Those of us who knew her feel a twinge of guilt writing about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Mother’s life was always about the other, about Jesus, and she did not enjoy being the centre of media attention. She accepted that for the sake of Jesus and the poor she would have to tolerate a few photographs, but her deal – with God? – was that it meant one soul out of purgatory for every photo taken.
Often she was keen to share news about houses being opened, women joining the congregation or new apostolic initiatives, but there was no sense of self-adulation. Everything that she did, the news that she shared, was ad maiorem Dei gloriam – for the greater glory of God. Ignatian spirituality ran very deep with her.
How to write about someone I loved as a spiritual mother and to whom I owe so much as a priest? I might start with her prophetic insight. She foresaw, I believe, the impending breakdown of the Middle East, and the deterioration of the priesthood. Long before it was so obvious, she described our culture of self-absorption, which Pope Francis recently described as the way of the couch potato.
In 1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the military action being proposed by the Americans and British seemed inevitable. I spent that winter in Calcutta and can testify to Mother’s absolute preoccupation with the consequences of the proposed Allied military action. She knew it would mean children orphaned, homes destroyed, limbs lost and the poor becoming poorer. I was set the task, as a newly ordained priest, of helping her to write letters to President Bush and Saddam Hussein. For hours we laboured over them, the draft pressed against the tabernacle by her immense hands and the final copy put on the altar. The letters were delivered.
In a strange way, I feel I was given an interior vision of Mother’s heart. She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos. I would venture that God was crying over our catastrophic manoeuvrings in the Middle East and the mayhem we were to cause.
The precious and fragile neighbourly cooperation between Christian, Muslim and Jew – which had somehow allowed those ancient and faith-filled communities to survive – has now disintegrated. The suffering cries of persecuted Christians are like the cries of Rachel’s children.
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