On the eve of the 111th birthday of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, five Missionaries of Charity arrived in Rome from Kabul with 14 disabled Afghan children. The sisters, members of the religious community Mother Teresa founded in 1950 and lived with until her death in 1997, have run an orphanage for children since 2006 in Afghanistan. It was Italy that got them out of the country as the Taliban has taken over.
Mother Teresa could help us during these violent, uncertain days. British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge interviewed her for a 1969 TV documentary and 1971 book, both by the title “Something Beautiful for God.” Muggeridge was a skeptic of religion at the time — he would eventually become Catholic — but was mesmerized by the “divine light” he saw in and around the work of the Missionaries of Charity, who dedicated themselves to God and service of the poorest of the poor.
During their discussions, Muggeridge asked Mother Teresa whether one of the “troubles” of our time is that we always insist “there must be some collective solution.” Muggeridge mused that the modern man would say: “There is Mother Teresa, she saves so many people, she helps so many people, she saves so many children. But this is just a fleabite; this is nothing; there must be some other way of doing it. And his feeling about this makes him less inclined to throw himself in the way that you want into the sort of work that you’re doing.”
“I do not agree with the big way of doing things,” Mother Teresa replied. “To us what matters is an individual. To get to love the person, we must come in close contact with him. If we wait till we get the numbers, then we will be lost in the numbers. And we will never be able to show that love and respect for the person. I believe in person to person; every person is Christ for me, and since there is only one Jesus, that person is only one person in the world for me at that moment.”
“I’m sure that’s right,” Muggeridge replied, “but the difficulty that I see is how to make these people whose minds had been formed in the circumstances of today realize it.” If that was hard for humans to process in 1968, how much more so in 2021, when we are lost in numbers as we look at the latest news update on our phone. Mother Teresa’s reply is timeless, however: “I believe the people of today do not think that the poor are like them as human beings. They look down on them. But if they had the deep respect for the dignity of poor people, I am sure it would be . . . easy for them to come closer to them, and to see that they, too, are the children of God, and that they have as much right to the things of life and love and of services as anybody else.”
As we approach Labor Day and some semblance of “normal” after coronavirus shutdowns, this seems critical: “In these times of development everybody is in a hurry and everybody’s in a rush, and on the way there are people falling down, who are not able to compete. These are the ones we want to love and serve and take care of.” Goodness, do we see that on the streets of Manhattan. People walking over drug addicts and ignoring the homeless.
Mother Teresa quickly added, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean I think the ocean will be less because of the missing drop.”
Mother Teresa believed that faith is lacking in the world “because there is so much selfishness and so much gain only for self. But faith to be true has to be a giving love. Love and faith go together. They complete each other.” She said that getting in touch with people was where God would be found.
As families and communities and churches, do we ask questions about how we can help the orphan and widow — next door, trapped in foster care, or exiled by the Taliban? Is there something beautiful we can do in which we might learn just a little about God at a time when the chief chaplain at Harvard is an atheist? We don’t need Ivy League degrees to appreciate the powerful wisdom of Mother Teresa about love. You and I might not be able to fix Afghanistan or even things closer to home. But we can love in more-radical ways.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.