St. Teresa – the Icon of Compassion

Mother Teresa

Popularly known as the Saint of Gutters, mother Teresa has won the heart of every India by her sheer love and care for the poor.  We might have to agree that the West gave us a nun Teresa but India gave a saint Teresa to the world. . Indeed, Indian contribution in the transformation of life of young Teresa that walked the path of holiness cannot be dismissed.  She was born in Eastern Europe of Albanian parents shortly before the First World War broke in Europe. When still a teenager, she came to India as a young nun of the catholic Loretto order. For nearly two decades, she lived rather secluded and comfortable life, teaching geography to middle and upper class Indian girls until she had a Buddha like experience when she came out of the comfort of her gated convent in Calcutta and faced life in its strikingly cruel form.  Stunned by the desperate poverty and misery of the people, she like Gautama Buddha, left the comfort of convent and immersed herself in the quest of liberation. Buddha found the path of liberation and taught it to us; she too found the way, the way of Jesus Christ and shared it with all.  Her Seha Karma marga, the path of love in action bought healing touch to several of us Indians, particularly those among us who suffer unimaginable human indignities.  

It is said that while travelling to make a visit to the Loretto convent in Darjeeling in 1946, St. Teresa’s had a live turning experience.  It is while on this journey, she is said to have a divine experience/ anubhava that challenged her to live and work among the destitute men, women and children who inhabited the then teeming slums in Calcutta. Just like Buddha experienced profoundly life turning experience, she too experienced a deep personal call to spend the rest of her live serving the poor in Calcutta.  Like Buddha, this life tuning experience led her to abandon the comforts of the convent and she begin her works of mercy on the streets of India’s most populated city in our country. It took two years for her authorities in church to grant her permission to venture into this courageous, and caring endeavour of St. Teresa. By that time, she already had a band of young women, mostly her former students ready to immerse themselves in her life giving mission.  In 1950, St. Teresa got her required permission from the Pope and a new order called the missionaries of charity was born.  St. Teresa and her sari clad sisters spent the next  forty seven years serving our  destitute brethren  in scores of schools, orphanages, medical dispensaries, and homes for the dying not just in our country but across the globe.  

Her work gains great importance not only becomes of its sheer magnitude and heart stirring mercy but also because it  reflects the motherly care of God that several of our Indian brothers and sisters seek in the worship of many  mother Goddesses in our country. Besides, like the women who proved themselves capable of realising the truth in the Buddhists bhikkhuni Sanghas, she too comes across as a courageous women  standing tall in a largely patriarchal society of our country.  Therefore, her holiness truly emanated fully both the divinity and humanity that is embedded in our country much Like Lord Jesus Christ, who is both God and man whom she so ardently flowed. This means in becoming a true disciple of Christ, she also became a true daughter of India communicating and sharing the deepest and sublime traditions of our country. Within, this train of thought, we might also discern how she integrated the threefold paths to holiness in our country with the way of Jesus.  Indeed, she gave great importance to personal and communitarian prayer and hence, followed  the Bakti marga with great devotion and love for God without losing sight of Janana marga which became the light that illumined her steps. But what really becomes clearly visible is the Karma marga, the way of action in her life. She beautifully blended the way of action, karma marga  with the way of  love , Sneha marga and the way of the cross, Sahana marga of Christianity. 

Her works of love and service profoundly touch us and many among us are inspired by her compassion to follow her Senha marga ever willing to walk the way of the Cross Sahana marga for the sake of our  less fortunate brothers and sisters. The manner in which she lived her dhama/ dharma awakens us to our dhama/dharma in our own contexts.  This does not mean that she did not have her critiques. She indeed had her share of criticism but she was never deterred by it. Being argumentative by our very nature, several Indian Christians as well as others questioned her work. Some said that the poor did not need our charity, what they need most was justice and thus ridiculed her noble work, while others questioned her intentions.  Hence, the question of Justice or Nitya marga was thought to be missing in her great works. But if one stops and profoundly reflect on her work of giving dignified death to a dying Indian, we will realize that a cry of a human being pushed to the point of death is for a dignified death. Hence, when St. Teresa offered dignified death to a dying human her Sneha marga also becomes Nitya marga. Besides, in holding fast to the dying human person, she lived satyagraha leading the human person to experience Mokxa, the highest truth, satya of our life. Thus, we can clearly view how her Karma marga is at once, Sneha marga, Sahana marga and Satya marga manifesting her as model Indian Christian, following Jesus, the way truth and life. 

Her noble work never ceases to inspire us. That is why she has been given the greatest honour in the Catholic Church.  As we witness her beatification on 4th September 2016, we are even more determined to follow her path of holiness serving the poor and destitute in our society.  We Goans can draw lots of lessons from her. The year of mercy that we celebrate in the Church  also brings us to the compassion / Karuna incarnated in her life and works.  The Karuna that she inspires brings everyone, the Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains etc together.  Such a karuna in deeply embedded in  Goa.  We have it inscribed in the Goddess Roynn that was worshiped in Goa since the ancient days. Though Goddess Roynn got sanskritized first as Santer and then as Shanta Durga  it continues to communicate divine tranquillity and peace to Goans. Even the furious Durga became peaceful as Shanta Durga in the ambience of Goa. Thus , we Goans can resonate with the Karuna marga of St. Teresa.  We can already trace such a view in the book ,  Kaalighat te Karuna Ghat brilliantly written by Datta D Nayak  where he present Mother Teresa a symbol of compassion vis-à-vis the violent goddess Kali in Calcutta . In a world marked by violence and heartless terror, the relevance of an icon of compassion and hope like St.  Teresa is indeed vital and relevant.  In recent days, our country has witnessed how some innocent Dalits, women, students, Muslims have become victims of violence of cow vigilantism, rape and pernicious nationalism. Hence, the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta  is indeed timely and might enable us to bring healing, compassion and love to the victims and  hope for change of heart to the inflictors of violence.      

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GREETINGS

Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao