“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5 14:16).
On September 5th the Catholic Church celebrates the feast day of Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa lived a life of devotion to the poor, exemplifying charity, unselfishness and courage. “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, I am Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the heart of Jesus,” is how Mother Teresa summed up her identity.
Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu was born in 1910 in Skopje, currently the capital of the Republic of Malcedonia. She was the youngest of eight children born to Nikola and Drana Bojaxhiu. Gonxha was eight years old when her father Nikola died, leaving the family in dire financial need. Gonxha’s mother as well as her parish shaped her upbringing and helped inspire her to be a missionary. In 1928, she left home to join the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known as the Sisters of Loreto, in Ireland. There she received the name Sister Mary Teresa after Saint Therese of Lisieux. Shortly after arriving in Ireland she traveled to the Loreto Entally community in Calcutta, India to serve as a teacher at St. Mary’s School for Girls. Upon making her final Profession of Vows in 1937, she took the name “Mother Teresa.”
In 1946, Mother Teresa received from God what she described as her “call within a call.” Asking her to “come be my light,” Jesus revealed to her His desire for “victims of love” who would “radiate His love on souls.” Jesus communicated to Mother Teresa His pain at the neglect of the poor, His sorrow at their ignorance of Him and His longing for their love. In response, Mother Teresa established the Missionaries of Charity to serve the very poorest of the poor- “the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for.” Each day she would go to the slums, visiting families, nursing the sick, and caring for “the uncared for.” By the 1960s Mother Teresa began to send her sisters to other parts of India, followed by Rome, Tanzania and Venezuela, and eventually had established houses on every continent. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. By the 1980s Mother Teresa had established houses in almost every communist country. She established numerous missionary branches. Despite increasing health problems as she aged, she continued her work, all the while struggling with an inner pain because of her longing to be closer to God.
Before her death in 1997, Mother Teresa’s sisters included nearly 4,000 members in 610 foundations in 123 countries. Less than 2 years later, Pope John Paul II opened her Cause of Canonization, and in 2003 she was beatified. Pope Francis canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta in 2016.
Like Mother Teresa, we all should strive to be charitable, unselfish and courageous. The members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Philadelphia strive to “care for the uncared for,” whether that be providing meals to the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, or showing comfort to those who are suffering. While Mother Teresa was the ultimate example of Jesus’ teachings on charity, we can all start somewhere to help the forgotten people of our society.
The Saint Vincent de Paul Society of Philadelphia has many ways, customized to each local community for you to transform the lives of your neighbors as well as your own life, including through participation and building up the community. Like that of its founder, blessed Frédéric Ozanam, the vision of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul “is to embrace the world in a network of charity.”