Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 1, 2001
Mother Teresa's essential writings
Mother Teresa: Essential Writings Selected with an Introduction by Jean Maalouf. Orbis Books: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2001. 144 pages.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
"Let me preach Thee without preaching," writes Mother Teresa of Calcutta, quoting Cardinal Newman, "not by words, but by my example."
In truth, the deeds of Mother Teresa lend significant credibility to her words. Yet people are interested in what she said and this is a book of her sayings. Mother Teresea's mentors were Mary, Th‚rŠse of Lisieux, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila but this soon-to-be-beatified modern spiritual master has already been informally canonized a saint by a broad spectrum of humanity.
She left an indelible footprint on the history of the 20th century.
Author Jean Maalouf offers a concise but spare biographical introduction. The greater part of Mother Teresa: Essential Writings centres on five thematic qualities of her life - focused, prayerful, loving, joyful and fulfilled.
Maalouf profiles the heart of Mother Teresa's vision and the spiritual forces motivating her to found the Missionaries of Charity in 1950 who now carry on her work in India and 100 other countries. She died in September 1997.
Mother Teresa challenged people to think differently and to change their conception and way of life. She was driven by a certain vision and followed a particular path in holiness, all with a clarity of purpose that transcended the image the media had created about her.
"At the end of life," she once said, "we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by 'I was hungry and you gave me to eat. I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless and you took me in.'
"Hungry not for bread, but hungry for love; naked not only for clothing, but naked for human dignity and respect; homeless not only for want of a room of bricks, but homeless because of rejection. This is Christ in distressing disguise."
Maalouf comments: "When we leave this world, will we leave behind a legacy of love as Mother Teresa did? No matter what we do and no matter how many successes we are able to accumulate, if love is not there, no fulfillment is reached and no salvation is possible.
"True love is the only satisfying answer to human restlessness, and holiness is the only genuine fullness of life. Mother Teresa had it right."
Mother Teresa relied totally on God's providence. She exuded boundless compassion for the poor. She demonstrated both a contemplative and active lifestyle and lived in simplicity. She reflected an astounding, unceasing, radical and contagious joy.
Some have criticized her for being too tough, too austere, too obsessed with bodily mortification. Others have objected to the fact that she did not work to change oppressive social structures and also because of her acceptance of charitable donations, regardless of the motives of the giver.
Few, however, doubt the integrity of her vocation. She was neither a philosopher nor a theologian. She simply lived her beliefs in the most simple way.
Her writings on suffering, witness, finding Jesus in the face of the poor, family, abortion and becoming holy are worthy of thoughtful reflection.
Suffering is not a punishment, she says. Jesus does not punish. Suffering is a sign that God loves us.
Her criterion for assisting someone was not that person's belief, but his or her need. She saw Christ in the poor without inquiring into their backgrounds. "We do not impose our faith on others," she claimed. "We try to act in such a way that Christ will make his light and his life shine forth in us and, through us, in the world."
In order to spread joy, joy needs to reign in the family. Peace and war start within one's own home. If we really want peace for the world, let us start by loving one another within our families. If abortion is permitted in wealthy countries, those countries are the poorest among the poor.
A winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, she claimed it not so much as a social worker but as a religious sister who sought to awaken others into Christ's love and into the duty of becoming holy, no matter what the place, time or circumstance.
The author's solid grasp of Mother Teresa's expansive but very basic message is well reflected in his selections. This book will inspire ordinary readers and challenge deeper thinkers alike. Humanity simply stands in awe of her.