Her work of love, shared by her religious community and by lay-associates and volunteers around the globe, is not 'social work.' For Mother Teresa, the feeding of the hungry and the care for the dying are not an end in themselves. They are intended to be a work of grace and a channel of God's presence - and so they have shown themselves to be. The divine charity that animates these simple and humble works elevates them - to share in and extend Jesus' own redemptive work of love for the least and the lost.
Mother Teresa had known first-hand, well before she began her work in the slums, that the physical and spiritual needs of the poor surrounding her convent school were overwhelming. Countless thousands lived and died abandoned in Calcutta's streets and shanties, with nothing and no one to remind them of God's existence, much less of his love.
In 1946, in the face of such need, Jesus began inviting Mother Teresa to take up a new initiative on behalf of these poorest of the poor: by simply proclaiming His existence and His love in deeds before words. He wanted to live His life in her among the poor. In the midst of Calcutta's streets and gutters He longed to continue through her the life He had lived in the gospels, and the mission He had received from His Father. She did this by carrying Him into the "dark holes" where Calcutta's poor huddled, by living among them and like them, loving them in His Name, and serving His hidden presence in those who bore both the burden and the dignity of His Cross.
Looking back now, we can see that, in God's plan, she was to give a new face to the preaching of the Good News to the poor , both in the slums of Calcutta and beyond.
What was Mother Teresa's motivation for accomplishing all she did? What produced in her such joy, such energy and commitment? The one source of all she did and became is found in a series of intimate spiritual encounters with Jesus, beginning in September, 1946. In these dialogues, Jesus opened to her the deepest yearnings of His heart. On September 10th, 1946, during her annual trip to Darjeeling for a spiritual retreat, Jesus revealed to her the mystery of His 'Thirst' proclaimed on the Cross (Jn.19:28) - His infinite Thirst "to love us and to be loved by us " (MT). Mother Teresa was shown, and herself experienced, that the God of heaven and earth thirsted, yearned, longed for us - not only does He accept us as we are, He thirsts for us precisely, and especially, with all our weakness, poverty, and sin:
"Right now, today, and everyday, Jesus is thirsting for my love.
He is longing for me."
(Blessed Teresa of Calcutta )
"This is His longing for love, for my love."
(Blessed Teresa of Calcutta )
"So let us ask Our Lady - for She understood His Thirst best of all - to teach us to understand the gift of God to our Society, to satiate the Thirst of Jesus hungering for love, thirsting for love ." (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta )
"Stay very close to Our Lady. If you do this, you can do great things for God and the good of people.." (Blessed Teresa of Calcutta )
The role of Our Lady in Mother Teresa's work cannot be overstated - for Our Lady's presence and intervention in every aspect of Mother Teresa's life and charism was at the heart of her sanctity and apostolic fruitfulness.
Our Lady was Mother Teresa's pathway, her companion, and her constant support in hearing Jesus' cry of thirst on the Cross, as well as in answering him. For this reason she resolved to spend her life, in spirit, together with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross. MC life would be a life lived ' juxta crucem cum Maria .'
"If we stand with Our Lady, She will give us Her Spirit of loving trust, total surrender and cheerfulness."
(Blessed Teresa of Calcutta )
This 'Spirit of the Society' was the result of Mother Teresa's encounter, in the company of Our Lady, with the ardent love of God revealed and channeled in the thirst of Jesus. This response was a threefold spirit of 'Loving Trust, Total Surrender, and Cheerfulness' - three states of soul that preceded one from the other, and so came to be seen by Mother Teresa as forming a single "Spirit."
Jesus had promised Mother Teresa that He Himself would be the one to touch the poor through her. Here was the secret of her simple way of ministry: she lived in such intimate union with Jesus, in the company and in imitation of Mary, as to be a living radiance of His presence on the souls of the poor and on the world around her.
Personal holiness and oneness with Jesus became her all-consuming goal - as her whole ambition was to allow Jesus to live His life in her among the poor.
If she was to radiate Christ on others, she would need a deep interior life and the total surrender of self - precisely that it might be ' He, and not she ' doing the work.
Her inner bond with Jesus was nourished above all by His presence in the Eucharist - offered in the Liturgy, received in Communion, and adored in silent prayer .
There, at His feet, she began her day; and from there she went out, serving and loving Him in His ongoing Calvary - where He still thirsted - in His Sacramental Body in the Eucharist, and His Mystical Body in the poor.
Whether in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, or 'going in haste' (Lk. 1,39) as Our Lady in answer to Jesus' urgent thirst in the pain of the poor, she was with Him, united to Him, " touching Him 24 hours a day... "
The mystery of " touching Jesus 24 hours a day " in the person of the needy was so precious to Mother Teresa that she wished to invite all believers to join her in experiencing the same love and joy she found there. To highlight this appeal, she formulated one of her most characteristic and often repeated expressions.
In referring to any work of love done for the poor, no matter how small or humble, she enthusiastically proclaimed, in Jesus' words and in His Name, 'I was hungry, thirsty, alone, naked, sick, in prison and . You did it to Me .' (Mt. 25,40)
She wanted us to understand that simple works of love for others in need are in fact done directly to the Lord who indwells us and who has united Himself to every human existence. Whatever we do to the least of His brethren, indeed we are doing it to Him, for Him, with Him. And so, the love of our hearts poured out inwardly in prayer, and outwardly in works of compassion, are our direct response to Jesus' thirst for love.
Taken together, Jesus' words from the Cross, 'I thirst,' and His words from Matthew's gospel, ' You did it to Me' (Mt. 25:31ff), summarize in few words the whole of Mother Teresa's charism and message.
Mother Teresa's words and witness are being embraced well beyond the bounds of Calcutta, becoming for many of us the Lord's own message of comfort in our trials, as well as an invitation to experience the joy of serving those more burdened than ourselves.
Some are answering that invitation by doing the same work she did - some as religious serving in mission lands, some as "Co-Workers" and volunteers serving alongside her Sisters in Calcutta and the developing world, or at the hidden Calvaries that Mother Teresa pointed to beneath the spiritual poverty of the West.
Mother Teresa's charism and work are being carried on not only among her Sisters, Brothers, Priests andand volunteers, but through the 'hearts to love and hands to serve' of thousands of hidden souls worldwide who have discovered that Calcutta is everywhere - as close as the nearest burdened heart.
In all these, the thirst of God for man and of man for God is being sated, and Mother Teresa's charism and message are continuing, still today, to achieve their purpose.