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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"I dwell with the crushed and the dejected“ (Is 57:15)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

Monthly Reflections

"I APPOINTED YOU A PROPHET TO THE NATIONS" (Jeremiah 1:5)- Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.

On 5 September, the Church celebrates Blessed Teresa of Kolkata. She who relinquished the honour of status of the principal in the prestigious St. Mary's School in Calcutta to become a humble servant of God and of the poor in the dirty gutters of that city, is raised up by God as a Prophet to the modern world.

I met Mother Teresa for the first time in 1975. It was a year after my ordination as a priest. I was doing my post graduation in theology in Pune, India. Early mornings I used to go to offer Mass for the community of the Missionaries of Charity there. During the Mother's visit to that community, she sent word wanting to meet me. When I went there I saw her washing the wounds of an elderly woman with the help of another Sister. At the end of the conversation, as I was leaving, she looked into my eyes and told me "Be a prophet wherever you are. Have a message and a mission of love to every poor and broken person you meet. Remember the poorest are those who have no one to love and no reason to live." With folded hands, she then bade me farewell.

Years later as I now recall this event, it appears that she was sharing with me her life mission to be a prophet of God in this broken world. A prophet is a person who speaks for God. And the simple words she spoke have reached the heart of modern man, ushering in a culture of love.

THE CALL - "Here am I! Send me" (Isaiah 6:8)

The call to be a prophet reached her while she was on a train journeying to Darjeeling. She described this famously as 'the call within the call'. At that time she was a nun in the Irish order of the Sisters of Loreto. At the age of 17 she had joined this religious community known for their missionary work in India. She had come to Calcutta and was teaching geography and catechism in St. Mary's High School. She had contracted tuberculosis and was sent to Darjeeling for rest and recuperation. It was then that she had received this life transforming experience that would indeed come to transform the heart of this world. About this later she recalled "The message was quite clear – I was to give up all and follow Jesus into the slums – to serve Him in the poorest of the poor… I was to leave the convent and work with the poor, living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged. But I did not know how to get there." Every moment from then was a search to be faithful to the call she had received. She would wait upon God for long hours to get the Will of God confirmed and to get her heart filled with the Love of God that she may have the fullness of love to share with everyone in need. She went to live among the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta. She started a school to teach the children of the poor. She also learnt basic medicine and went into the homes of the sick to care for them. In 1949, some of her former students joined her. They went about the crammed city of Calcutta, caring for the men, women and children dying on the streets – having been rejected by all, shut out of their homes and even the local hospitals. Mother Teresa and her group rented a room in order to care for these miserable rejects of society who were otherwise condemned to die in the gutters. In 1950, the group was recognized by the Church as a diocesan congregation of the Calcutta archdiocese and was named as the Missionaries of Charity.

The community grew from the first set of twelve members to have thousands of sisters committed to serve Christ in the poor. In 1952, the first Home for Dying was opened in space made available by the Corporation of Calcutta. She created many homes for the dying and the unwanted from the hellhole of Calcutta to the poorest ghettos of New York and even to the fundamentalist and communist countries that would otherwise tolerate no religious presence, including her own native country of Albania. While AIDS was still a stigma, Mother Teresa and her sisters broke all conventions and ignored all misgivings about the disease and established the first homes for AIDS patients. For over 45 years she lived for the poor, the dying and the unwanted around the world - bringing the comfort and healing of God's radical and unconditional love to everyone. The message of her life and mission opened new frontiers of thought and breathed into the world a new grace for life and love.

"The Voice Of One Crying In The Wilderness" (John 1:23)

A culture of death has been raging around us. And when Mother Teresa spoke, it was for life and love and for Christ. Hence her voice was counter cultural – truly a voice in the wilderness. Nevertheless this feeble voice was carried to the ends of the earth, shaking up the convictions and the culture of all classes, the rulers, the rich, the common man and of course touching most of all the least and the loneliest!

The prophet speaks the message of God. God's message is purposed to bring life where there is death, light where there is darkness, creating a new order. Mother Teresa revolutionized the secularized world in ways never imagined. And we see this revolution happened at three clear layers.

(I) THE PROPHET OF LOVE-"The greatest of these is love" (I Corinthians 13:13)

"Work without love is slavery", declared Mother Teresa. The modern man is driven by a selfish craze to achieve. All his obsessions are oriented towards the inflation of the ego. This craze is coupled with its consequent cold inhuman indifference to the welfare of the neighbour.

Here Mother Teresa offered the call to self-forgetfulness leading to self surrender to God and the neighbour. This in simple terms meant a wholehearted dedication to the other, beginning in the family.

Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush - anxious for greater developments and personal, professional achievements, greater riches and grander luxuries. But in this great rush, the heart of the family is emptied. Parents have no time for the children, neither the husbands for the wife, nor the wife for the husband, and children have little time for parents. And in the home, begins the disruption of peace of the world.

Mother Teresa said, "Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbour… Let no one ever come to you without leaving better or happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting."

In her travels, she met with the elite of society who were always on the rush to achieve their great targets - having no time or love for anyone around. And this frail prophet challenged them to reach beyond in love to the least of the brethren, the unwanted, unheard, unspoken sections of the poorest of the poor.

She clearly pointed out to their responsibility. "When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed. You and I, we are the Church, no? We have to share with our people. Suffering today is because people are hoarding, not giving, not sharing. Jesus made it clear. 'Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do it to me. Give a glass of water, you give it to me. Receive a little child, you receive me.'"

"The more you have, the more you are occupied, the less you give. But the less you have, the more free you are. Poverty for us is a freedom. It is not mortification - a penance. It is joyful freedom. There is no television here, no this, no that, But we are perfectly happy."

For her the love of Jesus was the pointer for our call to love. "I pray that you will understand the words of Jesus, "Love one another as I have loved you," Ask yourself "How has he loved me? Do I really love others in the same way?" Unless this love is among us, we can kill ourselves with work and it will only be work, not love. Work without love is slavery."

"Love until it hurts." She presented love as a challenge that was painful but worthwhile. "If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive." She recalled this moving incident: "I once picked up a woman from a garbage dump and she was burning with fever; she was in her last days and her only lament was, 'My son did this to me." I begged her, "You must forgive your son. In a moment of madness, when he was not himself, he did a thing he regrets. Be a mother to him, forgive him. It took me a long time to make her say, I forgive my son.' Just before she died in my arms, she was able to say that with a real forgiveness. She was not concerned that she was dying. The breaking of the heart was that her son did not want her. This is something you and I can understand."

(II) THE PROPHET OF LIFE – "That they may have life" (John 10:10)

The loud cry of the age is of the hedonistic hunger to grab the fleeting pleasures of the moment. The dazzling glamour of the bold and famous, the mad hunger to lose oneself in the opium of pleasures – this has dominated the media and the minds. Here, Mother Teresa offered the option to reach out in self-forgetfulness to provide for the poor and broken-hearted.

She became the "Voice" of the voiceless - speaking for the poorest of the poor, the unborn child, the victims of war. When she thus lent her voice, God's consoling and healing message of Love reached millions of human beings.

The hands we reach out to the poor should not be extended out of sympathy but out of our sense of obligation to serve them. Mother Teresa loved God so much that she felt a compelling force to live for the poor and to raise her voice for the voiceless. In season and out of season, she gave voice to their cause even when it embarrassed and disturbed the rich and the famous of society.

In 1979, she was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. While receiving this honour, Mother Teresa revolutionized the award ceremony. She insisted as a departure from the ceremonial banquet and asked that the funds of $6000 to be spent on it be donated to the poor in Calcutta. The eminent guests were appalled but her prophetic voice shifted the spotlight for once to the reality of the voiceless of the world.

Mighty nations passed resolutions and laws to slaughter the unborn child in the wombs of the mothers. Mother Teresa was the prophet demanding for the culture of life. She declared that at any cost every child had a right to live. And her voice created strong reverberations in all circles when she raised it for the cause of the children denied the right to live.

On February 3, 1994 at a National Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, in Washington DC, Mother Teresa challenged the audience on such topics as family life and abortion. She pleaded, "Please don't kill the child. I want the child. Give the child to me." She was the conscience of the age!

(III) THE PROPHET OF GOD – "Be still, and know… God" (Psalm 46:10)

This consumerist age has been more than ever before an era of open rebellion against God and things holy and ordered. The secularized life vision centred, merely on the earthly existence that smirks at God, was shocked and challenged by Mother Teresa's clear God-centred declaration that Jesus Christ was the reason and the goal of her life and mission.

Mother Teresa became a saint not because she served the poor rather she served the poor because she was a saint. She was so one with the Lord that she could see the Face of the Lord in every broken person that she served.

She resisted being called a social worker and declared she was a worker for God. To serve the poor was the command she received from the Lord. Because she could see the Face of Jesus in the faces of the hungry and depressed, she was impelled to serve them. A journalist seeing her washing the wounds of a leper exclaimed to her, "Mother I will not be able to do something like this even if I am paid a million dollars." With a smile she replied "Neither will I do it, even if I am paid ten million dollars. I cannot but do it because the Lord I love is wounded in them." The words of Jesus were always ringing in her ears, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me." (Matthew 25:40)

Mother Teresa used to say, "Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin." She took up adventurous and massive projects for the poor. She did not rely on her calculations or resources. She did not rely on the trend or acceptability of her mission. She was confident that God will provide. She recalls, "When once a chairman of a multinational company came to see me, to offer me a property in Bombay, he first asked: "Mother, how do you manage your budget?" I asked him who had sent him here. He replied, "I felt an urge inside me." I said to him, "Other people like you come to see me and say the same. It was clear God sent you, Mr. A, as he sends Mr. X, Mrs. Y, Miss Z. And they provide the material means we need for our work. The grace of God is what moved you. You are my budget. God sees to our needs, as Jesus promised. I accepted the property he gave and named it Asha Dan (Gift of Hope)."

It was God again who became the one reason for her to mission. And so it was God who made a way for her to break down impossible barriers like the erstwhile Soviet Union who invited Mother Teresa to serve in their states. She insisted on having a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed wherever the Sisters would stay and work. The anti-Church, atheist state had to relent and the flame of faith was lit to usher in greater changes that redesigned the face of the earth. Similar instances have happened with other fanatic states such as Albania and Yemen.

For Mother Teresa, as she clearly explained, this entire mission was not about being successful but about being faithful to her God who had called her. And God could trust her for her heart was undivided and all for Him: "Jesus is my God, Jesus is my Spouse, Jesus is my Life, Jesus is my only Love, Jesus is my All in all; Jesus is my Everything."

It is noteworthy that in an era when a popular section of the theologians put forward the Liberation Theology relegating the sense of God to answer the problems of the poor and the oppressed; Mother Teresa gave the revelation that genuine love of the poor is inseparable from the Love of God.

"Light to The Nations" (Isaiah 49:6)

Small in stature, but lofty in spirit, the hallmark of Mother Teresa was to perform the humblest services to the helpless poor. When she bent over to pick up from the gutters the deserted and the dying, the aged and the newborn cast aside by a hedonistic culture, the world looked at her in amazement and wonder. In the assembly of the rulers of the mighty nation, when she rebuked the President of the United States to his face for failing to defend unborn babies, the focus of the TV cameras shifted from the faces of the powerful to the frail and wrinkled old nun. The powerless and the rejected of society got a new honour and self-respect when she held them close to her. As the world gazed in wonder and disbelief, she proclaimed that these helpless brethren were for her the precious Face of God Himself, the God to whom she had surrendered her life. The foundations of the materialistic and hedonistic culture in the hearts and in the midst of the populace were shaken up. The generations began to shift their eyes and attention from the citadels of power and prosperity to the humble homes of the helpless and the poor in search of greatness and nobility.

Everyone who came to her, she led to God as the author of all goodness and love. She was the prophet of love in a loveless and uncaring world. She was a soothing stream of grace flowing through this dry desert, where empty lives drifted meaninglessly having been thrown out of the fast tracks of the rat race of growth and development. In a dark world of arrogant denial of God and selfish indifference to the neighbour, Mother Teresa shines as a bright arrow pointing to the love of God and dignity of man. She who relinquished the honour of status of the principal in the prestigious St. Mary's School in Calcutta, to become a humble servant of God and of the poor in the dirty gutters of that city, is raised up by God as a Prophet to the modern world."It is too light a thing that you should be my servant… I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth." (Isaiah 49:6)

Thank you, Lord for giving us the precious gift of Mother Teresa. In the slums of Calcutta You filled her heart with Your Love to care for the aged and the dying, the abandoned and the marginalized. You gave her wisdom to see Your glorious Face in their parched and grieved faces. You raised her up as a prophet that the world listened to - a prophet who renewed our hope in love, life and faith. Give us the grace to find time and the heart to love everyone around us especially in their moments of grief and loneliness. Let us continue her mission to renew this world that we may usher in Your Heavenly Kingdom on this earth.
Amen

 

 
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