(from a talk given by Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, on June 13, 1977)
To be a co-worker is a gift from God. It is not simply a title. It means to be an active co-worker with Christ. The name of “Mother Teresa” is frequently referred to in our work, but really, you and I are co-workers with Christ. That is why I say that being a co-worker is a gift from God. It is a hidden grace. We don’t see it, but it is really a gift from God. Why has God chosen you? Why me? This is a mystery.
To be able to do something beautiful for God, we need Jesus. Jesus became the Bread of Life so that you and I, and even a small child, can receive Him and have life. In a special way, we need the Bread of Life to know the poor, to love them, and serve them. Each one of us needs to encounter Jesus. Without Him, we can do nothing. We need the Bread of Life to live. Jesus said very clearly, “If you do not eat My flesh and drink My blood, you will not have eternal life.” (John 6:53)
This is the most wonderful surprise for all of us. To satisfy our love for God, Jesus made Himself the Bread of Life. Let’s marvel at God’s hunger for us. He makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the dying one. In that way, He gives us the opportunity to feed Him, to clothe Him, and to aid Him through our service to the poorest of the poor.
Here, a beautiful standard for judgment presents itself. We have to become increasingly aware that the poor are the hope of humanity, for we will be judged by how we have treated the poor. We will have to face this reality when we are summoned before the throne of God: “I was hungry. I was naked. I was homeless. And whatever you did to the least of My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)
Recall that momentous event in St. Paul’s life when he was touched by Jesus on the way to Damascus. Jesus asked him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me? I am Jesus Whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:4-5) Jesus did not say, “I am the people of Damascus,” or even “I am the Christian people.” He said, “I am Jesus.” In the same way, we have seen many times in the history of the church where Jesus has personally identified Himself with the poor. He has shown a very personal concern for how they are treated.
For this very reason, I always tell Christians, as well as non-Christians, that we are not merely social workers. No co-worker or Missionary of Charity is a social worker. If we take Jesus at His word, all of us are contemplatives in the heart of the world, for if we have faith, we are continually in His presence. We need a life of prayer to have this kind of faith. We need to worship God and have a spirit of sacrifice. We need to spiritually feed ourselves on Him constantly.
In the beginnings of our congregation, we used to have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament once a week. At our last general meeting or convocation, there was a unanimous consensus on the part of all the sisters that there should be daily adoration. We now have an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament every day. Upon returning home, we spend an hour alone worshiping Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. I believe that this has been the greatest gift to our congregation. It is something that has worked important changes in our lives. It has brought us closer together and made us more understanding. It has helped us to know our poor better. It has fostered a greater tenderness and love in us. We owe it all to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot be co-workers or Missionaries of Charity without an intense life of prayer.
Seeing the Good in Others
There are little things that inevitably happen in our lives and in our homes. Misunderstandings and suffering come to everyone, even in our own congregation. Someone said to me one day, “You never talk to us about problems.” I said that I didn’t need to talk about such things precisely because everyone knows that there are always problems. What I do have to say again and again is that sometimes it seems we aren’t aware of them when we should be. We don’t recognize that a problem exists. This is something that often happens. Let’s focus more on the things we ought to do in serving our husband, our wife, our children, our brothers—rather than on other people’s shortcomings.
One year, I wanted to do something special for our sisters. I sent out a newsletter to each one of them, to each community, suggesting that each one write down what she thought was beautiful in her sisters and in her community. I asked that each sister send her answer to me. Just imagine! A thousand letters arrived. I had to sit down and patiently read each one, making a list of each community and all the sisters. Later, I returned the letters to the communities.
The sisters were surprised that someone would notice such beautiful things in them—that there was someone who was able to see them. All of this fostered a beautiful spirit of love, understanding, and sharing.
I feel that we too often focus only on the negative aspect of life, on what is bad. If we were more willing to see the good and the beautiful things that surround us, we would be able to transform our families. From there, we would change our next-door neighbors and then others who live in our neighborhood or city. We would be able to bring peace and love to our world which hungers so much for these things.
I have another conviction that I want to share with you. Love begins at home, and every co-worker should try to make sure that deep family love abides in his or her home. Only when love abides at home can we share it with our next-door neighbor. Then it will show forth and you will be able to say to them, “Yes, love is here.” And then you will be able to share it with everyone around you.
We don’t need guns or bombs to bring peace to the world. We must share the peace that is in our own homes. I believe—and each of you is certainly aware of it—that every day we seem to have less and less time for sharing. There is even less time in our busy day to share a smile with those in our own families. There is no one at home to hug the children. Everyone is so busy! And the elderly are in nursing homes. There is no one at home to play with the children, to spend time with them. That’s why so many children end up on the streets.
I think that our co-workers should consider it their duty to seek out those children and bring them home. In the United States, we started up a group of young people—even though they are not officially co-workers—who have heard the call to seek out these children, just like Mary, who went searching for the boy Jesus to bring Him home after He had gotten lost and stayed in the temple (Luke 2:41-52). We must go find these children and bring them home; for if the children return, the parents will be affected also.
A certain priest I knew was right when he used to say, “The family that prays together, stays together.” Our prayer also has this purpose. We need to be able to pray. We need prayer just like we need air. Without prayer, we can do nothing. Someone asked me a few days ago what advice I had for politicians. I don’t like to get involved in politics, but my answer just popped out, “They should spend time on their knees. I think that would help them to become better statesmen.”
This is what we need to do when we go to share with others. For example, every time we need to make a decision concerning our families, we need to pray. Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7) Nothing will be denied you. Our congregation is living proof of that. We are now more than a thousand. Thousands of lives depend on us. In spite of that, we have never, never, never had to say to anybody, “Go away. We can’t do anything for you.” God is always there showing us that He never leaves our prayers unanswered. And to confirm this, since we are more important than the lilies of the field (Luke 12:27-28; Matthew 6:28-30), God always helps us.