Many people were blessed to be friends or colleagues of Mother Teresa, who had a permanent impact on their lives. Our Sunday Visitor asked two of these fortunate people to reflect upon what made this simple sister so special.
It has been 10 years since Mother Teresa went home to God. Her beatification in October 2003 placed her one miracle away from canonization.
As with any saint, there is a danger of turning Mother Teresa into a plastic statue and adorning her with ethereal glow. In my 12 years of association and friendship with Mother, what impressed me most was her beautiful humanity.
Mother Teresa first of all was a mother. She had an extraordinary maternal love. She listened intently to you as if you were her only child. She cared about your best interests and sometimes told you things you didn't want to hear.
She didn't judge. Mother used to say, "If you judge people, then you have no time to love them." She was thoughtful and considerate and, like many mothers, she was never too busy for the little things.
I remember one morning in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1989. I had attended early morning Mass with Mother at her contemplative sisters' house where she was staying. I rushed out after Mass to go and run the errands she had given me.
I raced to the Missionaries of Charity truck and was about to pull out when I saw a commotion at the door -- Mother had come outside and was gesturing for me.
I hastily parked the truck and ran to see what she wanted. To my utter surprise, she had come out with great urgency to give me a peanut butter sandwich and a banana so that I had something for breakfast. That's what mothers -- and saints -- do.
I think Mother Teresa's love of God and love of life were inseparable. Her laugh was unmistakable and often unexpected. She delighted in the company of those whom God had given to her as daughters and sons -- the Missionaries of Charity sisters, brothers and fathers who followed in her footsteps. When one of them would come to see her after being away years in the missions, her eyes would beam recognition and delight.
She loved beauty wherever she encountered it. She enjoyed singing and writing poetry. She kept in touch with her friends and had plenty of them. She simply loved life.
Even though Calcutta seemed overrun with destitution and despair, Mother Teresa was a cheerful person. I think that owed to the amount of time she spent each day in prayer. Jesus loved both Martha and her sister Mary, and in Mother Teresa, he found them both.
Even though she ran a worldwide missionary organization spread across 100 countries and carried the burden of celebrity, Mother had the wisdom to choose "the better part." Mother used to say, "If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy." She felt that without receiving the Lord in the Eucharist and in the silence of her heart she had nothing to give the poor or any of us.
In October, many of those who received so much from Mother Teresa -- including her successor in Calcutta and her niece from Italy -- will gather over a weekend at St. Vincent College to tell personal stories about this remarkable woman, Agnes Gonxha, now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
The truth is, the more we know about Mother Teresa and how she embraced life and treated others, the more she, a saint, is placed within our reach. As she often said, holiness is not the privilege of a few but the duty of each of us. If we really want to be like Mother Teresa, we can begin by praying more, welcoming Jesus in our neighbor, and rejoicing in the life God has given us.
St. Vincent College will host the first-ever gathering of Mother Teresa's family and close friends to celebrate her life's work Oct. 5-7. It is in observance of the 10th anniversary of her death.
Susan Conroy: She worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta in 1986 and discerned a vocation to their order at the request of Mother Teresa. While she didn't join the order, Conroy kept in contact with Mother and authored "Mother Teresa's Lessons of Love and Secrets of Sanctity" (OSV, $12.95).
In my last letter to Mother Teresa, written just weeks before she was called home to God, I thanked her with all my heart for her love and prayers.
Even now, I wish to say these same things to her: "God bless you every day, dearest Mother. I love you."
When Mother Teresa walked into the Home for the Dying in Calcutta, the skeletal, failing men would reach out to her from their cots and call: "Mother," "Ma." It was inspiring to watch her touch each one -- taking one person's face in the palms of her hands, holding the hand of another -- as she walked down the aisle between the rows of stretcher beds of sick and dying patients.
One of the most touching things for me was that these men didn't know that Mother Teresa was famous throughout the world. They had no idea she won the Nobel Peace Prize and top awards and honors from countries throughout the world. They didn't know that she was celebrated as a living saint.
All they knew was that all the love in the world had just walked in the door. They recognized holiness and love and beauty when they saw it, and they reached out to her like children reach out to their mothers.
Mother Teresa was one of the most humble human beings I ever met in my life, and I kept writing home to my family and friends during my time in India saying, "She's so beautiful." I have always felt that humility is one of the most beautiful virtues and a sign of true greatness. Humility and holiness go together.
"Holiness is not the luxury of the few," Mother Teresa would say. "It is a simple duty for you and me." We are all called to be saints. God himself commands that we strive to be perfect in holiness, and "God cannot command the impossible."
Humility was one of the many beautiful lessons that she taught us, especially by her example. She felt that she was nothing but "a little pencil in the hands of God." Sometimes she even referred to herself as "a broken pencil." She marveled at how God can make use of instruments "as weak and imperfect as we are."
Even in her later years (I met her when she was 76 and I was 21), Mother Teresa still got down on her knees in prayer on the chapel floor. She was still on her knees washing the floor. She was even serving me tea and cookies when I visited her, even though I should have been the one serving her.
She used to teach us that "we must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. It is never too small." The minute we give these little things to God, they become infinitely valuable.
"We are so small we look at things in a small way. But God, being Almighty, sees everything great," Mother said. We can honor him by doing works considered inconsequential by many -- such as visiting the homebound, offering to help a burdened mother with household chores, taking an elderly friend or neighbor to Mass. It's humble work, but great work in God's eyes.
"For there are many people who can do big things," Mother said. "But there are very few people who will do the small things."
Let us continue to do "small things with great love," and offer these little things to God. And let us humble ourselves and pray with Mother Teresa that our lives, too, may be "something beautiful for God."
Jim Towey: President of St. Vincent College, Latrobe, Pa. He was formerly assistant to the president of the United States and legal counsel for Mother Teresa.