Thirsting for God: A Yearbook of Prayers, Meditations, Anecdotes by Mother Teresa, compiled by Father Angelo D. Scolozzi (Servant Publications, 1999 196 pages, $19.99)
Pope John Paul II's challenge to the people of God has been loud, clear and consistent throughout his pontificate: Each one of us is called to holiness. For many, to hear this call is to long for a guide to help us give an adequate response.
One well-qualified guide is at hand in the form of this slender volume of prayers, meditations and anecdotes compiled by the co-founder (with Mother Teresa) of the Third Order of the Missionaries of Charity, who is its current superior. Much of Mother Teresa's writings have already been published, yet Father Scolozzi has included much new material here, drawing on the memories of his 21 years of friendship and collaboration with the late, beloved nun. He also gives the statutes of the order, offering to the laity the possibility of an active share in the work of the sisters and brothers.
The selections are arranged as a yearlong spiritual journal, with a half-page or so allotted to each day. They speak to any and all circumstances that may mark our day — inspiring or devastating, fun or frustrating, good or bad. We keep coming up against the plain common sense of Mother Teresa, mixed with her whimsical humor, unvarnished realism and kind compassion. Her words always fit.
Mother Teresa was once interviewed by an American psychiatrist who wanted to write a book on success. It was probably the shortest interview he ever conducted. He asked Mother what was the secret of her success. “Jesus’ thirst,” she responded. “Love others as God loves you.” To her own sisters, on the day she died, she wrote, “Let our gratitude be our strong resolution to quench the thirst of Jesus by lives of real charity. Love for Jesus in prayer, love for Jesus in your brothers and sisters, love for Jesus in the poorest of the poor. Nothing else.” That thirst is the theme of this book.
Mother Teresa's sayings have brought small, bright joys into the lives of countless people. They cut through drabness, loneliness, and pain with the warmth and sparkle of good wine. They also remind one of the tissue of fine wrinkles crisscrossing Mother's forehead, cheek bones, nose and mouth, and the leathery furrows in her hands and wrists, all of which are detailed on the back of the book jacket. There is an utterly human homeliness in them that goes straight to the heart.
Father Scolozzi shares his own unforgettable first impression of one of the most unlikely women to become a household name over the past 25 years: “Truly from my infancy, I had been longing to have an idea of the love that one would feel in the presence of Mary the Mother of Jesus. I felt this flow of loving goodness when I first glimpsed Mother Teresa in 1976 at Calcutta's mother house. I was waiting in a small courtyard and saw her approach between the gray buildings, bare feet and white sari with blue border. She passed through a beam of light and suddenly I understood, my longing was fulfilled.”
Consoling and comforting as the words of Mother Teresa are, they also have the knockdown strength of tough love and the relentless directness of a very young child. We read this book at our own risk. This is not to say that we face the firing squad from cover to cover, but rather that we are dealing with someone for whom heroism is an everyday duty. She challenges us to the same kind of heroism. She gave herself totally to God, who is Truth and Love, and it is God's truth and love that pour through her words, at times torrentially.
Poverty was the driving force of Mother Teresa's inspiration. She loved it and she hated it. She adored the poverty of Christ in his self-emptying for us, and she wanted that for herself and her whole congregation. She hated the poverty that leaves men, women and children dying in the streets of Calcutta and the world over. Perhaps even more, she hated the poverty of the rich, who starve for love. These poverties she fought with the kind of poverty Christ had chosen:
“When, at the very beginning after leaving my convent at Loreto Entally, I arrived in Creek Lane, Calcutta, alone, I had only a box and five rupees. A man from Air India wanted to give me a nice suitcase to carry the few things I had with me. I said to him, ‘There is no shame in carrying a cardboard box.’ ... Poverty is our dowry. The less we have, the more we can give. The more we have, the less we give.”
For that other poverty, that dreadful lovelessness that plays no favorites and plagues the wealthiest, Mother Teresa had the simplest remedy: love. “Find at least one good point in the other person and build from there. In the family, you should thank each other, mentioning the good you have seen others do. In short, an understanding love. ... You must open your eyes wide, so that you can see the opportunities to give ... right where you are, in your family. If you don't give such service in your family, you will not be able to give it to those outside your home. ... That little kindness, care, compassion, that is the hidden treasure, the growth in holiness. We know where it is, let us go for it!”
A Hindu couple asked Mother Teresa how to be a better husband and wife. She said, “Smile at each other!” The wife said, “Are you married?” Mother replied, “Yes, and sometimes I find it very difficult to smile at Jesus, my husband, because he can be very demanding.” A little further on she admits, “And remember, joy is not simply a matter of temperament, but of choice. It must be cultivated.”
Two great Teresas, one hidden behind her monastery wall in Lisieux and the other trotting around the globe, had much in common. Truly, they both “took God by the heart” and have given our age an impetus we sorely need. By all means, let us go for it!
Dominican Sister Mary Thomas Noble writes from Buffalo, New York.