Mother Theresa may be the most universally admired person of my lifetime for her work in caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying in India and around the world. If ever I felt bad about Catholicism, Christianity, or really the whole of humanity I could look to her as an example of someone who was doing it right.
It’s interesting that by the circumstances of death ten years ago today she’s been inexorably linked with Princess Diana. In fact in the days immediately after Diana’s death some rhetorically asked whether the same media hype would meet the death of Mother Theresa. The answer to that question is that the life of the great humanitarian who lived in poverty was overshadowed by the life of wealth and privilege (although Diana too was charitable in a more comfortable way), and newspapers published photos of the two women together. This seems to emphasize the humility of Theresa’s life. Yet humble as she was, this didn’t not mean she was weak or voiceless.
When I was in college I served on the leadership board of the campus ministry, and during that time the Knights of Columbus wanted to start a chapter at our college. Our chaplain and many students were concerned about K of C’s reputation as partyers and a representative came to talk to us about that. He affirmed that the Knights did indeed enjoy a drink but also were involved in charitable acts. Then he told a story of a $1000-a-plate fund raiser they hosted with Mother Theresa as the keynote speaker. When Theresa rose to spoke she did not thank them but chastised them for spending so much on the dinner. The Knights of Columbus passed around a hat and gathered the equivalent of their dinner for the poor. While this story did not reflect well on this man’s organization, it did impress me that Mother Theresa was not scared to speak truth to power and really cut through a lot of baloney to do what was best for those who have the least. And teach us about humility in the process.
Recently the release of letters written by Mother Theresa reveal that for much of her life she did not feel the presence of Christ in her life and had grave doubts. This news is covered well in Whispers in the Loggia, The Christian Science Monitor, The Lesser of Two Weevils and even The Boston Herald (featuring a quote from Father Bob Bowers). One can imagine that anyone encountering the poverty, suffering, and inhumanity of the Calcutta ghetto could be convinced that there is no God. Yet, Mother Theresa did not give up and continued to teach the lessons of Christ, leading by example. This is the virtue of faith and this is the way the reign of God is built on Earth.