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The Example of Mother Teresa

In evangelizing the poor the primary goal should not be their conversion but rather a selfless love that expects nothing in return. Mother Teresa and her sisters served the needy as an act of love to Jesus Himself.

In an effort to reach out to non-Christians in a society where religious activities are subjected to strict regulations, a group of lay Catholics decided to evangelize through the care of sick and poor people living in their area, inspired by the example of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

I attended a special assembly of the group, the main guest being Fr. John, a priest who for many years collaborated with Mother Teresa. He shared insights about her life and charism. The majority of the questions however revolved about one single issue. With few exceptions, the people who received their service did not convert to Jesus and were not willing to be baptized. What is the use of serving them in their bodily needs – they asked – when their souls will be destined to hell? 

Fr. John’s answer threw the group off-balance – Mother Teresa would not have worried about it. He underlined that the purpose of her charitable life in fact was to serve Jesus in the persons of the poorest of the poor, inspired by what Jesus said in the parable of Mt 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was sick and you looked after me… whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” 

Some of the people cared for by Mother Teresa and her sisters did choose to be baptized (though very few).  However – Fr. John insisted – that was not the primary goal of the sisters’ actions. Whatever they did for their needy brothers and sisters was purely done as an act of love to Jesus Himself, and not as a means to convert them. 

The group members, because of their focus on getting people baptized, were quite reluctant to embrace Mother Teresa’s attitude. They were expecting to learn how to be more effective in their efforts of convincing others to accept Christianity; instead, they were reminded that to serve the poor is something that has to be done in complete selflessness, with no return expected, not even their conversion – it may be desired, but not expected, Fr. John concluded.

In societies where conversions are rare, the number of baptisms is often seen as proof of the goodness and truth of what we do and profess. Yet, according to God’s logic and method, this goodness and truth becomes more evident when we genuinely care in a humble and often silent way for the concrete person God puts in front of us, one by one, free from the anxiety of getting results, focusing instead on Jesus. 

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