September 2, 2016

Reflection / John F. Fink

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: ‘Do something beautiful for God’

John F. FinkPope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa of Calcutta on Sept. 4. During my many years as a Catholic journalist, I was privileged to be with her four times. The first time was in 1976 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. We were with some other people but then, for a while, I was left alone with Mother Teresa when the others present had to do something. I wish I could remember what we talked about, but I can’t. How did you make small talk with Mother Teresa?

I do, however, remember another time I was with her. It was in 1982. I was leading a group of 26 Catholic journalists on a trip to Jordan, Israel and Egypt. It was a fact-finding trip during which we had a chance to meet with numerous top government and Church officials in those three countries. I was leading it because I was president of Our Sunday Visitor, which funded it.

While we were in Jordan, we visited a home for the elderly, the dying and the mentally handicapped operated by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa was not there at the time. We toured the building and then had Mass in the sisters’ small chapel.

Albina Aspell, the editor of the Peoria Register, was one of those on the trip. She later wrote what I’m about to relate. She said that she had always greatly admired Mother Teresa and her work but, when we started meeting the people in that home, she found that they made her physically ill. She didn’t expect that, but she couldn’t wait to get out of that home. She spent the next few days feeling really down on herself.

Several days later, we were in Jerusalem, where we stayed at the Notre Dame Center. As chance would have it, Mother Teresa was there, too. She said that she would be glad to meet with our group. She spent a half-hour with us, posing for pictures, talking briefly with each of us, and then giving a little talk. I wrote down what she said, and included it in my diary that night.

Aspell, who had been feeling so bad ever since she had been turned off during our visit to Mother Teresa’s home in Jordan, wrote in the Peoria Register that it seemed that Mother Teresa was speaking directly to her, because Mother Teresa told us:

“You cannot do what I do. But I cannot do what you do. Each of us has his or her own work to do. The important thing is that we all do something beautiful for God. God has brought you to the Holy Land for you to learn the truth and then to write it. We must share the sufferings of the people. Your work is a work of love to bring peace to the world. Be the carriers of God’s love. Be close to Jesus so that he will write with your hand.”

Of course, she wasn’t speaking only to Albina. She was speaking to all of us Catholic journalists, and I’ve tried to remember her words ever since.

In 1985, I was asked to give the commencement address at Bishop Chatard High School in Indianapolis. I told this story to the graduating students to make the point that we all can’t do the same thing, but we all must use our talents. As Mother Teresa said, “The important thing is that we all do something beautiful for God.”

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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