On the Trail of Mother Teresa
Updated: Jul 24, 2022
A controversial figure of complex virtuousness--Mother Teresa.
Her theological operating system placed emphasis on redemptive suffering for the poor. Her mission appeared not so much to relieve poverty and physical suffering, but to encourage the embracing of the endurance of physical, emotional and spiritual anguish in the name of Jesus Christ, with the hope of the bestowal of a heavenly merit.
Biblical quotes on suffering for reference
♱ "All I want is to know Christ and the power of his rising from death. I want to share in Christ’s sufferings and become like him in his death." (Philippians 3:10).
♱ "Before I suffered, I did wrong. But now I obey your word." (Psalm 119:67).
♱ "It was good for me to suffer so I would learn your demands." (Psalm 119:71).
♱ "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).
♱ "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (Romans 8:18).
♱ "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (I Peter 4:12-13).
♱ "In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (I Peter 1: 6-7).
In Skopje, there is a historical museum, chapel, park, square, university and clinic, as well as numerous plaques of quotes and monuments plastering the city in her honor.
Dr. Divna Pencić, a renowned architecture professor has called the building “a tactless and tasteless homage to Mother Teresa” and “a depressing example of political meddling”:
It is like someone tastelessly dressed, arrayed in gumboots, lace stockings, a brocade skirt and a Chinese silk shirt, all heavily accented with bling and what appears to be a cosmonaut's helmet. … If it weren't designed to commemorate such an important figure, this building might have gotten away with its inoffensive zaniness. But, as it turns out, it is hugely offensive. It offends with its skewed selection procedure, with its pretentiousness, with its arrogance, with its tastelessness. But, most of all, it offends by totally ignoring any architectural correlation with the life and work of Mother Teresa. Will Skopje get another chance? After this, it does not deserve one.
A Personal Detour.
I once followed a similar philosophy to that which Mother Teresa espoused: Suffering was The Way. I starved myself to the point of skeletal emaciation--80lbs at 5'8." There was something indescribably intoxicating and euphoric about total abstinence while feeding my asceticism through self-sacrifice, self-discipline and the denial of physical desires.
My idol throughout childhood was the fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I wanted to be just like him, and would lose myself in the novels and novelas, adventures and misadventures. To me, he was "Homo Superior." I strove for such illusory perfection--physically, emotionally, cognitively and spiritually.
Sherlock espoused a peculiar philosophy when it came to eating, as his companion, Dr. John Watson learned about his fellow lodger of 221B Baker Street:
“My friend [Holmes] had no breakfast himself, for it was one of his peculiarities that in his more intense moments he would permit himself no food, and I [Watson] have known him presume upon his iron strength until he has fainted from pure inanition. “At present I cannot spare energy and nerve force for digestion,” he would say in answer to my medical remonstrance.”
"But why not eat?"
"Because the faculties become refined when you starve them. Why, surely, as a doctor, my dear Watson, you must admit that what your digestion gains in the way of blood supply is so much lost to the brain. I am a brain, Watson. The rest of me is a mere appendix. Therefore, it is the brain I must consider."
-Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories, Volume I
Back to Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on 26 August 1910 in Skopje, North Macedonia (Former Yugoslavia).
The average layperson might know of her work as a nun, caring for the sickly among India's most impoverished.
Her posthumous letters reveal the character behind the larger-than-life persona. It's clear--at least, to me--she was tormented, overcome with doubt and shame for that doubt, likely contending with a form of clinical depression and an obsessive preoccupation with suffering. I believe she possessed attributes of both masochism and sadomasochism, believing suffering was a tool of refinement and sanctification, bringing one nearer to God. To suffer as Christ, crucified on the cross was the path of virtue through her eyes.
In the facilities where she collected those who were severely ill and dying, both she and her sisters would perhaps provide food and change bandages and basic medicine.
She and the sisters sought conversions and donations from the ordinary folk as well as the most powerful and wealthy, often baptizing people against their will when they were too weak to resist. They would withhold or threaten to withdraw "treatment" or food from poor villages if the whole village didn't acquiesce to conversion.
Upon receiving hundreds of millions of dollars, the money would disappear. She never built hospitals, bought medical equipment or medicine, and still begged for food. A good deal of the money was used to start The Sisters of the Poor convents around the world.
She is heralded as a saint, but also a sycophant for this very reason.
To follow is a line-up of golden-colored plaques I managed to procure snapshots of scattered throughout the city of Skopje of this exceptionally quotable woman, who I believe possessed some some keen insights, and had some worthwhile things to say, regardless of where you stand on the quality of her character.
“People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God. It was never between you and them anyway.”
You can walk in the footsteps of Mother Teresa to Letnica, a village in Southeast Kosovo to make the pilgrimage to the Black Madonna statue, Our Lady of Letnica.
You can learn more about being On the Trail of Mother Teresa and her legacy here, and also here, on WeBalkans' web site.