Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 7, 2009
Christian love means spending time with the elderly, the infirm
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is often revered as one of the great saints of our time. But Mother Teresa did what any Christian should do - she spent time with the sick and the dying, she bandaged their wounds and prayed with and for them.
"The biggest disease today,'' she would say, "is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one's neighbour who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.''
Mother Teresa, who died 12 years ago on Sept. 5, went further than perhaps we would wish to go. She found dying derelicts lying in the gutter and gave them a home for their final days. We might find walking through the slums and touching these "unclean," smelly, abandoned people too difficult for our sensitivities.
But if we want a Christian society, it begins right there. Right there with those who are "unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody." We can mutter about pornography, laws that do not respect life and unjust decisions by human rights commissions. We can say our prayers and attend church regularly. We can raise money and donate it to worthy causes.
But if we do not personally tend to those who are unwanted, uncared for and deserted, then there is no truly Christian society.
Traditionally, the Church has talked about the corporal works of mercy - feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and those in prison, and burying the dead.
The Church's commitment to those works comes from the Last Judgment scene described in Matthew 25.31-46. It is a stark reminder about the importance of faith in action. Those who fail to perform these works "will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (v. 46).
"Do small things with great love," Mother Teresa would say. It is not asking too much. If we can find time to relax at the cottage or play a round of golf, we can also visit the dying.
Legions of elderly people spend their last years in nursing homes with few, if any, people to visit them. We value those who are active, but show "terrible indifference" to those who are frail, their minds severely weakened.
Why is this? Can we not take a rosary or a Bible and pray with those who are in their last days? Surely they do not frighten us. Rather, they show us our own future. If we wish to be abandoned in our final days, we should turn our backs on those dying today.
Mother Teresa showed us a better way. She showed us that charity is not about fundraising, it is about love for those who are forgotten.
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