It seems that very few Christians have a good reputation in both the Christian and the secular worlds, so how did one woman become the default definition of “good Christian”? Her name is casually thrown around as the yardstick by which every other Christian or Christian organization is measured… and we generally all up come short. She’s no Mother Teresa!
Biographies of Mother Teresa didn’t satisfy my curiosity about how she gained such an incredible reputation. But in No Greater Love, a collection of her own letters, speeches, and quotes, I found not just insight, but also (unfortunately for me) conviction.
One of the very first things that stood out to me was what Thomas Moore said of her: “Her faith is inseparable from her compassion, and her compassion is never disconnected from her behavior.”
There it is! There’s the catch. That’s why she gets to be Mother Teresa and the rest of us are just a big dog-pile of “those Christians.” If you look at her life, you can see what she believed. You see compassion, self-sacrifice, love for the unlovable, and unrelenting selflessness… to the point of serving dying homeless people as if they were Christ Himself.
How closely do our actions match our beliefs? The answer is in direct correlation to the relevance of our witness. Our belief-driven actions are the solution in our beaker, the air in our balloon, the stuffing in our Build-a-Bear. You get the picture. James said that faith without works is dead. Not just empty, but actually dead.
Although I have no shortage of compassion (and/or bleeding heart syndrome, and/or “feeling bad” for someone, and/or sadness over a situation), I do have a shortage of behavior moved by my compassion. I would give myself maybe about a 30% success rate.
So, to spur us all on towards “love and good deeds”, I have pulled out my top 10 favorite Teresa-isms. Each one of these quotes is pretty much a whole sermon in one juicy little nugget… Enjoy!
“It is easy to love those who live far away. It is not always easy to love those who live right next to us… There is someone in our own home who does not feel loved. I want you to go and find the poor in your homes. Above all, your love has to start there. I want you to be the good news to those around you.”
“Do not allow yourselves to be disheartened by any failure as long as you have done your best. Neither glory in your success, but refer all to God in deepest thankfulness.”
“What I desire is the presence of the donor, for him to touch those to whom he gives, for him to smile at them, to pay attention to them.”
“In order to love a person, one must come close to him or her.”
“Trust to the point of rashness with courageous confidence in His fatherly goodness.”
“Were I to think about crowds, I would never begin anything. It is the person that matters.”
“In the work we have to do it does not matter how small and humble it may be, make it Christ’s love in action.”
“Needs increase because one thing calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”
“On certain continents poverty is more spiritual than material, a poverty that consists of loneliness, discouragement, and the lack of meaning in life… You in the West have the spiritually poorest of the poor much more than you have the physically poor.”
“This imposes on us a great responsibility to fight against our own ego and love of comfort that would lead us to choose a comfortable and insignificant mediocrity. We are called to make our lives a rivalry with Christ.”
Oh, Mother Teresa… you certainly had a way with words. And actions. Thanks for your example to us! Someday I hope that someone could say of me, “Her faith was inseparable from her compassion, and her compassion was at least often connected to her behavior.”
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