Mother Teresa is a figure about whom there is some ambivalence. It seems that hand in hand with her generous giving of time, love and resources to the poorest of the poor came a tenacious doggedness that allowed for no debate. Allegedly she was very hard on her Sisters and impossibly demanding of herself. And she opted, instead of bringing analgesics and more comfortable beds to her homes for the dying in India, to create more centers in other places around the world for the treatment of incurable disease. She saw the suffering of dying people as a beautiful alliance with the suffering Christ on the cross.
After her death we learned that for the entire time she was working with the lowliest of sufferers she felt an absence of God’s presence in her life that left her in agonizing desolation. She mentioned this regularly in letters to her confessor. She couldn’t find the relationship with the Holy that most deeply nurtures and sustains us.
Because we have the reports of how human she was it is easy to second-guess her, to name the ways in which we would do things very differently. And yet her accomplishments amaze us. Her ambiguous nature makes her a true saint for our time.
Bottom line, she lived a life dedicated to the mission that Christ had laid out for her when she was young, and even in the absence of a sense of the presence of God she made an indisputable difference in the lives of countless people.
In Mother Teresa the weeds and the wheat grew up side by side. And if we look carefully we can see that if somebody had tried to pull the weeds her mission might have faltered. Her awareness of her purpose, the driving energy of her dedication, her ability to approach the daunting task of working with the poorest of the poor was all wrapped up with her stubborn authoritarian outlook and who knows what other “character flaws”. At the time of the “harvest” all those weeds were pulled up and tossed away. What bore fruit in Mother Teresa was gathered into Christ’s barns where it continues to seed new life. Others with their own mix of weeds and wheat will carry on the work that she began.
Jesus was talking to both individuals and communities in this parable of wheat and weeds. The message I take away today is, “Just do it!” Regardless of how uneducated and unprepared we are, we need to follow our passion to bring healing to a suffering world. Weeds and all, we need to try to be Christ’s hands and heart in the world. If we don’t, what wheat will there be at harvest time?
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: Icon of Mother Teresa by Laurie Gudim