I thirst…on a train journey

José Maria C.S. André

The first fortnight of September is full of memories of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was on a train journey, during the night of September 10, 1946, from Calcutta to Darjeeling, India, that Jesus called her to found the Missionaries of Charity. She passed away on September 5, 1997 and the Church annually celebrates her feast on this date. However, as she was canonized by Pope Francis on September 4, 2016, the 4th joins the 5th and the feast lasts for two days.

Many associate Mother Teresa with the misery of India, but the truth is that the Missionaries of Charity, or Sisters of Mother Teresa, as many people call them, have plenty of work in Lisbon, in New York, in Rome, in Moscow… where developed societies abandon their dying, their unwanted children. Of course, there is a huge aesthetic difference. The death of a miserable man in the backstreets of India is less beautiful than euthanasia or abortion in a rich country, a corpse at the door of a house bothers more than an elderly abandoned in a place where no one hears the cries. But perhaps the contempt for human dignity is not different.

On that rumble-tumble train in 1946, Our Lord engraved in Mother Teresa’s soul some words He said on the Cross, “I thirst,” and made her understand that He wasn’t asking for a drink —in fact, a soldier interpreted the sentence in this way and Jesus thanked him but declined the offer: Jesus was longing for love, for people that love.

This thirst is one of the strongest Christian messages. God came to earth to tell us that being a man or a woman is a great gift, a life worth living, to the point that He Himself gave his life for us, because He appreciates us without limits, divinely. Can we fin a more eloquent statement about human dignity?

In the chapels of the Missionaries of Charity, “I thirst” is usually written as a motto full of human and divine resonance. We will never fully appreciate that God applies to Himself this urgent and so vital and so human thirst for water.

The life of the Missionaries of Charity intends to be an answer, perhaps unexpected for many people, to this God’s thirst. John Paul II, who knew Mother Teresa very well and esteemed her very much, said that the most important part of the response of her and her Sisters to God’s thirst was prayer:

“Her mission began every day, before dawn, in front of the Eucharist. In the silence of contemplation, Mother Teresa of Calcutta felt Jesus’ cry on the Cross resounding: “I thirst.” This cry, caught in the depths of her heart, urged her to go through the streets of Calcutta and all the suburbs of the world, in search of Jesus in the poor, the abandoned and the dying.” John Paul II touched the important point: “in search of Jesus.”

A volunteer at the Lisbon community describes them as “‘contemplatives in the heart of the world’, ‘they bring Jesus to the world and the world to Jesus,’ they love ‘until it hurts,’ they are available and get up at night to see their sick, to, like a Mother, lend a hand and keep company with a more seriously ill person; they have good humor—that admirable attribute of the saints—they are cheerful, peaceful, understanding, simple, affectionate, they solve difficulties with wisdom and practical sense.”

Sister Frances, head of the Lisbon community, specifies the technique: “In some places where work is particularly challenging, two Sisters stay at home in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, praying for the other two Sisters who go out.”

For the Sisters of Mother Teresa, God is no obstacle to human happiness; God is the One who most cares that every man and woman be fully happy. The Sisters also consider that the way to fill our world with love begins in front of the Eucharist, beholding with devotion God present there.

I look at a small relic of Mother Teresa that the Sisters gave me and I realize that I have a treasure in my wallet. Once, she defined herself: “I am Albanian by blood, Indian by citizenship. As far as faith is concerned, I am a Catholic nun. By my vocation, I belong to the world. As far as my heart is concerned, I belong completely to the Heart of Jesus.”

This is not a small thing. I ask Our Lord never to lose my wallet.