Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Date: 20 January 2013
For more sermons and other writings check the following homepage: www.livinggracetoowoomba.org
Mother Teresa 01 – Hearing the Voice
[We will spend two worship services on Mother Teresa.] It was only after her death (1997) that the faith life of Mother Teresa became known and there were immense surprises. Except for her spiritual directors (to whom she owed obedience in the church) and the archbishop, almost no one knew anything about her innermost experiences of God and how she was called into the work that made her famous across the world. She wanted these experiences to remain a secret – holy – and there was to be nothing that would draw attention away from Jesus to her own person:
[The underlining is not Mother Teresa’s but the author’s highlighting for preaching purposes.]
Mother Teresa – Come Be my Light. The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”, edited and with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, New York: Image, Doubleday 2007, p4-5: [Letter to Archbishop Perier.] Father [Van Exem] has also many letters I wrote to him re – the work while still at Loreto. – Now that the plan of Jesus entrusted to us is in the Constitutions – those letters are not necessary. Please may I have them – as these were the very expression of my soul in those days. I would like to burn all papers that disclose anything of me in them. – Please Your Grace I ask, I beg you to grant me this desire – I want God’s secret to remain ours – the world does not know and I want it to remain so ... I have never told – not even in Confession – of how the Society started. – You and Father [Van Exem] know it – this is enough. I was His little instrument ... all those letters are useless. [Mother Teresa to Father Neuner, July 24, 1967.]
P5: [A year later.] I have a very big request to make to you. – I have never asked you for anything personally ... With you and Fr. Van Exem I have entrusted my deepest thoughts – my love for Jesus – and His tender love for me – please do not give anything of 1946. I want the work to remain only His. When the beginning will be known people will think more of me – less of Jesus ...
[P8-9: Although knowledge of her inspiration remained the privilege of Father Van Exem and Archbishop Perier, a number of priests over the years came to know of Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness. She revealed her interior state only because she felt God urging her to do so ... Him she could not refuse ... The recipients of these letters were the first ones to realize that the darkness was an essential element of her vocation ... Father Neuner explained: “Against her explicit request to burn these pages after I had read them I felt I had to persevere them ... the spiritual darkness remained her secret. She seemed cheerful in her daily life ... These pages reveal the supporting power on which her mission rested ... root in the mystery of Jesus’ mission, in union with him who dying on the cross felt abandoned by his Father.”]
Mother Teresa’s church – the Catholic Church – after her death – decided to publish Mother Teresa’s letters and personal writings because – according to traditional understanding – her faith walk was not just her own but belonged to all of God’s people as a source of instruction and encouragement. This morning and next week – as we reflect on her life, we will be blessed – God will teach us through her life – but – before I begin – can we make the commitment of honouring Mother Teresa’s wishes? We let her point us to Jesus – Jesus alone – and not his human instrument (Mother Teresa).
Mother Teresa knew Jesus’ teaching in the Bible:
Matthew 6:1: Be careful not to practice your righteousness [as you pray, fast and donate money] in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Matthew 6:16-18: When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
John 5:44: How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
This is what the world knew about her:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa: . Teresa of Calcutta, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu ... and commonly known as Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26 August 1910 – 5 September 1997), was an ethnic Albanian, Indian Roman Catholic nun. “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.” ...
Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 consisted of over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries. Members of the order must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and the fourth vow, to give “Wholehearted and Free service to the poorest of the poor”. The Missionaries of Charity at the time of her death had 610 missions in 123 countries including hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis; soup kitchens; children’s and family counselling programmes; orphanages; and schools.
For over 45 years, she ministered to the poor, sick, orphaned, and dying, while guiding the Missionaries of Charity’s expansion, first throughout India and then in other countries ...
She was the recipient of numerous honours including the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize ... Her awards include the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize, the Philippines-based Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Pacem in Terris Award, an honorary Companion of the Order of Australia, the Order of Merit from both the United Kingdom and the United States, Albania’s Golden Honour of the Nation, honorary degrees, the Balzan Prize, and the Albert Schweitzer International Prize amongst many others .
... When Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked, “What can we do to promote world peace?” She answered “Go home and love your family.” In her Nobel Lecture, she said: “Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society—that poverty is so hurtable [sic] and so much, and I find that very difficult.” She also singled out abortion as “the greatest destroyer of peace in the world”.
During her lifetime, Mother Teresa was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup’s most admired man and woman poll as one of the ten women around the world that Americans admired most. In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In that survey, she out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.
This is what the world knew about her and now this is what she kept a secret – (one of them):
P38-39: In September 1946 Mother Teresa, then thirty-six years old, was sent for her annual retreat and a needed rest to the Loreto Convent in Darjeeling, a town nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas some four hundred miles north of Calcutta. During the journey by train, on Tuesday, September 10, 1946, she had a decisive mystical encounter with Christ. Though she would persist in letting the details remain veiled in silence, she later revealed:
“It was a call within my vocation. It was a second calling. It was a vocation to give up even Loreto ... to serve the poorest of the poor. It was in that train, I heard the call to give up all and follow Him into the slums ...”
Mother Teresa considered this day, celebrated later as “Inspiration Day,” to be the real beginning of the Missionaries of Charity. In the entrance register that records the personal data of those who join the congregation, she noted down under her own name: “Entrance into the Society – 10 September 1946” ... [Missionaries of Charity] begins – in the depths of God’s infinite longing to love and to be loved.
She further explained: “It was on this day in 1946 in the train to Darjeeling that God gave me the “call within a call” to satiate the thirst of Jesus by serving Him in the poorest of the poor.
What precisely happened? We do not get much of a description of this day (10.9.46) but Mother Teresa did elaborate on the importance of a thirsting Jesus who is longing to love and to be loved:
To the end of her life, Mother Teresa insisted that the single most important reason for the existence of the congregation she founded was to satiate the thirst of Jesus ... “The General End of the Missionaries of Charity is to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls.”
That the aim of the congregation is “to satiate the thirst of Jesus on the Cross” indicates that her mystical experience took place in the context of Calvary, at the time when Jesus, dying on the Cross, cried out “I thirst.” It was this Scripture quote that stood for her as a summary and a reminder of her call. While instructing her sisters, she would explain:
“I thirst, Jesus said on the Cross when Jesus was deprived of every consolation, dying in absolute poverty, left alone, despised and broken in body and soul. He spoke of His thirst – not for water – but for love, for sacrifice.
Jesus is God: therefore, His love, His thirst is infinite. Our aim is to quench this infinite thirst of a God made man ...”
[She wrote a few years before her death:] “Jesus wants me to tell you again ... how much is the love He has for each one of you – beyond all what you can imagine ... Not only He loves you, even more – He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy ...
For me it is so clear – everything in MC exists only to satiate Jesus. His words on the wall of every MC chapel [On the wall of every chapel of the Missionaries of Charity, the words of Jesus ‘I thirst’ are placed next to the crucifix as a reminder of the aim of the Institute’s spirituality and mission.], they are not from [the] past only, but alive here and now, spoken to you. Do you believe it? ... Why does Jesus say, “I thirst”? What does it mean? Something so hard to explain in words – ... I thirst is something much deeper than just Jesus saying I love you. Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirst for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for him.
P310 [From a priest who was a confessor in the novitiate in Rome]: On Palm Sunday of 1987, I was sitting in our prayer chapel in our general house ... I suddenly had a thought insinuated in my head – as if someone had spoken, but I didn’t hear it with my ears. But, it seemed quite clear: “Tell Mother Teresa, ‘I thirst.’” I thought to myself, “What an odd interruption in my prayer.” Thinking no more of it, I returned to praying the office. A couple minutes later, I “heard” again (in my thoughts): “Tell Mother Teresa, ‘I thirst.’” I thought once again, “How strange!” Then I looked up at the large crucifix hanging on the wall and said (not out loud), “Are you talking to me?” And I “heard” once again (as a strong thought coming into my mind), “Tell Mother Teresa, ‘I thirst.’”
At that point, I felt like the inspiration was coming from Jesus and heard not as a request, but more as a command. At this point, I must clarify that I had never had an experience like that before – I have never had one since ...
When I met Mother Teresa, her first question was ... She looked at me for a moment and asked, “What else did He say?” I was surprised by the question, but answered immediately, “Nothing. That was all I ‘heard’.” Then she asked, “What did he mean?” I said, “I don’t know. I know only what I felt compelled to communicate to you. I am only a messenger.”
What happened and what is Mother Teresa saying? On that train (on the 10th of September 1946) she met Jesus and it was the Jesus, who was hanging on a cross, crying out: “I thirst.” And she understood that Jesus wanted more than water. In agony, abandoned, covered with blood, his torn flesh rubbing against the wood of the cross, Jesus thirsted for people – their love and his desire to love them. All of the body pains of the cross were expressions of his innermost heart pains – the pains of a loving God that would do anything to save people and be with them. It was the thirst for souls that made Jesus come and be thirsty on a cross – dying with parched lips – for us.
It is as Mother Teresa said: “I thirst is something much deeper than just Jesus saying I love you.” For only a moment, can we close our eyes? Can you try and picture Jesus hanging on a cross and can you hear him say: “I thirst”? Jesus is thirsting for you. This is how much he loves you and this is how much he loves the people of the world – especially the poorest of the poor. [Mother Teresa knew the importance of Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”]
The Jesus who said “I thirst” called Mother Teresa and – even this morning – you may encounter the same Jesus who is also calling you. “Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirst for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for him.”
The day on the train changed Mother Teresa but more happened (which she had also kept a secret):
P45: That same September 10, Mother Teresa began to receive a series of interior locutions [Locutions (or supernatural words) are “manifestations of God’s thought” which may come through words heard externally (exterior or auricular locutions) or in the imagination (interior imaginative locutions) or immediately without any words.] that continued until the middle of the following year. Mother Teresa was actually hearing Jesus’ voice and intimately conversing with Him ... From the beginning of this extraordinary experience Mother Teresa had no doubt that it was Jesus who was speaking to her. Yet she would mostly refer to these communications as the “Voice”.
P48-49: ... the voice kept on saying “Wilt thou refuse.” One day at Holy Communion I heard the same voice very distinctly – “I want Indian nuns, victims of My love, who would be Mary & Martha, who would be so very united to Me as to radiate My love to souls. I want free nuns covered with My poverty of the Cross. – I want obedient nuns covered with My obedience of the Cross. I want full of love nuns covered with the charity of the Cross. Wilt thou refuse to do this for Me?”
On another day. “You have become My spouse for my love – you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. – Are you afraid to take one more step for your Spouse – for Me – for souls? – Is your generosity grown cold – am I a second to you? You did not die for souls – that is why you don’t care what happens to them. – Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as it was My Mother’s. We both gave our all for souls – and you? You are afraid that you will lose your vocation – you will become secular – you will be wanting in perseverance. – Nay – your vocation is to love and suffer and save souls and by taking this step you will fulfil My Heart’s desire for you. – That is your vocation. – You will dress in simple Indian clothes or rather like My Mother dressed – simple and poor. – Your present habit is holy because it is My symbol – your sarie will become holy because it will be My symbol.”
I tried to persuade Our Lord that I would try to become a very fervent holy Loreto nun, a real victim here in this vocation – but the answer came very clear again. “I want Indian Missionary Sisters of Charity – who would be My fire of love amongst the very poor – the sick – the dying – the little street children. – The poor I want you to bring to Me – and the Sisters that would offer their lives as victims of My love – would bring these souls to Me. You are I know the most incapable person, weak & sinful, but just because you are that I want to use you, for My glory! Wilt thou refuse?”
These words or rather this voice frightened me. The thought of eating, sleeping – living like the Indians filled me with fear. I prayed long – I prayed much – I asked our Mother Mary to ask Jesus to remove all this from me. The more I prayed – the clearer grew the voice in my heart and so I prayed that He would do with me whatever He wanted. He asked again and again.
Then once more the voice was very clear – “You have always been saying ‘do with me whatever You wish’. – Now I want to act – let Me do it – My little spouse – My own little one. – Do not fear – I shall be with you always. – You will suffer and you suffer now – but if you are My own little spouse – the spouse of the Crucified Jesus – you will have to bear these torments on your heart. – Let Me act. – Refuse Me not. – Trust me lovingly – trust me blindly.” “Little one give Me souls – give Me the souls of the poor little street children. – How it hurts – if you only knew – to see these poor children soiled with sin. I long for the purity of their love. – If you would only answer My call – and bring Me these souls – draw them away from the hands of the evil one. – If you only knew how many little ones fall into sin every day. There are convents with numbers of nuns caring for the rich and able to do people, but for My very poor there is absolutely none. For them I long – them I love. – Wilt thou refuse?” ...
How does the voice of Jesus strike you? Mother Teresa experienced something like some people in the Bible. Isaiah also heard the voice of God – asking the question: “Whom shall I send” (Isaiah 6:8). Moses heard God speaking to him from a burning bush – a longer conversation. God called him to a rescue mission of his poor in Egypt and the whole dialogue was also about the question whether Moses was to refuse God or not: “‘Now go; I will help you ...’ But Moses said: ‘O Lord, please send someone else to do it’” (Exodus 4:12-13).
What do you make of Jesus’ words to Mother Teresa? I am reminded of some words that Jesus told his innermost circle of disciples:
John 15:12-17: My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.
Jesus commanded us to love – him and each other. This is what we do but when our relationship with him grows, then a change occurs whereby we are no longer his “slaves” but “friends” – with whom he shares everything in a growing sense of intimacy. Mother Teresa had become a friend of Jesus – more than that – a bride of Christ as the whole church is destined to be united to Jesus as a bride with her bridegroom: “... I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him” (2 Corinthians 11:2). “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:9). This is how Jesus called Mother Teresa:
You have become My spouse for my love – you have come to India for Me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. – Are you afraid to take one more step for your Spouse – for Me – for souls.
My little spouse – My own little one. – Do not fear – I shall be with you always ...
Jesus thirsts for you and would you not also want this kind of intimacy where he calls you “my spouse” and “my own little one”? In April 1942 – (four years earlier) – Mother Teresa had made a private vow – permitted by her spiritual director – that she would never refuse Jesus anything:
P28: ... I made a vow to God, binding under [pain of] mortal sin, to give to God anything that He may ask, ‘Not to refuse Him anything.’
P28: God had been kindling in her an ever-greater intensity of love that moved her to make this magnanimous offering. Only later did she explain the reason for it: “I wanted to give God something very beautiful” and “without reserve” ... she resolved to say “Yes” to God in all circumstances.
This private vow was one of Mother Teresa’s greatest secrets ...
[p210-211: ... Years back – about 17 years now – I wanted to give God something very beautiful. – I bound myself under pain of mortal sin not to refuse Him anything. – Since then I have kept this promise – and when sometimes the darkness is very dark - & I am on the verge of saying “No to God” the thought of that promise pulls me up.]
Jesus kindled love in Mother Teresa – heartfelt devotion – “from childhood the Heart of Jesus has been my first love” (p14) – a vow was made – and now Jesus took her by her word. He had been preparing her for this:
... [the voice kept on saying] Wilt thou refuse.”... I want free nuns covered with My poverty of the Cross ... Wilt thou refuse to do this for Me?
... Are you afraid to take one more step for your Spouse – for Me – for souls? – Is your generosity grown cold – am I a second to you? You did not die for souls – that is why you don’t care what happens to them. – Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as it was My Mother’s. We both gave our all for souls – and you? ...
... The poor I want you to bring to Me ... You are I know the most incapable person ... , weak & but ... I want to use you, for My glory! Wilt thou refuse?
You have always been saying ‘do with me whatever You wish’. – Now I want to act – let Me do it – ... Let Me act. – Refuse Me not. – Trust me lovingly – trust me blindly ... if you only knew – to see these poor children soiled with sin. I long for the purity of their love ... for My very poor there is absolutely none. For them I long – them I love. – Wilt thou refuse?
Can anyone refuse the voice of Jesus? How challenging he was to Mother Teresa! Would he say the same to us?
... Are you afraid to take one more step for your Spouse – for Me – for souls? – Is your generosity grown cold – am I a second to you? You did not die for souls – that is why you don’t care what happens to them ...
As is often the case in our Christian life, there is a decision to be made – to obey Jesus’ voice or not. What is going to be stronger – our fear, our longing for safety and comfort or the holy will of Jesus and compassion – love – that does not count the cost of sacrifice? This is a question that we all need to settle in our minds and hearts. Where does our allegiance lie? We may not have made a vow – like Mother Teresa – but a commitment to Jesus is required: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Commit to Jesus. His love for you is the best love and the most powerful love that you can ever experience – in eternity. You are safe with him – as Mother Teresa demonstrated in her subsequent years of obeying Jesus’ call. You are also Jesus’ own little one.
There was more. This is from a letter that was written in 1947:
P98-100: [Mother Teresa to Archbishop Perier, November 7, 1947.] – 1947 – My little one – come – come – carry Me into the holes of the poor. – Come be My light ...
1) I saw a very big crowd – all kinds of people – very poor and children were there also. They all had their hands lifted towards me – standing in their midst. They called out “Come, come, save us – bring us to Jesus.”
2) Again that great crowd – I could see great sorrow and suffering in their faces – I was kneeling near Our Lady, who was facing them. – I did not see her face but I heard her say “Take care of them – they are mine. – Bring them to Jesus – carry Jesus to them. – Fear not. Teach them to say the Rosary – the family Rosary and all will be well. – Fear not – Jesus and I will be with you and your children.”
3) The same great crowd – they were covered in darkness. Yet I could see them. Our Lord on the Cross. Our Lady at a little distance from the Cross – and myself as a little child in front of her. Her left hand was on my left shoulder – and her right hand was holding my right arm. We were both facing the Cross. Our Lord said – “I have asked you. They have asked you and she, My Mother has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for Me – to take care of them, to bring them to Me?”
I answered – You know Jesus, I am ready to go at a moment’s notice.
Since [then] – I have heard nothing nor seen anything, but I know that whatever I have written – it is true ...
It is easy to ignore the lost – not to look – to live with eyes that are blind to the needs of those beyond our circle of friends – but Jesus made Mother Teresa see the poor – the very big crowd – all kinds of people – the very poor and also children – with hands lifted towards her – calling out: “Come, come, save us – bring us to Jesus.” Is this fair? Once you see them, how can you refuse the call to save them? The crowd was covered in darkness and Jesus – hanging on the cross – said to Mother Teresa: “I have asked you. They have asked you and she, My Mother has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for Me – to take care of them, to bring them to Me?”
Do you want this kind of call? We may not have a commission of the same magnitude of Mother Teresa but we also – you and I – this church – share in the same basic mandate which Jesus gave to all of his people: “ ... go and make disciples of all nations ... and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you ... ” (Matthew 28:19-20).
If Jesus gave you the same experience as Mother Teresa – Jesus’ voice speaking to you with utmost clarity for almost a year – and you were willing to accept his commission, what would you do next? I would get to work as soon as possible. Jesus spelled out what he wanted – nuns in simple Indian clothes going to the poor – and he should be obeyed immediately.
Yet, this is not what happened. The voice was clear and urging Mother Teresa to accept the commission. She said “yes” to him but – (maybe to our surprise) – there was a delay because – as clear as Jesus’ voice was to her – according to the will of God – she was not only submitted to him but also to her superiors in the church. I find this fascinating. Mother Teresa was obedient to Jesus but not at the expense of her obedience to her spiritual directors – pastors and archbishop. This is fascinating and challenging.
In the past, I have had people leave the church because they felt that God had called them to speak out or pray or prophecy in our worship service – they felt that they had heard the voice of God – but I was not so sure – not discerning the same certitude – therefore (for the time being) asked them not share from the platform. Even the other Sunday, I pleaded with a person: “Please, do not be offended” and I explained what I was thinking but the response was: “But I am, Pastor. I am offended.”
If I can share my heart for a moment ... Sometimes, I find it incredibly hard when someone puts his hand up and says: “I want to serve in this position – maybe as a small group leader or a musician in worship.” What do I do when I cannot yet see this particular call on the person? The person’s call may be genuine – maybe another Mother Teresa in the making – I may just be slow on the uptake – everyone makes mistakes – but what can I do? How much leadership should be given by a pastor and what kind of church discipline should we have?
Mother Teresa was obedient to Jesus but not at the expense of her obedience to her pastor. Only – I may add this to make her more human (more like us) again – it was to her a test in patience and overcoming frustration. This was not an easy journey. [I also have presidents and bishops above me and I also get frustrated sometimes. Why can they not see what I seem to see and hear? Then, I am sure that they have reason to be frustrated with me also – as Mother Teresa’s superiors were with her. They felt pressured by her.]
This is how it played out for her:
P45-46: In early October, Mother Teresa returned from Darjeeling to Calcutta to resume her duties at St. Mary’s school. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she related what had happened on the train and during the retreat to her spiritual director, Jesuit Father Celeste Van Exem, and “showed him the few notes ... written during the retreat.”
Mother Teresa wanted to act immediately upon her inspiration. Yet because she had consecrated her life to God through a vow of obedience, she could proceed only with the approval of her superiors. To her, their blessing was not a mere formality but a protection and assurance that God’s hand was in her undertaking ...
Father Van Exem ... had no second thoughts about her sincerity but was aware of the risks of placing too much credence in such experiences should their source prove not to be divine ... he decided to test the authenticity of the inspirations and counted on her obedience as a confirmation of God’s hand in this extraordinary happening.
Father Van Exem’s first request to Mother Teresa was to stop thinking about the inspiration, to let it rest. In a later letter to her superior general, she wrote: “[Father Van Exem] put me off – though he saw that it was from God, still he forbade me to even think about it. Often, very often during the four months [between September 1946 and January 1947], I asked him to let me speak to His Grace [the archbishop of Calcutta], [but] each time he refused.”
... So in obedience to her spiritual director, Mother Teresa remained silent and in prayer, not knowing what the outcome would be.
By January of 1947, Father Van Exem had no doubt that Mother Teresa’s inspiration was from God and that the time had come for her to pursue the realization of the call. Thus he gave her permission to write to the archbishop ...
P56: Her longing to begin the work among the poorest of the poor of Calcutta was becoming ever stronger. As a result, Mother Teresa engaged in a spirited exchange of letters with Archbishop Perier over the next several months. She tried to convince him to let her begin; he, with all prudence, insisted on the need to wait.
The archbishop had expressed to Father Van Exem his three concerns: first, he questioned how much of Mother Teresa’s self-will and self-interest were involved; second, he considered the reported request of Jesus that Archbishop Perier approve the project in thanksgiving for his being a bishop of twenty-five years as too sentimental; and lastly, he wondered if the change to Asansol might have provoked her request to leave the Loreto order and start a new congregation ...
Mother Teresa kept writing to her archbishop – pressuring him – so that he felt compelled to respond with these words:
P64: ... please take off your imagination the idea that I am opposed to your scheme. As I said, I have no right to be opposed or in favour. Almighty God will show me the line to be followed and when I am morally certain of where my duty lies, rest assured that I shall not shrink from it, cost what it may. My motto is to “seek God in everyone and in everything.” It is not at the end of my career, that I shall give up that guiding principle of the whole of my religious life. It would be foolish. I shall do the will of God; but that must be clear to me. You may think that it is all very easy, when there is somebody to endorse the responsibility; but for the one who has to be responsible it requires discretion, prayer, constant and fervent prayer and readiness to abide by the will of God, as manifested to him.
From another letter of Mother Teresa to the archbishop:
P66-67: ... Day after day, hour after hour, He [Jesus] asks the same question: “Wilt thou refuse to do this for Me?” I tell Him that the answer is with you ... Don’t delay, Your Grace, don’t put it off. Souls are being lost for want of care, for want of love ...
Your Grace, forgive me for being so tiresome with my continual appeal, but I have to act in this way. Let us bring joy to the Heart of Jesus, and remove from His Heart those terrible sufferings ...
The archbishop’s reply:
P69: I was rather astonished ... I thought I had explained previously in a clear manner, the motives which oblige me to move very slowly in such an important matter ... For me the will of God is supreme and all the rest disappears. But to know the will of God for those who have the authority and to act in His Name requires consultation, prayer and reflection. I am quite convinced that you are ready for everything. But my dear Mother, you must also take my side now and then ...
P78: At the end of an extensive discussion on June 14, Father Van Exem gave her an entirely unexpected reply: he ordered her to “drop it [the whole endeavour] for all eternity” if neither he nor the archbishop mentioned it further. To emphasize the seriousness of his request, he put it in writing. Later that day he related to Archbishop Perier in a letter the strategy he had taken:
“She is to leave the whole work to me and to your Grace, and to put the whole affair out of her mind. She ‘should drop it for all eternity’ if she is asked nothing anymore by Your Grace or by me ... I insisted on obedience, cheerful, prompt, simple and blind. I assured her that she could never make a mistake if she obeyed ...”
This was not the answer Mother Teresa anticipated ... She was now faced with another severe test, and from none other than her trusted spiritual director. Yet, faithful to her commitment not to refuse the Lord anything, she chose to obey.
P81: [Mother Teresa admitted to Father Van Exem:] You told me not to think of the work. – Whenever the thoughts used to burn with the longing to offer all ... I used to do violence to myself – and begged Him not to let those thoughts come because I wanted to obey – and like a Little Lamb, He used to obey, too. How often, how very often He complained of delays – for whenever He asks for something, He says, people get extra careful about many things – but if the world asks the things are done so quickly.]
Would you have done the same? In Mother Teresa’ shoes, would you have handled the request to drop everything and – in obedience – wait for your church leaders to guide you in the will of God? After about two years – on 8th of August 1948 – Mother Teresa finally received the news from Rome: Pope Pius XII had granted her permission to begin her new mission, but would we have the patience – the conviction – the trust – to enter into the same process of obedience – to the voice of Jesus and those in authority in the church? As a nun, Mother Teresa even made a vow of obedience but what about us?
In the time when Mother Teresa heard the voice of Jesus, he also said this:
P81-82: People think you were sent her to teach, and you do well and doing the work with the whole of your heart, but this was not the aim of My Heart. – I brought you here to be under the immediate care of your spiritual father who will train you in the ways of My love and so prepare you to do My will. Trust him completely and without any fear. Obey him in every detail, you shall not be deceived if you obey for he belongs to Me completely. – I shall let you know My will through him.
Jesus confirmed to Mother Teresa that he placed her under church leadership and that there is protection from deception, spiritual care and training in love under church leadership. According to the Bible, there are numerous clearly defined authority relationships:
Colossians 3:20: Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
Hebrews 13:17: Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Romans 13:1-7: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves ... the one in authority is God’s servant for your good ...
Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.
According to the Bible – “there is no authority except that which God has established” and – according to the last reference – this even includes the authorities of the ungodly Roman Empire (cf. the “Beast” in Revelation). How are we doing in rendering obedience?
The standard objection goes like this: What if you leader is sinful? Do you still owe obedience then? This was not Mother Teresa’s problem but it does exist. The answer is: You cannot be ordered to sin by a human authority but otherwise you owe obedience.
Acts 5:29: Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
Proverbs 21:1: In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.
The most radical example of maintaining reverence and submission to authority is the story of David in the Bible. The prophet Samuel anointed him with oil to be the next king after Saul, who had lost favour with God. David married Saul’s daughter Michal and became best friends with his son Jonathan, who – together with many others in the nation (including Saul) – recognized the call of God on David’s life and said to him:
1 Samuel 23:17: ... My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this.
God’s will was perfectly clear but Saul – the one in authority – blocked David. He tried to kill him, persecuted him, and gave his wife to another man. He became more and more evil – being tormented by a demon. At the height of his wickedness, he killed the priests of God – eighty-five of them – and then their town with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep (1 Samuel 22:18-19).
This would be about the time when you say that enough is enough. You no longer owe this man anything. Then, God put Saul in David’s hand twice – 1: David was hiding in a cave from Saul when Saul came into the very cave alone to relieve himself (1 Samuel 24); 2: David snuck up on Saul when he was sleeping in his camp (1 Samuel 26) – but – both times – David recognized that Saul had a God-given authority which he was not allowed to touch. He said:
1 Samuel 24:4-7: The men said, “This is the day the Lord spoke of when he said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hands for you to deal with as you wish.’” Then David crept up unnoticed and cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.
Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way.
1 Samuel 26:9-11: ... Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? As surely as the Lord lives, the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed ...
[Cf. 2 Samuel 1]
Being tormented by a demon, killing the priests of God, persecuting his successor – King Saul was still in a position of authority which was to be respected by David and David could not step into his destiny against Saul’s opposition. David trusted God to deal with Saul – rather than himself. There is much for us to learn here. “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Thus – at the very least – let there be a new sense of caution among us about dismissing leadership.
I come to a close. We want to honour again Mother Teresa’s wishes and let her point us to Jesus – Jesus alone – and not his human instrument (Mother Teresa). This is a commitment which we have made in the beginning.
When she was called, Mother Teresa saw Jesus on the cross, crying out: “I thirst.” And she understood that Jesus thirsted for more than water. It was the thirst for souls – the thirst to love you and be loved back – that made him come and be thirsty on a cross. Mother Teresa later explained: “I thirst is something much deeper that just Jesus saying I love you.” This morning – can you see Jesus who is thirsting for you? He loves you so very much.
Unless you get a revelation of Jesus’ thirst for you, you do not understand the world – our predicament, our favour before God and what God wants to accomplish (also through you). Mother Teresa said: “Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirst for you – you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for him.”
As happened to Mother Teresa – let Jesus call you – let his voice be clear to you – and work with your church leaders. Amen.