa gave loving quality time to the patient and the worker performing these simple tasks. All the Missionaries of Charity Sisters and volunteers had the opportunity to see first hand Mother Teresa’s bedside compassionate style. She made the connection in her own life with how Priests delicately handle the Consecrated Host on the Altar, so we can imitate and delicately encounter others.
In the early 1970’s Mother Teresa’s popularity was not as extensive as it became after receiving the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize. Before that, Mother was more available to bring a visitor to the various Missionaries of Charity works for children, the elderly slum schools, and the mentally challenged. But she always tried to bring people to the House of the Dying because it was an experience that was Grace filled. On one occasion after a Mass at the Mother House Mother Teresa introduced me to a Prince from a European royal family and requested that I take him as an anonymous volunteer to the House of the Dying. While he was feeding a patient a volunteer recognized him. With tears in his eyes expressed how proud he was to be a citizen of that country. The tearful Prince replied how proud he was because of citizens like him. Repeatedly, the best of people seemed to emerge, from being connected with Mother Teresa and the works she started. Even after Mother Teresa’s 1997 death.
Destitute, sick or dying people do not need a sad face in front of them. Mother would tell her Sisters if you can’t smile, don’t go to the poor as they already had enough problems. Smile at a dying person and they try to smile back. Mother Teresa’s cheery face was uplifting to all. Such axioms Mother would share over and over with people who met her. Introducing yourself to Mother was received with a smile on her face, and unconsciously returned. Such gestures are contagious. A smile from a homeless rejected or any person is a gift of love from that individual. It’s a love that is genuine that can bring mutual spiritual joy. (To be continued)
Fraternally in the Sacred Hearts,
Fr. Bill Petrie, ss.cc