On Aug. 26, Catholics celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, better known as Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa never really fit into American celebrity culture, which is one more reason why her popularity, even 13 years after her death, seems so surprising.
She wasn’t telegenic. She did not have a physically commanding presence. She was not one of those blow-dried religious personalities, the ones who make a fortune with ghost-written books and audiotapes and the kinds of pious groupies that religious celebrities attract.
She lacked all of this, which in this day and age made the miracle of her presence and her impact on so many millions of people all the more remarkable. She took a path so obscure and so off the beaten path that it would seem a recipe for an anonymous life and an equally anonymous death: caring for the most unknown of all, the forgotten dying of Calcutta. But Mother Teresa lived fully one reality, that those dying in the streets were not forgotten by God. In fact, they were loved passionately by God. In living the Gospel so thoroughly, with a faith that was steel in its resolve and a torrent in its selfless generosity, she allowed that reality of God’s great love to shine through every inch of her, and it attracted others to live that reality too.
This was no game plan, no calculated siege on the secular or religious media, no strategy to hobnob with popes and presidents. It was simply loving well, recognizing Jesus in his most distressing disguises and serving him. And while she is best known for simple observations that seem almost rudimentary until you think about them, she is also the visionary who understood perhaps the most profound spiritual truth of the 20th century: God thirsts for us.
In every chapel of the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity, the words “I thirst” can be found next to the crucifix. In a beautiful guided meditation called “I Thirst” that is used by the Missionaries of Charity, it says,
“I thirst for you.
Yes, that is the only way to even begin to
Describe My love for you:
I thirst for you, I thirst to love you,
And to be loved by you — That is how precious you are to Me.”
So often we are drawn to God out of gratitude or obedience or habit, we long for heaven or fear hell, but that sense of God’s profound love and desire for us, which in turn leads to a profound trust in God’s will, was Mother Teresa’s most powerful testimony, not spoken in words but lived fully each day.
At the same time, in the depth of her humility, Mother Teresa firmly believed that we can all be called to this level of trust, this level of sanctity. “You cannot do what I do, and I cannot do what you do,” she would tell Western audiences. Yet all of us, she firmly believed, were called to a profound relationship with the Lord that would drive us forth into a life of service — in our families, in our communities right here — with a holy abandonment to God’s will that so many of us long for, and so few of us have the courage to embrace.
On this anniversary of her birth, we celebrate a saint for our time, a mystic in action, an apostle of God’s love.
To help you celebrate her birth, Our Sunday Visitor will give you two copies of the beautiful meditation called “I Thirst”: One for you and one to give to a friend. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to “Mother Teresa pamphlet,” Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor