Few of us would have been surprised by yesterday’s announcement that the UK government has extended its lockdown for at least another three weeks. Over the past month it’s been said, quite often, that Italy is “two weeks ahead of the UK”. Toward the end of March, as the Italian death toll was soaring, these were words which filled many of us with dread. Were we still going to have parents and grandparents at the end of all this? Would we ourselves live to tell the tale? How, exactly, do you persuade a fiercely independent pensioner to stay at home? (For the record, I tried scaremongering. It didn’t work.)
Yet now, those words can fill us with hope. Although Italy will still be in lockdown until at least the beginning of May, the government is starting to loosen restrictions and, across the rest of Europe, there are signs that other countries are also taking tentative steps toward normality.
That being said, three more weeks (and who knows how many more after that) can seem like an awfully long time to be cooped up indoors. Yet many have already identified the hidden gifts that this can hold for our spiritual lives. At the beginning of the crisis I was uplifted and inspired by stories of saints who had undergone isolation or unjust imprisonment, and I thought that others might be, too. You can read parts one and two of the ‘Saints in Lockdown’ series, which cover St. Paul and St. John of the Cross, here and here.
Continuing on this theme, then, today’s saint might seem like a bit of an odd choice. Mother Teresa never spent so much as a night in a jail cell during her long life; nor was she a monastic, hermit or anchorite. In fact, she was extraordinarily well-travelled, leaving her native Macedonia at the age of eighteen to join an apostolic religious order in Ireland. From there she was sent to Darjeeling to complete her novitiate, before being sent to Calcutta, where she taught for seventeen years.
The slums of Calcutta. No problem with tourist crowds here.
Mother Teresa was on a train from Calcutta to a retreat in the Himalayan foothills when the Lord spoke to her, asking her to leave her teaching post to work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of the city. Naturally, it took some time for her to be dispensed from her current convent, and when it happened, she didn’t have much of a plan other than to help: "the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared for." After six months of basic medical training she followed Jesus to the slums. It was there that she would found the Missionaries of Charity, which now operates in well over a hundred countries around the world.
Mother Teresa travelled a lot, but she never sought to be anywhere other than where the Lord sent her. She would, I’m sure, have words of wisdom to help us all in our current circumstances, whatever they may be and wherever we may find ourselves. If you’re the kind of person who likes to be out and about doing good, social distancing might be unbelievably frustrating. It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking I could be holy, if only I could go there or do that. Mother Teresa would encourage us to look closer to home – perhaps even within our own home – in order to discover what would most please Jesus in these days:
“Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
Even in lockdown, we can all be Missionaries of Charity, and we can do it without going as far as the end of our street. If we live with others, we don’t even have to leave the house. Let’s pray that the Lord would open our eyes to the needs – emotional, spiritual and physical – of the people around us, and that He would give us the grace to respond with the same love that Mother Teresa did.
Here are some more quotes from this lovely saint to inspire and uplift you this weekend:
“What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.”
“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
“A life not lived for others is not a life.”
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
by Lucy Stothard. Photographers unknown. Please contact us if photos are yours so we can give credit.