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Mother Teresa on An Acceptable Sacrifice
The following passages are taken from the book, “A Life for God,” compiled by LaVonne Neff and published in 1995.
Sacrifice is at the heart of Christian faith. The people of God in Old Testament times offered animal sacrifices for their sins—--goats, bulls, and pigeons. Jesus offered himself as a perfect, final sacrifice so that the animal sacrifices would not have to be repeated.
1n the sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus feeds his people with his own body so that they become one with him—--so that they, like the bread, can be called the body of Christ. Once Christians understand that they are the body of Christ on earth, they hear Christ calling them to self-sacrifice, to surrender, to suffer on behalf of others. As Christ’s body, they will do his work in his way, by giving themselves for others.
Sacrifice, surrender, and suffering are not popular topics nowadays. Our culture makes us believe that we can have it all, that we should demand our rights, that with the right technology all pain and problems can be overcome. This is not the attitude of the Bible, nor is it the attitude of Mother Teresa. The Bible assumes that Jesus’ followers will make sacrifices and will suffer, just as Jesus himself did. Mother Teresa knows that it is impossible to relieve the world’s suffering unless God’s people are willing to surrender to God, to make sacrifices, and to suffer along with the poor.
During the Mass, the priest and the people pray that the sacrifice of bread and wine will be acceptable to God, “for the praise and glory of his name, for our good, and the good of all his church.” What is an acceptable sacrifice? One that brings praise and glory to God’s name. One that is good for the people of God. One that is made on behalf of the world. This is the kind of sacrifice St Paul encouraged all believers to make: “I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).
1. From the beginning of time the human heart has felt the need to offer God a sacrifice, but as St Paul says, “It was impossible for sins to be taken away by the blood of bulls and goats” (Hebrews 10:4). Therefore, Jesus Christ had to offer another sacrifice, that of himself: Jesus dying on the cross is our sacrifice. Let us not think that the holy Mass is only a memorial. No, it is the same sacrifice as that which he offered on the cross. It is very consoling that this sacrifice is our sacrifice. (134)
2. Lent is a time when we relive the passion of Christ. Let it not be just a time when our feelings are roused, but let it be a change that comes through cooperation with God’s grace in real sacrifices of self. Sacrifice, to be real, must cost; it must hurt; it must empty us of self. Let us go through the passion of Christ day by day. (134)
3. To resolve to be a saint costs much. Renunciations, struggles, persecutions, and all kinds of sacrifices surround the resolute soul. One can love God only at one’s own expense. (134)
4. Try to increase your love for the holy Mass and the passion of Christ by accepting with joy all the little sacrifices that come daily. Do not pass by the small gifts, for they are very precious for yourself and for others. (134)
5. If we join the Community outside our own country, or are sent on a mission, we shall freely choose to be there, happy to suffer and die with the people if need arises, and ready to remain there till obedience calls us back. In adapting ourselves to the standard of living of the people among whom we are, we shall sacrifice what is not strictly necessary for our life, remembering that we are relating not just to the poor of that country but to the poor of the whole world. (134)
6. Sacrifice, in order to be genuine, has to empty us of ourselves. (135)
7. The Co-workers acknowledge that all the goods of this world are free gifts of God and that no one has a right to superfluous wealth as long as there are some who are starving. Co-workers try to make up for this serious injustice by sacrificing luxury in their daily lives. (135)
8. It is the young people who will build the world of tomorrow. Today’s youth are looking for the challenge of self-denial. A young man from a rich family in New York came in his car to our residence and told me, “I have given everything to the poor, and I have come to follow Christ.” (135)
9. Jesus has chosen each one of us to be his love and his light in the world. The spirit of sacrifice will always be the salt of our Society. (135)
10. There are lonely people around you in hospitals and psychiatric wards. There are so many people that are homeless! In New York, our sisters are working among the destitute, who are dying. What pain it causes to see these people! They are only known by their street address now. Yet they were all someone’s children. Someone loved them at one time. They loved others during their lifetime. But now they are only known by their street address. (135)
11. The words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you,” (John 15:12, RSV) must be not only a light for us but a flame that consumes the self in us. Love, in order to survive, must be nourished by sacrifices, especially the sacrifice of self. (135)
12. Our sisters and brothers have surrendered their lives to the love of Christ, with an undivided love through chastity and the freedom of poverty. For us poverty is a necessity. We have to know what poverty is in order to be able to understand the poor. That is why we need the freedom to be poor with our total surrender through obedience. (135)
13. Surrender is also true love. The more we surrender, the more we love God and souls. If we really love souls, we must be ready to take their place, to take their sins upon us and expiate them in us by penance and continual mortification. We must be living holocausts, for the souls need us as such. (136)
14. “We are in exile from the Lord’s presence as long as we are at home in the body and still desire the things of this world” (St. Francis of Assisi). No contemplation is possible without asceticism and self-abnegation. “The road to God demands one thing necessary: True self denial, exterior and interior, through surrender of self both to suffering for Christ and to annihilation in all things” (St. John of the Cross). (136)
15. Total surrender—--for us, contemplative life means also a joyous and ardent response to his call to the most intimate union with him by:
— totally abandoning ourselves into his hands;
— yielding totally to his every movement of love, giving him supreme freedom over us to express his love as he pleases, with no thought of self;
— desiring with ardent desire all the pain and delight involved in that union.
It also means:
—to be a willing prisoner of his love, a willing victim of his wounded love, a living holocaust;
—even if he cuts us to pieces, to cry out, “Every piece is yours.” (136)
16. Renouncing means to offer my free will, my reason, my life, in an attitude of faith. My soul can be in darkness; trials are the surest tests of my blind renunciation.
Renunciation also means love. The more we renounce, the more we love God and man.
God’s love has no limits. Its depth is unfathomable; “I will not leave you orphaned” (John 14:18).
Let’s turn the image around. There should also be no limits to the love that impels us to give ourselves over to God and to become victims of his love. The common and ordinary cannot be enough for us. That which is good for others is not enough for us. We have to quench God’s thirst by dying for love. Not content with the common good, but with a courage that will face all dangers with a serene soul, willing at all times to make any sacrifice, to accomplish any task or work, the Missionary of Charity must at all times be committed to be as close as possible to her king who is dying of thirst. (136)
17. St. Therese, the little Flower, explained surrender very beautifully when she said, “I am like a little ball in the hand of Jesus. He plays with me. He throws me away, puts me in the corner. And then like a little child who wants to see what is inside, he tears the ball apart and throws the pieces away.” This is what a brother, a sister, has to be, that little ball in the hand of Jesus, who says to Jesus, “You can do whatever you want, as you want, when you want, as long as you want.” (137)
18. We are at his disposal. If He wants you to be sick in bed, if He wants you to proclaim his Word in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s all right, everything is all right. We must say, “I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.” This is our strength, and this is the joy of the Lord. (137)
19. We must know exactly when we say yes to God what is in that yes. Yes means “I surrender,” totally, fully, without any counting the cost, without any examination, “Is it all right? Is it convenient?” Our yes to God is without any reservations. That’s what it is to be a contemplative. I belong to him so totally that there are no reservations. It doesn’t matter what we feel. (137)
20. It must have been so hard to have been scourged, to have been spat upon. “Take it away,” Jesus prayed during his agony. His Father didn’t come to him directly and say, “This is my beloved Son,” but he consol him through an angel. Let us pray that we will fill our hearts with Jesus’ surrender, that we will understand total surrender. (137)
21. Faith in action through prayer, faith in action through service: each is the same thing, the same love, the same compassion. We all have to proclaim that faith, both the sisters and the brothers. This is something that should encourage us and should be a strength for us, that we complete each other more fully. Because we are human beings, we need this distinction, this separation, these different names. The soul, the mind, and the heart, however, have the same thing: total surrender to God. At the moment we realize that we have really done that, then we are at his disposal, and there are no more differences. (138)
22. By the vow of chastity we give up our hearts to our Lord, to the crucified Christ; the one place in our hearts belongs to him.
In the Gospels, we read that God is like a jealous lover. We cannot have two masters, for we will serve one and hate the other.
The vows themselves are but means of leading the soul to God, and the vow of chastity in particular is intended as a means of giving the heart to God. The heart is one of the highest and noblest of the faculties, but it is also a source of danger. By our vow we consecrate our heart to God and renounce the joys of family life.
Yes, we do renounce the natural gift of God to women to become mothers for the greater gift, that of being virgins of Christ, of becoming mothers of souls. (138)
23. Total abandonment consists of giving oneself fully to God because God has given himself to us. If God, who owes us nothing, is willing to give us nothing less than himself, can we respond by giving him only a part of ourselves? Renouncing myself I give myself to God that he might live in me.
How poor we would be if God had not given us the power to give ourselves over to him! Instead, how rich we are right now!
How easy it is to conquer God! We give ourselves to him, and God becomes ours, and now we have nothing but God. The prize with which God rewards our self-abandonment is himself. (138)
24. Our total surrender to God means to be entirely at the disposal of the Father as Jesus and Mary were. In giving ourselves completely to God, because God has given himself to us, we are entirely at his disposal:
— to be possessed by him so that we may possess him;
— to take whatever he gives and to give whatever he takes with a big smile;
— to be used by him as it pleases him without being consulted;
— to offer him our free will, our reason, our whole life in pure faith, so that he may think his thoughts in our minds, do his work through our hands, and love with our hearts. (138)
25. We should not be concerned with the instrument God uses to speak to us, but with what God is saying to us. Let us pray to understand what it means to be at his disposal. (139)
26. Once the Cardinal of St. Louis asked me to write something for him in his breviary. I wrote, “Let Jesus use you without consulting you.” He wrote back, “You don’t know what you have done to me.
I examine my conscience every day and ask, ‘Did I allow Jesus to use me without consulting me?’” (139)
27. God has been pouring many graces into the congregation, and I think we owe deep gratitude to the poor. Their life of suffering, their life of prayer, their life of tremendous forbearance obtains many graces for us. Also, there are all those thousands of people who have died in our hands. I am sure they pray much for us when they go to heaven. The whole thing is nothing extraordinary, nothing special. It has been just a simple surrender, a simple yes to Christ, allowing him to do what he wants. That is why the work is his work. I’m just a little pencil in his hand. Tomorrow, if he finds somebody more helpless, more stupid, more hopeless, I think he will do still greater things with her and through her. (139)
28. Suffering has to come because if you look at the cross, he has got his head bending down—--he wants to kiss you—--and he has both hands open wide—--he wants to embrace you. He has his heart opened wide to receive you. Then when you feel miserable inside, look at the cross and you will know what is happening. Suffering is a gift from God. It is between you and Jesus alone inside. Suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you. (139)
29. I fulfill what is wanting in the passion of Christ. It is very difficult to understand what the connection is between our penances and the passion of Christ. We must constantly follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and in a certain manner crucify our own flesh. (140)
30. Remember that the passion of Christ ends always in the joy of the resurrection of Christ when you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of Christ risen. (140)
31. My dear children, without our suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but not the work of Jesus Christ, not part of the redemption. Jesus wanted to help us by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony, and our death. All that he has taken on himself, and has carried it into the darkest night; only by being one with us has he redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same; all the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty but also their spiritual destitution, must be redeemed and we must share in it. (140)
32. The incurably ill can become very close co-workers to a Missionary of Charity by offering their suffering for that sister or brother. Every sister and brother can thus have a second self to pray and suffer for her or for him. Everyone will draw from this support a new strength, and their lives will be like the burning lamp that wastes away for the sake of souls. (140)
33. Suffering is nothing by itself, but suffering that is shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift and a sign of love. God is very good to give you so much suffering and so much love. All this for me becomes a real joy, and it gives me great strength because of you.
It is your life of sacrifice that gives me so much strength. Your prayers and suffering are like the chalice in which those of us who can pour the love of the souls we encounter. So you are just as necessary as we are. We and you together can do all things in him who strengthens us.
How beautiful is your vocation of suffering Co-workers: you are messengers of God’s love. We carry in our hearts the love of God, who is thirsty for souls; you can quench his thirst through your incomparable suffering, to which our hard work is united. It is you who have tasted the chalice of his agony. (141)
34. We often say to Christ, “Make us partakers of your suffering.” But, when someone is insensitive to us, how easily we forget that this is the moment to share with Christ! It would be enough for us to remember that it is Jesus who gives us, through such a person or circumstance, the opportunity to do something beautiful for him. (141)
35. Suffering is nothing by itself. But suffering shared with the passion of Christ is a wonderful gift, the most beautiful gift, a token of love. By giving up his Son, the Father has given the world a token of his love. It was a gift, the greatest gift of love, for his suffering was his expiation for sin. (141)
36. We have to suffer with Christ. In doing this we will share in the sufferings of the poor.
Our congregation may die if the sisters do not walk in Christ’s rhythm in his suffering and if they do not live in poverty. Our rigorous poverty is our safeguard. We do not want, as has been the case with other religious orders throughout history, to begin serving the poor and then gradually move toward serving the rich.
In order for us to understand and to be able to help those who lack everything, we have to live as they live. The difference lies only in the fact that those we aid are poor by force, whereas we are poor by choice. (141)
37. My thoughts often run to you who suffer, and I offer your suffering which are so great while mine are so small.
Those of you who are sick, when things are hard, take refuge in Christ’s heart. There my own heart will find with you strength and love.
Do you desire to suffer with a pure love? Do it with the love that Christ has chosen for you. Give more and more, until you have given everything.
How grateful I am that God has given you to me! My soul is encouraged by the thought that you are offering your prayers and pains for our work’s sake. This makes my smile come more easily.
You suffer, we work. You and we together are offering the same chalice. (142)
38. In order for us to become saints we will have to suffer a great deal. Suffering begets love and life in souls.
As messengers of God’s love, how full of love we are to be in order to be faithful to our name! Let us remain with Mary beside the crucified Jesus, with our chalice made up of the four vows and full of the wine of our own sacrifice.
All of our gestures should be aimed at increasing our own perfection and that of our neighbor—--offering our care to the sick and to the dying, picking up and educating children who are abandoned in the streets, offering shelter to the dispossessed. Devoting oneself to the conversion of the poor in the inner city is an arduous and restless task, with no results and no reward. (142)
39. (To sick Co-workers) How happy I feel because of you! Often, when my work is very hard, I think about you and say to Jesus, “Look at these children of yours who suffer, and bless my work for their sake.” I feel instantly comforted. You see, you are our hidden treasure, the secret strength of the Missionaries of Charity. I personally feel very happy, and a new strength comes over my soul, as I think of all those who are spiritually united to us. With your collaboration and help, what won’t we be able to accomplish for him! (142)
40. Recently a real windfall of charity was experienced throughout Bengal. Food and clothing arrived from everywhere. It came from schools, men, women, and children to be distributed during the recent monsoon disaster. The monsoon was something terrible, but it brought about something very beautiful. It brought about sharing. It brought about the concern and awareness that our brothers and sisters were suffering because of a natural disaster. And many people decided to do something to help them. There were people who prepared meals in their homes to share with those in need. It was something very beautiful to witness that such terrible suffering could help bring about so much good in so many people. (143)
41. Q: How can we believe in a good God when there is so much suffering around us?
MT: Suffering in and of itself is useless, but suffering which is a share in the passion of Christ is a marvelous gift for human life. The most wonderful of gifts is that we can share in Christ’s passion.
Q: How? Is suffering a gift?
MT: Yes, and it is a sign of love because it was chosen by the Father to show us that he loved the world by giving up his Son to die for us. In that way, through Christ’s life, suffering proved to be a gift, the greatest gift of love, because through his suffering our sins were atone for.
Q: Our sins?
MT: Yes, above all, our sins. That’s why we come back to the same thing. If we admit that we are sinners and we need forgiveness, then it will be very easy for us to forgive others. But if I don’t admit this, it will be very hard for me to say, “I forgive you” no matter who comes to me.
Q: What should we do when suffering comes to us?
MT: Accept it with a smile.
Q: Accept it with a smile?
MT: Yes, with a smile, because it is the greatest gift that God gives us. (143)
42. To become a saint one must suffer much, and to love much we must suffer more. Suffering begets love, but it is also fruitful because it begets life for souls. How full of love we must be in order to be true to our name. (144)
43. “My child, receive the symbol of our crucified spouse. Follow his footsteps in search of souls. Carry him and his light into the homes of the poor, especially to the souls most in need. Spread the charity of his heart wherever you go and so satisfy his thirst for souls.”
These words express beautifully the whole of our life. If we just live this, we will be holy; we will be spouses of Jesus crucified.
Suffering will come, trouble will come—--that’s part of life—--a sign that you are alive. If you have no suffering and no trouble, the devil is taking it easy. You are in his hand.
If I am the spouse of Jesus crucified, he has to kiss me. Naturally, the nails will hurt me. If I come close to the crown of thorns, it will hurt me. If a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife; they become one. They cleave to each other. If I am one with Jesus, it must hurt when I share his sorrow. (144)
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