“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Few Good Samaritans have inspired the world like Agnes
Gonxha Bojaxhiu, also known as Mother Theresa. She founded the Missions of
Charity, won the Nobel Peace Prize, and was beatified by the Catholic Church (a
major step towards sainthood). So what forces shaped Mother Teresa’s vision of service
“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Mother Teresa was remembered as an obedient yet highly independent child. The youngest daughter of a construction worker, she did not grow up in poverty, enjoying luxuries such as spending time in the two houses her father owned. At about nine years old, her father died, leaving her mother to raise the family.
Though she expressed early fascination with stories of
missionaries working around the world, Mother Teresa did not seriously consider
a life of religious service until she turned eighteen, when she entered the
order of the Loreto Sisters of Dublin and moved to Ireland. She would never see
her mother or sisters again.
“It's not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
After one year in the convent, Mother Teresa was sent to Darjeeling, India, to teach history and geography at St. Mary’s High School in Calcutta. Over 15 years of teaching, she began ministering to the poor of the Calcutta, one of the most impoverished cities in the world, citing her desire to follow “the call of Christ” by serving the needy.
This call ran against the Church’s direction for her, and
ultimately Mother Teresa had to abandon the Sister of Loreto and form a new
religious community with the archbishop’s permission. Symbolically, Mother Teresa
set aside her nun’s habit to wear the plain white sari of an Indian woman as
she ministered to the hungry and the sick. And when she could not afford
teaching materials, she wrote in the dirt.
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Mother Teresa’s life illustrates that compassion begins with the individual, not the organization. And while her legacy remains with the Church and her Missions of Charity organization, she is also an inspiration for us in this way: that any person can be a force for help and humanitarianism, regardless of institutional affiliations.