St. Teresa of Kolkata's motherly wisdom

Distinct details of meeting St. Teresa of Kolkata the first time remain etched in my memory. Her height, or lack thereof, especially struck me. Being short in stature and hunched over, she appeared a bit frail. But I was totally convinced that this "little" woman was a passionate powerhouse of faith, hope and love. I knew that along with God's grace, she was responsible for incredible transformations in the lives of the "poorest of the poor" all over the world.

My heart soared one summer morning, when straight after a Mass I attended with the Missionaries of Charity sisters, Mother Teresa approached me. I was immediately filled with incredible peace. The tireless servant of the poor took time from her duties to speak to me about my children.

She asked if my daughter Jessica (who was secure in my arms so she wouldn't get into trouble!) was the "baby who was singing at Mass?" (No doubt, her polite way of saying she was aware of my continuous tip-toeing in and out of Mass with my restless little one!) Then, she told me, "Your children are very fortunate to have a family." I felt compelled to tell her that I was very fortunate to be their mother. At that time I had three children on earth and three in heaven.

Mother Teresa was accustomed to rescuing babies and children from the dust bins in Calcutta, India, disposed of by their dying parents. She took them in, gave them love and care, and placed them within families yearning for children.

St. Teresa never mothered a child biologically, but in so many ways she spiritually mothered countless people all around the globe. She indeed became a mother to me. Mother Teresa begged for all unwanted babies whose mothers contemplated abortion and said she'd care for them herself. She opened our eyes and hearts to the needy around us whom we should "mother."

What fueled Mother Teresa to carry out her amazing work in caring for the poor, the dying and the unwanted? It was prayer and the sacraments. She remained simple in so many ways -- her poverty of spirit, simple manner of going about her tasks faithfully, the straightforward simplicity in her approach to others. She was deeply grounded in faith and rooted in Christ's love for all mankind. Her faith sustained her, it strengthened her and it empowered her.

Mother Teresa lived to satiate the thirst of Jesus on the cross. She accomplished this through her prayers and through her loving hands as she ministered to the sick and suffering. Following the Gospel message in Matthew 25:31-46 that whatever we do to others we do to Jesus, Mother Teresa firmly believed that she served Jesus in everyone she ministered to and that Jesus lived in her as well.

She taught others to do the same and explained that prayer was imperative to do the work. Holding up her hand, she counted down on her five fingers: "You-did-it-to-Me!" referring to Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew: "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me" (Mt 25:40).

Mother Teresa's life was a living testament to Our Lord's directives to take care of the needy, the lonely, the poor, the small and insignificant, the most in need. And here she was, "small" herself, yet she was changing the world with Christ's love because she answered God with a wholehearted "yes!" to his will, whatever it would be.

I was blessed to see Mother Teresa in action and while at prayer. Once I was in her convent's chapel at a rare time when it was empty. In walked Mother Teresa. She quietly knelt down nearby and by God's grace our hearts were mysteriously joined in adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Other times, I witnessed Mother Teresa praying her rosary while going about her tasks. Being very devoted to the Blessed Mother, her rosary beads were often moving through her fingers. When her hands were busy with the work, she prayed to the Blessed Mother from her heart.

Mother Teresa told me to entrust my precarious pregnancy to the Blessed Mother when I was on complete bed rest while pregnant with my daughter, Mary-Catherine. She said, "Just put yourself in the hands of our Blessed Mother and let her take care of you. When you are sad or troubled just tell her so. She will prove herself a Mother to you. Pray often, 'Mary, Mother of Jesus, make me all right'; 'Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a mother to me now.'"

I have prayed that prayer often! Thanks be to God, Mary-Catherine is now 20 years old.

What can today's mothers gain from St. Teresa's wisdom? How can they apply her lessons of love to their own lives? First of all, I think it's wise to ponder the fact that Mother Teresa was just one woman and the assumed "weaker sex." Yet, by God's grace and her wholehearted surrender to his will, she was able to accomplish incredible things.

Each mother has her own unique mission from God and her own particular "yes" to utter. We probably won't be traipsing off to a developing country to serve the poor, but our own "yes" in the heart of our homes to welcoming life in the family and all that entails is precisely what Our Lord expects of mothers. That itself is pretty incredible!

Mother Teresa often preached that "holiness is not the luxury of the few, but a simple duty for you and me." Every one of us is called to a life of holiness. The secret to holiness lies in the faithfulness of our duties. Most mothers won't be pulling maggots out of the flesh of the sick and dying as Mother Teresa did. But, mothers can tend to their family's needs, the scraped knees, bruised egos and illnesses with just as much love and faithfulness, all the while living the same Gospel message as Mother Teresa. As mothers serve Jesus within their families, they set a beautiful example to their families and beyond.

Mothers can look to the Blessed Mother as an exemplary virtuous and loving example to emulate. As Mother Teresa has done, mothers can also seek Mary's help throughout their busy days in the care of their families and households, feeling confident that Mother Mary understands what mothers are all about.

The same one-on-one approach Mother Teresa used while caring for others is what we mothers do, too.

Each time we wash a child's face, tie a shoe, feed our babies in the night, bring peace to siblings, cook a nutritious meal, or rescue our children from an ungodly culture, we are accomplishing even more than meets the eye when we begin with prayer and weave a big dose of love into our actions.

We are serving Jesus, too, and he smiles at us!

A mother's life and vocation can be summed up in Mother Teresa's request: "Let us be all for Jesus through Mary."


- Canonist Jenna Marie Cooper is a consecrated virgin, a practicing canon lawyer, and columnist for OSV News.