Her Secret Was Very Simple: She Prayed

Author: Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re


Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re

On Sunday afternoon, 5 September, Archbishop Giovanni Battista Re, Substitute of the Secretariat of State, presided at a concelebrated Mass in the Basilica of St John Lateran on the second anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. In his homily Archbishop Re spoke of the centrality of prayer in Mother Teresa's life. Love for Christ was the secret of her love for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and throughout the world. Here is a translation of his homily, which was given in Italian.

1. "Hold tight to God's hand and never let go of it on your journey".

This was the advice which her mother, Drana, gave to Agnes Conxha Bojaxhiu on the day after her decision to take religious vows. In taking the name of Teresa, Agnes would be known in every corner of the world as "Mother Teresa of Calcutta", although she was born in Albania.

Mother Teresa learned to love God and the poor from her family. Indeed, her family combined concern for the poor with Christian faith. And it was precisely in that atmosphere of family concern for others that young Agnes, barely 12 years old, became personally committed to serving the poor in the city of Skopje. However, her vocation came later. One could say that it was a gift of maturity, for she was 18 years old when she realized that the Lord was calling her to leave her family, her parents, her brother and sister to dedicate herself to others and become a religious and missionary.

She became aware of the Lord's call on the feast of the Assumption in a serene and intense atmosphere of prayer as she sang hymns to Our Lady.

On the feast of the Assumption, then, in a setting of intense spirituality, a joyful Agnes chose to devote herself to God for ever in the religious life, to "be all for God and all for service to others". As a young novice of the Sisters of Loreto—an institute founded in Ireland—she went to India to devote herself to teaching girls in Bengal.

Love of God led to concern for the poor

However, her mother's words in a certain sense were prophetic for Sr Teresa. Having "grasped God's hand" joyfully and generously, and firmly determined "never to let go of it", Sr Teresa faced a remarkable challenge. She was only 36 years old when the Lord led her on new roads—never before imagined.

It was 10 September 1946 when, spurred by a very strong inner call, she left the Calcutta of the well-to-do and devoted herself without reserve to that part of the same city which Nehru had called "a nightmare city", because it was a unique amalgam of misery and neglect, swarming with poor and starving people, lepers, children and the dying who had been abandoned in the gutters.

Another four years were to pass before Sr Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity. Yet from that moment Sr Teresa had already become "Mother Teresa of Calcutta".

2. The decision to go to a "nightmare city" was the consistent and courageous decision of a woman who, after putting God at the centre of her life, her thoughts and her whole existence, could look with eyes of loving compassion and mercy on all human beings, the lowliest, the poorest of the poor, the abandoned, the unloved.

This sums up the choice of a woman who fully obeyed God's will in everything and, in loving him, loved every human being as he is loved by God.

This is Mother Teresa's secret: God always had priority in her life. Prof. Lazzati recounts that one day Mother Teresa "found a poor man and took him into their little house, where she washed him, making him in a sense look human again. The man asked her: 'But why are you doing this?'. Mother Teresa answered very simply: 'For love of God"' (Le ragioni della carita, p. 32). It was love of God that led Mother Teresa to concern herself with the poor. This is why she looked at them with God's eyes and loved them with God's heart.

Mother Teresa's love for God had simple yet strong roots: prayer. Prayer to which she always gave priority during her day. She said so herself: "My secret is very simple: I pray. Praying to Christ is loving him".

Those who had the opportunity to know her personally and to be frequently in her company were surprised and inwardly struck by the intensity of her prayer life. This is why she taught her daughters: "The fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love, and the fruit of love is dedication to the poor".

What matters is what God says through us

Again it was she who told the many people who came to Calcutta to listen to her words and find light on their path through life: "To pray is to entrust oneself to God, to make oneself available to him and to hear his voice in the depths of one's heart".

She lived what she said, convinced that "the most effective way of renewing society is prayer".

In fact, we cannot understand Mother Teresa's work without prayer.

One thing Mother Teresa liked to say over and over to her daughters was: "What we say is not important. What really matters is what God says through us

3. In the face of the evils of our time, Mother Teresa showed the surpassing value of love by the generosity of her life, the courage of her actions and all her tireless work.

"I will never tire of repeating", she used to say, "that what the poor need is not compassion but love. They need to see their human dignity respected, which is no less or different from that of all human beings". And she asked her sons and daughters "not to be afraid to love to the point of making sacrifices, to the point of having to suffer. Jesus' love for us led him to his death".

This sister, whose head was covered by her white "sari" bordered with blue stripes, put into practice what St Paul says in the second reading of this Mass: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love ... I gain nothing" (1 Cor 13:1-9).

Mother Teresa has left us the witness of a woman who loved God passionately and from her love of God drew an inexhaustible inner energy to love the poorest of the poor: to venture into the .,suffering" neighbourhoods of the city, to live in the "nightmare city" and to transform it into a "city of joy". Mother Teresa was convinced that "love is the greatest of gifts".

Mother Teresa kindled a flame of love which her spiritual daughters and sons—first of all the female and male branches of the Missionaries of Charity, but then all who love her and consider her a model to imitate—must now keep burning.

Precisely because she is with God, Mother Teresa is also here with us gathered in prayer and repeats to each person what she often said: "I dare to invite all those who value our mission to look around them so that they can offer their love to all who are not loved and put themselves at their service".

Mother Teresa understood the Gospel. For her the Gospel was the Gospel of love. And she understood it so well that everyone who saw her realized that "there is more joy in giving than in receiving".

Tireless, she trod the ways of the world, leaving her mark on the history of this century and awakening around her much unsuspected energy for good.

Her memory will live on in the history of mankind and the Church as a lasting witness of great love for God, but also of great respect and love for the value of every person and of every human life.

May the courage which inspired her, her daughters and her sons to spend themselves for the poor, to make those "defeated by life" feel all the tenderness of God's love, shed light on our path through life and on the path of humanity.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
15 September 1999, page 2

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