Your first glimpse of Mother Teresa reveals a woman suprisingly small. Others have remarked on her diminutive physical stature, but still it comes as a revelation.
She is not big at all. Tiny, really. But not ethereal — very real. Somehow that makes it all the harder for you to reconcile this little person with the great Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
She stands in the corner of the room in which the University of Alberta academic party is assembling and robing prior to the special convocation being held in St. Paul, Alberta for the purpose of conferring her an honorary degree. Mother Teresa has come to this northeastern Alberta community to accept a cheque for nearly a million dollars raised by the people of the district.
At the other end of the room, people watch the door awaiting her arrival. But then whispers announce that she is already within, having entered by a side door. Could this somehow be symbolic?
Soon the 72-year-old nun is ringed by people, you included. Some are attempting to take photographs. Others are just looking, taking in the bright whiteness and contrasting blue stripes of her sari; the rosary ever-present in her strong clasped hands; her brown, gnarled feet in rough sandals; and — above all — her smallness. How humble she is.
Proper greetings are extended and then, because the convocation hour is fast approaching, final arrangements are made. Mother Teresa is asked if she will wear an academic gown. She declines. Can the hood be placed over her shoulders when the degree is awarded? She would much prefer not. Could it then be handed to her? Certainly.
The time for the ceremony has now arrived, and you are ushered upstairs into the Cathedral where the convocation will take place. The academic procession leaves the building in order to enter it again by the main doors. As the procession makes its way up the Cathedral aisle, the nun is surrounded by people. For some it is a profound holy experience. For others who expose frame after frame of film, it is all part of a day's work. Perhaps it would all be one to them were she a television idol or a convicted killer.
The ceremonies proceed. Dr. Horowitz himself introduces Mother Teresa to convocation. "No act during my presidency has brought me greater pleasure," he says.
And then it is time for Mother Teresa to speak. This is what you have been waiting for. Now, you will meet Mother Teresa.
She speaks strongly and clearly — without hesitation or notes, humbly but uninhibited by overmodesty. There is no need for that for she knows you too well. And she has so much to tell you: about a great love, a love so great that it abides in the smallest of us.
Address to Convocation by Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I am most unworthy of this wonderful gift, but I accept it for the honor and glory of God and in the name of our poor people, the sick and the dying, and the crippled and mental, and the lepers and the unwanted, and the unloved of the whole world. And in their name I thank you. My gratitude is my prayer for you. That you may, with God's blessing, grow more and more in the love of God through love for each other.
God has been wonderful to all of us. He has given us so many beautiful opportunities to put our love for God in living action. So let us show our gratitude by loving one another, as Christ loved each one of us. For Jesus came in this world just to do that, to give us the Good News. And there is no other better news than the news that God loves us, and that He wants us to love one another as He has loved each one of us. To make it easy for us, He has made Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one. And He tells us "Whatever you do to the least, you do it to me." And we know why Jesus came into this world: He came just to prove that.
And we know how He came to Mary, the most beautiful virgin, the most chaste virgin. And what did Mary do the moment Jesus came in her heart? As Bishop Sheen used to say "The Annunciation was Mary's first holy Communion day." [It is] so for us too. Each time we go to holy Communion is our first holy Communion day. And we know what Mary did. She went in haste to give Jesus to others—to give that good news that God loves us. And we know why Mary went there. How did she prove that love of God? By doing humble work, just by being a handmaid, just to cook, just to wash, just to be a servant in the house of Elizabeth. And what happened when she came? Elizabeth was with her child already six months in her womb. And the moment Mary came into her house the little one, that little unborn child, leaped with joy at the presence of Christ. How very strange that God used an unborn child to prove His presence. How very strange. He didn't use Saint Joseph, He didn't use all the other big people, he used a little unborn child. Just to prove to us that the little unborn child is somebody very special. That it is created in the image of God. That it is created for greater things: to love and to be loved. And today that little unborn child has become the target of destruction—for abortion is nothing but a murder, a killing. And it is so terrible when we read in the gospel where God speaks:
Even if mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. 1 have carved you in the palm of my hand. You are precious to me. I love you.
What a wonderful thing to think that you and I and that leper and that man and that woman and that little unborn child, that crippled child, are precious to Him. That God has carved that soul, that human being, in the palm of His hand. And just think: each time God looks at His hand, you are there, I am there, that little one is there. That is why today let us pray. Let us pray, let us ask our Lady to help us to bring back the child home; that in this beautiful country that there be not a single unborn child, no single man or woman who will feel unwanted. That there will be love in the mother's heart; that she will never destroy the child. Also ... abortion is another sign of great poverty: because they are afraid of the child, to have to feed one more child, to have to educate one more child, that child must die.
And so let us ask our Lord to give us that courage to make every child feel wanted. And this is the love for one another. And where does this love begin? At home. And how does love begin? By prayer. Prayer deepens the faith, and the fruit of faith is always love. And the fruit of love is service. Prayer always gives us a clean heart, and a clean heart can see God. And if we see God in each other, naturally we will love one another as He loves us. This is a most important part of our lives, to bring prayer back into the family life. For the family that prays together, stays together. And if we stay together, naturally we will love one another as God loves each one of us. But who do we love? Where are the poor in this—I would call it—rich country? You have so much, it is true. But I am sure, I am sure, there must be many poor people. You would be surprised how many very, very, poor people—maybe not the numbers of Africa and India, but even if there is only one or 10 or 20, that is a sign that the poor are right there and it is for us to pray. We may have the poor right in our family. Maybe in our own family we have somebody who is lonely, who is sick, who feels unwanted, who feels uncared. There. Love begins there. And we may have no time even to smile at each other. And love begins there. The child has been lost to the family and therefore a home is broken. Love begins there. We have to begin to love there.
And how do we love? Have we to give big things? No—small things with great love. I never forget how a little child, four years old, taught me how to love with great love. There was a time in Calcutta when we didn't have sugar for our children. And a little child, just four years old, a Hindu child, went home and told his parents: "I will not eat sugar for three days. I will give my sugar to Mother Teresa." After three days the family brought him to our house. He was so small that he could not even pronounce my name properly. And vet that little child taught me how to love with great love because he loved until it hurt. And the same thing for all of us: small things with great love. Where? In our family first. Then we will come to know our neighbor.
Do you know your neighbor? Do you know that next door neighbor, maybe there is somebody sick, maybe there is somebody blind [who] would be so happy if you went and read the newspaper or wrote a letter. Maybe there is somebody so lonely that a little smile from you will bring joy in his life.
I never forget one day I was walking down the street in London and I saw a man sitting. He looked so lonely, so unwanted. His face was so disturbed. So, I went close to him and I took his hand—and my hands are always very warm—and the man said, "Oh, after such a long time I feel the warmth of a human hand." And his face changed. There was a big smile on his face. His eves were again full of life, full of joy. Such a small, small thing—just a shaking of a hand for a few minutes, but it brought new life, in the life, his life.
Also when we opened the house in Australia. . .our sisters, ever where visit the families of the poor, and then they find very poor people, lonely people, what we call shut—ins, we go there and wash their clothes and clean them and do for them whatever they ask. So I visited this man and I said to him, "Please allow me to wash your clothes and clean your room." And he said, "I'm all right. And I said to him, "You'll be more all right if you allow me to do that." And then I cleaned the house, and washed his clothes. The room was in a terrible state, and in a corner there was this beautiful big lamp—he must have had better days before. And then I asked him, "Do you not light that lamp?" He said, "For whom? Nobody? You are the first person to come and visit me. Nobody comes. For whom to light the lamp?" And I said to him, "Well, if the sisters come to you every evening, will you light the lamp for them?" Yes. So the sisters started going to him. And, yes, the light was always lit before they came. He was looking forward to the coming of the sisters, and to light the lamp. After two years, I had forgotten completely about the lamp and about the person, and he sent me word: "Tell Mother Teresa the light that she lit in my life is still lighting." That is such a small thing, small action. And this is what I ask you to do: come to do small things with great love.
One evening a man came to our house and said, "There is a family with eight children; they have not eaten for some time. Do something." So I took some rice and I went to the family. And, I could see in the faces of the children, terrible hunger. Terrible pain. It is difficult for you to understand what is hunger or what is the pain of hunger. And then the lady, the mother, took the rice and she divided, and she went out. When she came back I asked her, "Where did you go and what did you do?" And she gave me one answer: "They are hungry also." I was not surprised that she gave, but I was very much surprised that she knew [of the others' hunger] because as a rule when we are suffering when we are in pain, when we are in sorrow, we do not think of others. Yet this beautiful woman —really hungry, in pain of hunger,—she knew that they were hungry and had the courage to love until it hurt. This is something so beautiful, this is when we realize how great the poor are, and how much they give us. And I can tell you I have received much more from the poor than I have given to them. And this is the greatness of our people, and it is for you to try to find the poor. They are right here; only, maybe we do not know them. And because we don't know them, we cannot love them. And because we don't love them, we do nothing for them.
But it has been a wonderful gift that you have all been able to share: the joy of loving, by giving so generously. And with the gift that has been gathered together we are going to help many families to have their own home, to have food to eat, to meet the needs that ordinary people have every day. You cannot go to India, you cannot go to Africa, you cannot do what we are doing but do that—bring that love—and through our hands your love is going there. I do not ask you to give [to] me from your abundance, but I want you to give until it hurts. That little child loved until it hurt. And so it is wonderful that you too find the poor, and I hope that someday we will be able all to rejoice that we know the poor of this beautiful country.
And also we must remember there is much suffering in the world, much loneliness, much hurt, much pain, and I find hunger for bread is much easier to remove.
One day I found a child in the street and from the face of the child, I knew that child was really very, very hungry, that the child has experienced the pain of hunger. So I gave her a piece of bread. And then I saw her eating the bread, crumb by crumb, and I said to the child, "Eat the bread," and she looked at me and said "I am afraid. When the bread will be finished, I will be hungry again." That little one so small knew the terrible pain of hunger. I took her home, I made her our own child, I gave her all that she needed. She is with us still, so beautiful child, a grown child now, full of love, full of joy, and full of that desire to do for others. That material hunger, I was able to satisfy then and there. But there is a terrible hunger in the western world—a terrible loneliness, that hunger for God, that hunger for the word of God.
I never forget when we went to Mexico to open a house, and there we visited the poor area. And we saw that in the houses people had nothing, not even a fire to cook their food, and yet nobody, nobody, asked for anything. Everybody asked "Mother, teach us the word of God." They asked for the word of God; they were hungry for the word. This is that hunger for love, to be wanted, to be somebody to somebody. Nakedness is not only for a piece of cloth. Quite possibly many people die frozen, when during the terrible cold—I don't know, but I'm sure here in Canada you must have some terrible cold—and you don't know in the families if they have not enough covering. I am sure many people suffer and die of cold. Still, that can be overcome, but that nakedness of that human dignity, loss of human dignity, loss of that conviction of being a child of God, loss of that beautiful virtue — purity, loss of that beautiful gift of God — virgin heart. That is real nakedness.
And then we have homelessness: not only [lack] of a house made of bricks, there is that terrible homelessness of being rejected, being a throwaway of society. The homelessness of people who have forgotten what is love, what is human touch, what is to be wanted. And this is terrible homelessness. And this is what I pray with you today: that we may realize, and find, and pray. Bring prayer into your family life because you may have just that loneliness, that feeling of being rejected by your own family. Right in your own family. So, let us bring prayer back into our family. For the family that prays together stays together, and if you stay together you will, I am sure, love one another.
It is one of those beautiful gifts of God for a young man to love a young woman and a young woman to love a young man. It is a most beautiful gift of God. But make sure that you love each other with a clean heart and that on the day of your marriage you can give each other a virgin heart, a virgin love.
Just a few days before I left Calcutta, a young couple came to our house and they gave me lots of money to feed the poor. In Calcutta every day we cook for 7,000 people. If we don't cook, they don't eat. And so these young people gave, me this money and I asked them, "Where did you get so much money?" And they said, "Before marriage—we have been married just two days—but before marriage we decided that we will not buy wedding clothes, we will not have wedding feast, that we'll give you the money to feed the people." And I asked them, "But why? Why did you do like that?" Because that's a scandal for us in India not to have the wedding clothes, not to have the wedding feast. [It is] one of the most beautiful days in their lives. And they gave me a most extraordinary answer: "Out of love for each other, we loved each other so tenderly that we wanted to give each other something special. And that was our love for the poor. We gave that love for each other by making that sacrifice." See, this is something so wonderful. To show that tender love for each other, they made that big sacrifice. Every day I get something like that from all over the world. You would be surprised what people write. And you must have experienced it yourselves if you have all worked for the beautiful project of the house.
So, let us thank God that God has given us this beautiful gift of loving one another. And I will pray for you that you may grow more and more in holiness through this love for each other, through prayer and love for each other. And you pray for us that we may be able to do God's work with great love, not to spoil God's work, and that His work remains His right up to the end. Together with you, let us ask our Lady to give us her heart so beautiful, so pure, so immaculate; her heart so full of love and humility that we may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as [she] loved Him, and serve Him in the distressing disguise of the poor.
The work that the sisters do is only the fruit of their life of prayer and union. Our lives are woven with the Eucharist and the poor: our love for Jesus. Jesus made Himself Bread of Life to satisfy our hunger for His love, and then He makes Himself the hungry one so that you and I can satisfy His hunger for our Love. That is why I ask you [to] ask your priests to teach you to pray. Ask them to give you the beautiful opportunity to be alone with Jesus in adoration. Ask them to help you to come as close as possible to Jesus in the Eucharist. And often during the day say: "Jesus, in my heart I believe in your tender love for me, I love you."
God Bless you.
Published Autumn 1982.