“How did Mother Teresa go about loving her neighbors, and why did she love them so richly?”
When I was invited to be the speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., in 2012, I immediately thought of Mother Teresa, whose speech there in 1994 was the only one many people seemed to remember. It wasn’t until I had to write my own speech that I watched hers online.
Mother Teresa was so short that in the video her face is mostly obscured by the microphone, but the moral authority and palpable holiness of this tine woman is astounding, even when viewed through the less-than-grand window of a YouTube video. When she spoke about abortion, telling President Bill Clinton to “stop killing” these children, to “give them to her,” it inspired me to speak of the talking of unborn life in my own speech. It was the least I could do, feeling so unequal to the high honor of following in the footsteps of this extraordinary woman of God.
In modern times, few have had the impact Mother Teresa did. Her very name represented – and still represents – holiness and compassion to many around the world. Catholics, Protestants, Muslins, Hindus, and atheists all respected and loved her. She lived out the commands of Christ: love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And she deliberately made some of the poorest people on earth her nearest neighbors.
Her impact was so great that it wasn’t unusual for a few minutes’ conversation with Mother Teresa to change someone’s life dramatically. Mother Teresa frequently asked strangers on the street for help – such as moving heavy boxes into one of her facilities for the poor. The strangers usually agreed, and when it downed on them who it was they had assisted, they were overjoyed.
How did Mother Teresa go about loving her neighbors, and why did she love them so richly? Perhaps her vision can be summed up in the words of Matthew 25:24-40, which she quoted often:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Fahter, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick?, or in prison, and come to You?” And the King will answer and say to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
Mother Teresa said that she saw Jesus in every man, woman, or child she met, and she treated them accordingly. She thought the biggest problem on earth was being unloved; and if, in her exhaustion, all she could offer someone was a smile, she gave it.
She wanted to show the love of Christ in all she did – in helping the malnourished child and the woman dying in the gutter. To her, all these were simply “Jesus in His distressing disguise,” as she put it. Because of this she was widely considered a saint during her lifetime, long before the Vatican make it official.
Excerpt from Eric Metaxas, Seven Women and the Secret of Their Greatness (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 166-168.