FR. SEBASTIAN VAZHAKALA has known the truth about Mother Teresa even before the National Catholic Register broke the story four years ago.
The Missionaries of Charity priest is a little surprised at the attention given to the new book Come Be My Light (Weekly Book Pick, page 11). In it, fellow Missionary of Charity Priest Father Brian Kolodiejchuk presents Mother Teresa’s own writings about her decades-long dark night of the soul. Father Kolodiejchuk first spoke of them in an interview in 2003.
Mother Teresa died 10 years ago on Sept. 5. Father Vazhakala spoke about Mother Teresa’s life and how it impacted his, to Robert and Mary Dirgo for the Register.
Would you describe your personal experience with Mother Teresa?
There are several personal experiences with Blessed Teresa since the day of my first meeting.
I can give a few examples.
“Please do not waste your time,” she used to say, “in neither brooding over the past nor thinking that you can do things better tomorrow. Please do not waste your time in judging others. Do what you can,” she used to exhort us, “and do it now.”
One day I was working at the home for the dying in Kalighat, Calcutta.
The Corporation Ambulance brought in a man. I looked at him and I recognized him straightaway, as he had been to our home several times. So I told Blessed Teresa that there was no sense in taking him in again, as he would go out when he might feel a little better.
Blessed Teresa looked at me and said: “Brother Sebastian, does this man need your help now or not? It does not matter that he was here yesterday or not, or that he is going to come back again tomorrow. We do not have yesterday any more, nor do we have tomorrow yet; all what we have is today to love God and serve the poor.”
She used to tell me to concentrate more on the good and positive side of people, things and events. One day she took me to our kitchen in Rome and took one of the apples, which was more than half rotten. She took the knife and cut the bad part off and threw it in the bin and told me to concentrate on the good part of the apple.
We do not save the rotten part of the apple but the good part. In the same way, you must concentrate on the good side of people, as we know that there is so much bad in the best of us and so much good in the worst of us.
What motivated her through all those hard times — especially considering her dark night of the soul?
Whatever she did she was doing for Jesus. One day after Mass she started talking with one of our candidates who had some problems. They were standing outside the chapel and were talking and talking for almost for an hour. I felt sorry for her wasting her precious time, so I told her again: “Mother, why do you want to waste all this precious time with a candidate?”
Her answer to me was: “I am having adoration.” What was a waste of time for me was a time of adoration of Jesus for her.
How did you become a Missionaries of Charity priest?
It was in the beginning of March 1966. Blessed Teresa was invited to give a talk to the staff and students of St. Albert’s College, Ranchi, India. I was in the fourth year of studies in the seminary to become a diocesan priest. But I felt a further call to give myself more fully to the service of the poor while trying to live as closely to the poor as possible.
I was not sure which religious orders could help me to realize my vocation. My spiritual director always encouraged me to pursue my studies and to take time to discern and decide. Blessed Teresa’s talk that evening confirmed my vocation to become a Missionary of Charity.
She told us that she also had started a small group of men under her guidance and under the guidance of Brother Andrew who tried to live in the same spirit and lifestyle and give wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor. She told us that it was not yet a religious congregation because the group was too small for that, and was still very unstable.
She was hoping to have more vocations soon so that it would, in the course of time, God willing, become a religious congregation.
How did you know it was for you?
“Obedience is better than sacrifice.” One cannot accomplish God’s will if one does not obey. I literally and blindly obeyed my spiritual director and followed his advice and left it to the Lord to make the decision for me, and he did.
Lo and behold, I got the permission to visit the little group of brothers in Calcutta on my way home for vacation and stayed with them for a few days. That was wonderful. I was attracted all the more. I spoke with Brother Andrew, the superior of the brothers then.
Did you talk to Mother Teresa about it?
On the feast of St. Andrew, on Nov. 30, 1966, at midday, I got the chance to meet Blessed Teresa for the first time and to speak with her about my call.
I told her that I was very interested in doing social work, to which she jumped in and said: “We are not doing social work; we do God’s work. We give wholehearted, free service not to the poor,” she said, “but to the poorest of the poor. Not only that: We try to live like the poor. Our life is poor and simple. In Calcutta, we do not even use a fan. We wash our clothes and several other things with our hands.”
I was ready for all that and more. Blessed Teresa was not yet a celebrity. What attracted me was the kind of work she and her sisters were doing and the way they lived. Their life and apostolate were evangelical.
During Mother’s funeral procession, you were one of the few people designated to ride along with the carriage as it proceeded through the streets. What are your thoughts on that day?
First of all, I never ever thought of having such a privilege, which was far beyond my imagination. I felt very unworthy of such a privilege, but thanked God for such a singular gift without expecting or seeking it.
The state funeral was another way of communicating the message of love, and helping the people see and recognize the existence of the poor in every corner of the world.
For me it was God’s way of telling the leaders of the nations that it is love that will conquer every one’s heart, and love cannot be conquered or defeated.
As the procession began, I could see the hungry crowds — all without exception — wanted to have a last look at her body and get blessed by her. Her hands were powerless, but her spirit was all over. It flew into the crowds of all walks of life, status, age and religion.
Her spirit was God’s Spirit; her love was God’s love; her presence God’s presence; her look was God’s look. Once again, God walked on earth through her, working miracles of healing, peace and consolation. God comes in human form and transforms us from within.
That is what he did with Blessed Teresa.
Robert and Mary Dirgo
write from Akron, Ohio.