A mother to us all
By Michael Veenema
Christian Reformed Chaplain at UWO
Not long ago I wrote in The Gazette that one of the reasons many admired the late Princess of Wales was because she knew something of what it meant to look out for the interests of others. This would not be the whole story of course. Some admired her because they could only dream about the kind of life she led.
Mother Teresa, dying within days of the princess, was of a different sort. She did not coyly smile at the cameras. She did not live in palaces, wear designer dresses, or cultivate relationships with billionaire suitors of the most dubious character. To a culture such as ours, which revels in the sensational and admires those who can be photographed at the centre of scandal, Mother Teresa was a bore. She was not the kind of person quickly noticed and followed.
She was not a "candle in the wind." She was more like a sun, burning steadily, fiercely. She committed herself to helping those most of us would loath to approach people who are diseased, who smell badly, who do not spend time at bars and theatres and who can give us no money for our services.
David Porter, in his book Mother Teresa: The Early Years, describes the beginning of her Christian service. I quote here some lines from an autobiographical section of the book.
"Each Sunday I visit the slums of Calcutta. I cannot be of material assistance to them, for I have nothing. Last time, at least 20 children were waiting anxiously [for me]. In [one] building, 12 families live; each family has a single room two metres long and a metre-and-a-half wide. If they do not pay [their rent] promptly they are thrown out on to the street. One poor woman never complained of her poverty. I was sad and at the same time happy, to see how my arrival gave her joy. Another said to me, "Oh, Ma! Come again your smile has brought the sun into this house." On the way home I thought, Oh God, how easy it is to bestow happiness in that place! Give me strength to be ever the light of their lives, so that I may lead them at last to you!"
It seems to me that I could not really have liked Mother Teresa. One could stand in awe of her faith. One could be overwhelmed by the love she demonstrated. Or one could be drawn to serve the god she served. But to merely like her would not have been possible.
How can we respond today to her example of Christian love, especially for the poor? And how might that change our course of study and what we do after leaving the university?