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A Time To Reflect

A Time To Reflect

The Fruit of Silence is Prayer,

The Fruit of Prayer is Faith,

The Fruit of Faith is Love,

The Fruit of love is service,

The fruit of service is peace.

These words of Mother Teresa have always inspired me.

The canonization of Mother Teresa gives us an opportunity to reflect deeply on her life and mission for the poorest of the poor. Mother has long been a saint. For us in Kolkata, she is the song of celebration, hymn of compassion. The city of Kolkata shall shine in her holiness. I wish and pray that her Sainthood washes away our sinfulness.

We would have preferred our Holy Father to canonize Mother in the very city where she lived and served. It would have been a momentous gift from the Pope to the people of this country.

I have had a close association with Mother. On many occasions, I had brought Mother Teresa in touch with Calcutta youth. Whenever I invited her to St. Xavier’s College to address the staff and students, she was there with her characteristic smile, humility and a presence that created an atmosphere of prayer and veneration. She was always inspiring and every time she met the youth, she had a message for them. Whenever I invited her for youth programmes, she never said ‘No’.

About thirty years ago I had met Mother Teresa in Mother House. I was just ordained a priest. As soon as she came to greet me she stretched out her hand and touched my feet – I hastily withdrew; she said, “You are a new priest and I want your blessing.” I said, “Who am I in front of you?” She responded in her humble way, “as a priest you are the image of Christ to me. So it is you who must bless me.”

When I asked for her blessings she gave me a Rosary and said, “Pray for me and for my work for the destitute and dying.”

I discovered in this lady the divine dispensation that reached the core of my heart. Every word she spoke, every touch and every look exuded a transformative tint.

The Jesuit Connection

The association of the Jesuits with Mother Teresa in fact goes back to her childhood in Skopje, Macedonia. Fr. Jambrekovic, the Jesuit parish priest at Skopje, had a profound influence on her in her childhood and youth. As her spiritual Father, he fostered Mother Teresa's vocation. In 1928 Mother became a member of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (IBVM), a religious congregation for women founded after the pattern and spirituality outlook of the Society of Jesus. By virtue of her having been a Loreto nun, the Constitutions of St. Ignatius and his spiritual exercises have had great influence on Mother's spirituality and life.

Mother Teresa had habitually preferred Jesuits as retreat preachers, spiritual directors and confessors for herself and her Sisters. Many Jesuits of Calcutta Province were in close contact with Mother Teresa. Most of these Jesuits were Belgians who had made, like Mother Teresa, Kolkata their home.

Fr. Celest Van Exem was the earliest adviser and supporter of Mother Teresa and for the foundations of the Missionaries of Charity, right from her days as Loreto Sister. He was the spiritual director to whom Mother Teresa confided her inspiration and who first sought to discern the authenticity of her experiences. He was the first to support Mother in requesting the Archbishop to begin the process for her to leave the Loreto Congregation. He made major contributions to the writing of the Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity. From the time of the foundation of the Congregation until his illness in the 1980s, he was a confessor and instructor of the novices. A few days before his death, he wrote to Mother Teresa, herself critically ill, that he had offered his life to God in exchange for hers and for her mission to China, which did not materialize at that time.

Archbishop Ferdinand Perier of Calcutta, who cautiously approved the foundation of Missionaries of Charity, was the immediate one to whom Mother Teresa had to apply to leave the Loreto Congregation. He was her confidant and spiritual guide, as well as her Superior until she became Superior General of the new Congregation. He was the only Bishop who knew Mother from the time she arrived in India in 1929. Mother had an extraordinary, childlike confidence in the Archbishop as the spokesperson of God's will. In turn, he guided her with conviction, extraordinary wisdom and prudence. 



Fr. Julian Henry was a spiritual friend and close cooperator of Mother since her days as Loreto sister. In 1949, as parish priest of St. Teresa's Church, he was the first to help Mother Teresa in her new apostolate, offering her a place to pray, rest and to run a dispensary. Before Mother had Sisters as companions, Fr. Henry used to send girls to accompany her. The Sisters of the first group to join Mother Teresa are grateful to Fr. Henry for what he did in the early days to assist their apostolate, including the teaching of slum children to do carpentry.

Fr. Edouard Le Joly, right from the beginning and for many years, was giving instructions to the Novices of Missionaries of Charity. He had frequent contacts and dialogues with Mother. He has written many books on Mother. His books have been translated into at least 25 languages. He has been associated with Mother for more than 25 years. He was spiritual adviser to the novices at Mother House and to the Sisters preparing for their final profession.

Cardinal Trevor L. Picachy was spiritual guide, confidant, confessor and retreat director to MC Sisters. He was one of the most influential of her spiritual directors, in whom she confided a great deal. He gave much support and cooperation when he was Archbishop of Calcutta. He helped her in times of depression and darkness of the soul.

Fr. Camille Bouche took over from Fr. Le Joly. Mother had tremendous trust in Fr. Bouche. She took him to address the young sisters. He was one of the confessors of the novices, homilist and a spiritual guide.

Fr. Anton Gabric, a Yogoslavian Jesuit missionary in 24 Parghanas, was parish priest at Basanti. He persuaded Mother to open centres in rural areas. He was a person whom Mother Teresa admired and whose ideals she shared, including zeal for service, love for poor and a willingness to "love until it hurts". Like her, Fr. Gabric saw the immediate needs of the poor and sought to bring Christ to them through material, as well as spiritual service. Fr. Gabric's personal practice of poverty was probably very appealing to Mother; when she was still in Albania, Fr. Gabric’s letters about the Calcutta missions inspired her.

Fr. Jose Cukale was from the same cultural background as Mother and a good friend. At Mother's request he went to Armenia for one year to be chaplain of Sisters there.

Fr. Josef Neuner, a retreat director for the sisters, wrote the first article on Mother in German. He helped Mother to integrate her interior experience of spiritual darkness and to see its value as the spiritual side of her work for the poorest of the poor.

In 1965, Fr. Travers-Ball became the co-founder and first Servant General of the Missionaries of Charity (Brothers). After leaving the Society of Jesus, he developed the Brothers as a Congregation and helped them to live Mother Teresa's charism with their own distinct identity.

Fr. Lawrence Abello was one of the spiritual guides and confessors, homilist and consultant. During the last 11 years of her life he answered some of her correspondence requiring philosophical or theological explanations and helped her to write some of her speeches, especially the one she delivered at the prayer breakfast in Washington D.C., for U.S. Government officials. This speech was translated into several languages and, for the first time, expressed, in Mother's simple but transparent style of speaking the reason why contraception is evil.

Fr. Harden was a retreat director, who at Mother Teresa's request wrote a 'home-study course' on the Catholic faith for the Missionaries of Charity.

Fr. Joseph Sanders, a canonist, didn't have much personal contact with Mother, but was important adviser of Archbishop Perier in the matter of foundation and MC Constitution. Fr. Carl Dincher was a retreat preacher and a consultant. Fr. Albert Huart was also a retreat director, confessor and spiritual guide. Fr. Moyeson was a confessor at Loreto when Mother Teresa was a Loreto Sister. Later he encouraged her especially in the apostolate for the poor. Fr. Mc Guiire was a retreat director and spiritual guide for many Sisters. 

 Many more Jesuits had frequented friendly contacts with her, giving retreats and talks, being confessors in the Mother House and rendering supportive services for her mission, namely Frs. Robert Antoine, Pierre Fallon, Bishop Linus Gomes, etc.

According to a senior Calcutta Jesuit, Mother Teresa was a saint and mystic. She was one of the great prophets of our time who took an option for the cast out of the society, being inspired by the words of Christ to serve him in the margins of the society. The permeating concord of human solidarity that spreads across Mother's missionary journey of charity removed the emotional distance between people. Indeed, she healed our race.

(The writer is the Principal of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.)

(Published on 14th September 2016, Volume XXVIII, Issue 36)#