On this feast day of Saint Mother Teresa, I read the address that she gave upon being awarded the Templeton Prize and came upon this striking anecdote:
“And in one of the places in Melbourne I visited an old man and nobody ever knew that he existed. And I saw his room in a terrible state, and I wanted to clean his house, his room, and he kept on saying ‘I’m all right!’ but I repeated the same word, ‘You will be more all right if you will allow me to clean your place’, and at the end he allowed me. And there in that room there was a beautiful lamp covered with dirt of many years, and I asked him ‘Why do you not light your lamp?’ Then I asked him, ‘Will you light the lamp if the Sisters come to see you?’ He said, ‘Yes, if I hear a human voice I will do it.’ And the other day he sent me word, ‘Tell my friend the light she has lit in my life is still burning.’”
How many in our world, particularly after this painful season of mandatory isolation, also need to hear a human voice for the light of their life to be rekindled in their soul?
As I reflect on the elderly who are, far too often, subjected to our cruel and dehumanizing throwaway culture, I recall an oft-repeated story about Mother Teresa.
She was tending to the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick when someone exclaimed, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars!”
To this, Mother Teresa replied, “Neither would I.”
It is important for caregivers to be well compensated for their deeply important and meaningful work of accompanying persons in their vulnerability, particularly as they near the end of their lives.
But do we understand that this kind of work cannot be reduced to being a means to a paycheque without creating a crisis in the hearts and minds of those who come face to face every day with human suffering, weakness, and fragility?
Mother Teresa, of course, saw herself as capable of doing the work that she did insofar as she could see God in His “distressing disguises.”
What is it that will enable caregivers today to do the necessary service about which many would say, “I wouldn’t do that for a million dollars?”
During the summers of 2016 and 2018, I attended seminars hosted by the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies. These seminars take place in Norcia, Italy and provide participants with an opportunity to experience the liturgical life of the Benedictine Monks who live there. The seminars include study sessions on Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on a particular book of Sacred Scripture as well as leisurely, convivial multi-course Italian meals.