Aug. 26 would have been the 100th birthday of modern-day saint and Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The anniversary of her birth is being honored in many ways, ranging from the worldwide release of the book “Where there is Love, there is God,” to the dissemination of an American Postage stamp bearing her likeness to the launching of an Indian train line, “The Mother Teresa Express.” But perhaps the most significant honor we can bestow upon Mother Teresa is with our own memories of her life and work.
When Mother Teresa died in 1997, I was only 6 years old, far too young to understand or appreciate anything I heard about her. It wasn’t until long after she died that her work began to impact me.
I was in my late teens when I began to realize that I’d been living in a world shaped by her legacy; I began to take notice of the woman who mothered the motherless, and I was moved by the solemn, almost worshiping tone people adopted when speaking her name — as though she really were a saint. As a somewhat neurotic college student, both appalled and embroiled in my own selfishness, I felt a sort of envy toward this woman who loved with such earnestness, selflessness and martyr-like commitment.
For a guy who couldn’t love or commit enough to not cheat on his girlfriend, Mother Teresa’s steadfast dedication to the starving and the hopeless was tough for me to swallow. Certain that she was either power-hungry or completely brainwashed, I began to research her life and writings. Unfortunately for my defensive teenage self, I didn’t find a megalomaniac or a brainwash job. In fact, what I found changed my life forever, and forced me to accept the challenge that Mother Teresa’s life poses to all of us who live comfortably and skip over newscasts of third-world poverty.
I must have been 17, the point in my life when my intellectualized, condescending atheism was at its worst, when I discovered a short journal entry of hers that stuck with me for the rest of my life, taking on different meanings and timbers as a I grew and changed.
For those of you might take offense to this, know that these words are truly hers, and take them as you may:
“Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God-please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain-I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true.” (2)
Even now, reading these words makes me lonely.
But the thing about Mother Teresa was that, in spite of the doubt, in spite of being bitten by those knives every second of every day, she got up in the morning and spent her days nursing the dying, mothering the motherless, and meeting the beggars with smiling eyes. And anyone who’s ever seen a picture of Mother Teresa in action can’t doubt for a second that those smiles were genuine.
I can only hope, for her sake and mine, that the dark feelings she expressed in her journal were lifted from time to time. And, after reading a second writing of hers known endearingly as the “Anyway Poem,” I can’t help but smile, and feel that, for Mother Teresa, everything turned out alright.
Mother Teresa’s “Anyway Poem“
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.” (3)
1. Whole World Readies for Mother Teresa’s Hundredth Birthday, Zenit.org
2. Teresa, Mother; Kolodiejchuk, Brian (2007). Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. New York: Doubleday
3. Inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa’s children’s home in Calcutta