“‘For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’ And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’” – Matthew 25:35-40
This passage from the gospel of Matthew, where we are presented with the final judgement, summarizes in some ways one of the greatest saints of our time: Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who gave her life for the poor around the world. Who are the poor? Certainly there are many poor people today who suffer from hunger, destitution, those who do not have a house or money to survive. But there is a poverty still greater that is present in our world today: the poverty of those who do not feel loved, desired, known, or understand. The list in Matthew’s Gospel that identifies the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, and imprisoned brings to mind the works of mercy that every person is called to follow in his or her life. The aspect that is striking in this passage is that the judge, the king, considers himself the recipient of each of these merciful actions: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” The help that is given to or denied the poor is given to or refused from Jesus himself. The Son of man, the King, is in solidarity with the poor, He identifies himself with them.
Mother Teresa used to repeat often that what the poor need most of all is God, they need His love made visible in the people who live by their side, whose simplicity of life expresses and helps emerge the power of Christian love. God uses many paths and an infinity of tools to reach the hearts of people. As Pope Frances writes: “Certainly, the poor come to us also because we give them food, but what they really need is more than our offer of a warm meal or a sandwich. The poor need our hands, to be lifted up; our hearts, to feel anew the warmth of affection; our presence, to overcome loneliness. In a word, they need love.”
Love can generate miracles that are truly unimaginable and extraordinary. The invitation of Mother Teresa for all of us is to love without growing tired, to always be lighted lamps for all those whom we encounter in our life. The drops of oil that keep our lamps alight are the small things of daily life: faithfulness, a kind word, thoughtfulness, the way we gaze, speak, and act in the various situations of life.
Mother Teresa insists especially on silence in prayer. She would always witness to the fact that the fruitfulness of her actions and those of her sisters came from their daily Holy Hour before the Blessed Sacrament. During the silence of that contemplation, Mother Teresa heard the cry of Jesus resound from the Cross: “I thirst.” This cry in the depths of her heart drove her out into the streets of Calcutta and to all the peripheries of the world in search of Jesus in the poor, in the abandoned, in the dying.
Every human being thirsts for dignity. We must welcome another’s tenderness with tenderness, knowing that we are all wounded, vulnerable, and fragile.
Mother Teresa always united the Eucharist and the service towards the poor. From the Eucharist she went to the poor, and from the poor she returned to the Eucharist. When the Secretary of the United Nations presented her to the UN as “the most powerful woman on earth”, Mother Teresa responded, saying: “I am only a sister who prayers” and added: “By praying, Jesus places his love in my heart and I go to bring it to the poor in all the world, to the poor I encounter.”
When we avail ourselves of prayer there automatically must arise in us the need to live charity. Through prayer, when we enter into communion with God, the desire is born in us to encounter Him and serve Him through the people we meet. Without God we are too poor to help the poor. We can look to the example of Mary, who after the message of the angel, in the moment in which Jesus was made present in her womb, did not stop but felt inside herself the need to go out and visit Elizabeth to serve her.
We can truly learn so much from the life of this “small pencil of God” as Mother Teresa was fond of calling herself. Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of the Vatical Basilica, who encountered Mother Teresa multiple times, gives us a beautiful definition of her person, calling her “a window through which God appeared and smiled upon all of humanity sowing hope.”
If the windows are closed not only do we not allow God to enter, but we impede His action. If we are humble, generous, and altruistic, we open the windows to God and the world changes. Mother Teresa used to say that the only luggage that we will carry with us when we die is the luggage of charity.
Through the example and life of Mother Teresa we can draw three important teachings for our life: to live charity in daily life with the people who surround us, to love especially those who are smallest and most poor, and to give everything to Jesus, who is thirsting for our love.
I will try to pause more often before the Blessed Sacrament. After having experience dh Love of God through prayer, I will identify a concrete way in which I can love a person who needs my help.