Mother Teresa belongs to the whole world, not to Roman Catholics only, not to Christians only. Indeed, she is the first religious figure in history to be revered during her lifetime all religions and Christians of all denominations. And when she died in 1997, there was a universal outpouring of heartfelt appreciation for her long life of service. Humility, simplicity, and sacrifice are the terms most often associated with Mother Teresa and her work though many that encountered her personally would quickly add tenacity. And this tenacity was often followed by a stern, uncompromising demeanor. She was driven by an unswerving conviction that she was called by God to reach out to the poorest of the poor, and this conviction left little room to entertain the opinions of government officials, church authorities, or even military leaders.
In a famous televised scene from 1985, she insisted that a government minister from Ethiopia give her Missionaries of Charity two unused buildings to be made into orphanages. With cameras rolling, the minister was tongue tied but finally had no choice but to give her the buildings. Pop singer Bob Geldorf, in Ethiopia as part of his Band Aid campaign, witnessed this exchange in the Addis Ababa airport and remarked, “There was a certainty of purpose which left her little patience. But she was totally selfless; every moment her aim seemed to be, how can I use this or that situation to help others?”
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910. Her father was a businessman whose death when she was 9 years old left the family in difficult financial circumstances. But their faith sustained them. With her mother and brother and sister, Agnes attended church every day, and she sang in the church choir. Her widowed mother, though depressed and lonely, volunteered in the neighborhood, caring for an invalid alcoholic woman and later taking six orphaned children into her own home. It was a model of love and sharing that did not go unnoticed by young Agnes. At age 12, Agnes sensed God calling her to his service, but she struggled with how she could know for certain. She prayed and talked with her mother and sister, but she had no real peace. Then she talked with her Father confessor. “How can I be sure?” she asked. He answered, “Through your joy. If you feel really happy by the idea that God might call you to serve him, then this is the evidence that you have a call. The deep inner joy that you feel is the compass that indicates your direction in life.”
The joy of serving God stayed with her, and in 1929, at age 19, she was in Calcutta preparing to become a teacher and a nun. From the beginning, she was concerned for the poor, but for two decades, her assigned ministry was in the classroom primarily at the Loreto Convent, where she taught geography to schoolgirls. She loved her students and they loved her, and soon they were joining her on weekends as she went into the streets to care for the sick and the hungry.
Mother Teresa’s call to devote herself entirely to serving the poor came suddenly. It was a clear call from God, she insisted, not pity for the poor. And it was a call that was not easily answered in the affirmative, “To leave Loreto was my greatest sacrifice, the most difficult thing I have ever done,” she later reflected. “It was much more difficult than to leave my family and country to enter religious life. Loreto meant everything to me.” She experienced the call in 1946 while traveling to a Himalayan retreat. “It was on that train that I heard the call to give up all and follow him into the slums to serve him in the poorest of the poor…. I was to leave the convent and work with the poor while living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged, but I did not know how to get there.”
At 38 Mother Teresa left the Loreto community and exchanged her black and white nun’s habit for clothing of the street- a white and blue sari. With permission from the pope a year later, a new religious order was developed. All of the members were required to take the three basic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, as well as an additional a vow of pledging service to the poor, whom Mother Teresa spoke of Christ. They lived simply, shared work equally. Mother Teresa helped with the daily washing until she was too feeble to do so and served the dying with food, medical supplies, and companionship, whatever they needed most.
Mother Teresa was sometimes challenged about the long-term effects of her humanitarian ministry. For example, she was asked, why give people fish to eat instead of teaching them how to fish? She had a quick response: “But my people can’t even stand. They’re sick, crippled, demented. When I have given them fish to eat and they can stand, I’ll turn them over and you give them the rod to catch the fish.” She was quick to emphasize, however, that she gave people more than “fish.” Equally important was that which came from the heart love and joy. The poor, she insisted, deserve more than just service and dedication. “If our actions are just useful actions that give no joy to the people, our poor people would never be able to rise up to the call which we want them to hear, the call to come closer to God. We want to make them feel that they are loved.”
In 1952, four years after she left Loreto community, she opened Nirmal Hriday (Pure Heart), a home for dying and destitute people in Calcutta. In the decades that followed, she opened her work to five continents. The first 20 years of the ministry passed unnoticed, but that changed quickly in 1969. When Malcolm Muggeridge for the BBC interviewed her. A film and a book (both called Something Beautiful for God) by Muggeridge followed, and soon she was on her way to becoming an international celebrity. Special recognition came from Queen Elizabeth and from the U.S. Congress, and even from Harvard University, which granted her an honorary doctorate. In 1979 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But she was never fully comfortable in the limelight. “For me,” she confessed, “it is more difficult than bathing a leper.”
Bathing a leper would be her lasting legacy. Of course, she will also be remembered for the international recognition she received the thousands of nuns who followed her, and the hundreds of homes established around the world. But the image imprinted to all on Earth would be that of a tiny wrinkled old woman reaching out and touching those poor, starving, weak, and helpless.
In today’s society there is a many ways to define what a hero is. In today S society there is also many people focus on themselves. They are only interested, and concerned with things that will make their lives better. They are also only concerned with how things will affect them, not others. In looking for someone to admire or label a hero, I feel heroes don’t need super powers, extreme physical gifts, or to be beautiful on the outside. A hero to me is someone you would like to live your life like. Mother Teresa and many other heroes in the past and present have a gift that makes them extremely special or beautiful. Mother Teresa was a woman dedicated to God. She loved all people whether they were sick, poor, black, white, or on their deathbed. This woman cared for human beings, and was afraid of no one. Mother Teresa had extreme courage to trust her calling she had, and do what she felt was her life’s purpose.
Mother Teresa was not a type of hero who falls under one definition or meaning found in a dictionary. She practically falls under all definitions of what it takes to be a hero. Mother Teresa sacrificed. She took risks. She had many achievements and contributions in her lifetime. She had an extreme talent with touching people’s lives in a positive way. She was also viewed as a protector of the people who were shunned from their communities once they became sick. In my eyes no one can compare to the beauty she brought to this world. I believe she was sent to this Earth to show people material possessions and exceptional super natural powers are not what makes a person who they are, or a hero for that matter. She showed love for all creatures of God. She showed people if you appreciate life and care for others you would be a happier person and a hero of some type as well. Mother Teresa was not only an amazing woman and hero, but also a saint who followed her heart.