<%-- Page Title--%> A Roman Column <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 128 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

October 31, 2003

<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- Navigation Bar--%>
<%-- 5% Text Table--%>

A Messenger of Love
A Homage

Neeman A Sobhan

Agnes was an incredible woman with a magical presence, whose crinkled and almost-ugly face changed the whole concept of beauty. I am certain I am not alone in thinking that she was a most beautiful woman. Of course, I speak of Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, the Albanian nun from Skopje who fell in divine love with the abandoned and ailing poor of Calcutta and embraced them within her compassionate heart. I speak of that venerable mother figure who not only gave honour to the Nobel Prize by accepting it in 1979, but who at the end of her beatific life and death in 1997, is presently undergoing the merely formal processes of being bestowed a title that she already earned in her lifetime. I speak of the recent beatification and Vatican-proffered sainthood of the already beloved and popular 'Saint of the gutters': Mother Teresa.

Last Saturday evening in Rome, the heavens poured with rain as if scouring and cleansing the city. But Sunday 19 October dawned radiant with sunshine, a perfect day for an open-air beatification ceremony attended by almost 300,000 admirers and followers of Mother Teresa. The Pope, ridden with Parkinson's disease and unable for the first time to read the mass himself, yet managed to say about her: “She had chosen to be not just the least but to be the servant of the least.” It was this Pope's special dispensation that accelerated for Mother Teresa the normally lengthy process towards sainthood.

To her admirers she was an icon holier than in a merely limited religious sense. Throughout her life of continual service, she gave that most sacred of all gifts: Unconditional Love. So much has been written about her, so much is known about her life and simple creed that there can be nothing new to be said about her. Yet, today I feel moved to give this saintly person a humble tribute, which I feel should be a sharing of some of the wonderful things she said during her extraordinary life. What makes these sayings so meaningful to any thinking and feeling human being across religious barriers, is that her wisdom is at once spiritual and practical. It speaks with the fervour of divine love but is rooted in the everyday world of action. And what a clarion call it is: Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin!

Yet, it is a call not just to a dedicated few, those like her who found some divine calling in helping the destitute in the streets, nor is it just a call to piety for its own sake, but an invitation to a socially conscious and humane life of service towards family, society, community and thereby the world. Where does one start? Sometimes you don't have to look far, or for a big and worthy cause: Let us know the poor in our families first. Maybe in our own families we have somebody who is feeling lonely, who is feeling sick, who is feeling worried. Are we there? We have old people: they are put in institutions and never visited; with less and less time even to smile at each other, with less and less time to be together. Love begins at home, if we can only make our own homes temples of love.

And it could be easy as a smile: Sometimes it is harder for us to smile at those who live with us, the immediate members of our families, than it is to smile at those who are not closest to us………To smile at someone who is sad; to visit, even for a little while, someone who is lonely; to give someone shelter from the rain with our umbrella; to read something for someone who is blind; these and others can be small things, but… (as she says elsewhere) to be faithful in little things is a great thing. She reiterates: How do we love? Not in big things, but in small things with great love... The important thing is not how much we accomplish but how much love we put into our deeds every day. That is the measure of our love for God.

And don't be afraid of failing in the work or service you choose to do: Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your weakness.

Her chosen vocation was to care for the poorest of the poor, the homeless, ill and dying, and she always maintained that the greatest poverty of all is to live and die unloved and unwanted. In her work with the poor, she never preached or forced anyone else to do the same, but supporters and followers simply flocked to her side to help her with her work swelling to 5000 nuns and volunteers running 500 centres worldwide. She attracted but never pulled women out of the home and into the street for social service. Instead she always said: The woman is the heart of the home. Let us pray we realize the reason of our existence: to love and to be loved and through this love become the instruments of peace in the world... We should teach our children to love one another at home. They can learn this only from their father and mother, when they see the parent's love for each other.

In spite of being a nun she believed: The most natural thing is the family life. What keeps the family together, what nourishes the life of the family together, is that surrender to each other, is that obedience, is that accepting of each other. She knew first hand about family life and always remembered her childhood spent within a close and happy family life, which she chose to leave as her ultimate sacrifice to her divine calling. And about sacrifice in general she says: A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves……

About work, she is clear: In your life, in mine, in the life of each of us, God has made us for bigger things. However…Not one of us is indispensable. God has the means to do all things and to do away with the work of the most capable human beings. We can work till we drop…If what we do is not connected to love, however, our work is useless in God's eyes…Work without love is slavery.

And what she brought to her backbreaking work among the poor was this love, summed up by her incandescent smile. Each abandoned or impoverished person she rescued, each dying creature whose last hours she comforted, got from her the incalculable gift of dignity. What the poor need the most is not pity but love. They need to feel respect for their human dignity, which is neither less nor different from the dignity of any other human being.

About the fundamental nature of her work, which consisted in actually cleaning the homes and bathing and physically caring for the ill and dying, and feeding and nourishing the impoverished and homeless, she was once asked a question to which she made this simple statement: I was asked why I did not give a rod with which to fish in the hands of the poor, rather than give the fish itself as this makes them remain poor. So I told them: the people whom we picked up are not able to stand with a rod. So today I will give them fish and when they are able to stand, then I shall send them to you and you can give them the rod. That is your job. Let me do my work today.

She has done her work and has left us her legacy and lessons of love. What is special about her is that her spirituality came clothed in the no-nonsense sari of practicality. Even as she prays in silence she exhorts action: We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature-the trees, the flowers, the grass--grow in silence. See the stars, the moon, the sun move in silence. The more we receive in silent prayer, the more we can give in our active life.

As a writer I find particularly appealing some lines she wrote with which I will end this homage: I am nothing. He is all. I do nothing of my own. He does it. I am God's pencil. A tiny bit of pencil with which He writes what He likes. God writes through us, and however imperfect instruments we may be, He writes beautifully.


(C) Copyright The Daily Star. The Daily Star Internet Edition, is published by The Daily Star