Humans have dignity and value, Mother Teresa's message for our time

The apostolic administrator in Jowai met the future saint in 1958, when he was in the seminary. What struck him was the Mother’s devotion to others, especially the poorest. Faced with the irrational process that makes humans into consuming machines, Mother Teresa cried out to the world the sacredness of the human person and soul.

Aug 25, 2016

MUMBAI: If Mother Teresa "had a message for our time, it would be that the human person has dignity and value no matter his or her fragilities. She saw the 'glory of God' shine through the eyes of people at death's door,” said Mgr Thomas Menamparampil, archbishop Emeritus of Guwahati and current apostolic administrator in Jowai.

The archbishop met the Mother of Kolkata when he was a young seminarian, and that meeting has indelibly marked his life. The way Mother Teresa heeded the needs of the last, and in their eyes she saw the glory of God, which inspired her mission to India.

According to Mgr Menamparampil, Mother Teresa showed the heroic spirit that is in each of us, starting from the slums of Kolkata. She " had the courage to bring the lost Sense of the Sacred back into the modern world.”

What follows is another testimony AsiaNews is offering to its readers for the upcoming canonisation of the Blessed on 4 September.

What impressed me most when I met Mother Teresa as a young seminarian in 1958 was her self-forgetful attention to others, especially the poorest, combined with her bubbling enthusiasm, and unfailing resilience in the face of difficulties. Her dynamism was combined with spiritual depth, a profound sense of vocation, and contagious joy.

She had heard an inner voice asking her to come out into the streets of Kolkata to look after the poorest of the poor. Though not physically strong, she vibrated with life and exuded energy. St Irenaeus had said centuries ago, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive”. Here was the picture of a person fully alive offering the same gift of vibrant life to others, here was God’s glory made manifest.

It was from the obscure slums of Kolkata that Mother Teresa won the attention of the world. Jyoti Basu, the Communist chief minister of West Bengal, was one of the first leaders to recognise her worth.

If Mother Teresa has a message for our times, it is precisely about the dignity and worth of the human person, no matter in what fragility the individual is clothed. For Teresa, it was not a loss of time waiting on the blind and the deaf and the dumb or on lepers, or attending to their basic needs. She saw the ‘glory of God’ shining through the eyes of dying persons. Whether a person was in rags, covered with dirt, smelling at the sores, or showing extremely bad mood, that individual was a human being, in fact Jesus himself.

We are living through an era in which the dignity of the human person is affirmed most solemnly. At the same time, we also hear of theories that would amount to reducing the human person to being the end product of an irrational process, from an accidental clash of atoms, or a haphazard combination of blind drives and instincts. Just a meaningless marvel!

Victor Hugo had said over a century ago, “There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul”. Mother Teresa did not argue the point; but established its truth in action.

If the worth of the individual is so great, his/her life must be equally precious. Lack of love for life is lack of love for humanity, whether the person concerned is in the womb, the cradle, the school, society; or caught up in debt or hatred, dubbed a terrorist, or terminally sick. A person in coma is not a piece of vegetable. The value of his/her life is not measured in utilitarian terms.

When we speak about the personhood of the individual, we are referring to something truly holistic, something what artists and poets have imagined, sages and saints have experienced and described. Loving him/her is not love wasted, if only we understand love as a door into a mystery.

What a baby in the womb or a person in his final moments needs is not the rejection of abortion or euthanasia, but the acceptance of love and a sense of belonging. To offer that is our duty.

The universe never ceases to care for any being that it has brought into existence. The lilies bloom and the sparrows thrive because everything is part of a grand design. Faith is to recognize it.

 Love is life-giving. A child’s hug is energizing. Christian love protects that life and that dignity in each person.

If this be the case, snuffing out lives in political protest, or ethnic hatred, or religious fanaticism is clearly outrageous. It is counter-evolutionary, as scientists would say. The best effort of human civilizations in every period of history has been centred around an effort to save, enhance, and prolong life.

Cutting off human lives invoking noble causes and religious principles is sacrificing to Moloch. How slow we have become to realize that violence is just a part of the suicidal instinct of a society! In such contexts, Mother Teresa has a message. Lifting a street victim in her arms, she cries out to the world “Life is precious”.

To those with grievances, to those fighting for “just causes”, she would say, “Stop being a victim and start being responsible”. We make ourselves victims of parental mistreatment, educational mishandling, social imbalances, historic injuries, personal humiliations. Her message to everyone is “Be an adult today, and take on responsibility for the rest of humanity”.

The saint from Kolkata seems to remind the world that a human being is not merely a cog in the wheel of Modern Economy. He/she is more than a producer and a consumer. Any individual may be called to be an artist, a prophet, a sage or a saint; a hero/heroine in any field of life.

 Truly, the most ordinary people have a vocation to live extraordinary lives. How can a person discover and unveil the hero within? Mother Teresa has shown from the slums how this can be done.

Mother Teresa had the courage to bring the lost Sense of the Sacred back into the modern world. When we ignore the inner stuff that we call the soul, it makes itself felt: physical symptoms of inner uncertainties, spiritual anguish, worry, emptiness, general unease.

Heroism becomes an unintelligible value in a softening society, the spirit of venture ceases to exist. When the human being is reduced to becoming a consuming machine, there is no room for romance, poetry, mystery, the serious, the profound. Why press for human rights when daily you renounce your right to be a better person or a beneficent agent in human society?

Mother Teresa would say, question your life of compromise, keep close to pain and those who have to live with it. Listen to the message that human agonies have for you. You may be surprised to find, as she did, that pain is a wonderful teacher, that an inner agony can be a gift. It can make you think.

Attempt rather to go more thoroughly into what you dislike, until it makes meaning. It will make more meaning when you do it for Jesus and for the poorest.

That would be the substance of Mother Teresa’s whisper to you today.--Asia News

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