There are many figures in society that have become icons for kindness and giving, such as Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey, but someone who is often considered synonymous with charity is Mother Teresa. Although for most people she serves as an obvious ideal for what it means to self-sacrifice for the good of others, she has received criticism from Christopher Hitchens, Tariq Ali, and most recently in 2013, from a group at Université de Montréal. These are all deeply academic criticisms, dealing with writings and press conferences of Mother Theresa, primarily concerned about the thoughts she has expressed to do with her missionary work.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly been in the news for gross transgressions within their orders. As a political body, The Vatican might not be any better or worse than most governments in the world, where behind the scenes many dubious things are kept from the public. Though, throughout the centuries there have been many individuals of the Catholic Church who have added much to the wealth of the world. Mother Teresa like all of us, is not perfect, but what she attempted to do, even in the face of her flaws and sometimes controversial reasons, was give up some of her own life so that others might have a bit more.
Shaine Claiborne, a major proponent of the New Monastic Movement in the US, talked about his time in Calcutta with Mother Teresa in an interview with Cheryl Weber of 100 Huntley Street. He said, “Someone asked her, how have you managed to lift 50,000 people off the streets of Calcutta, and she said, ‘I started with one and that worked pretty well’.”
Here we get a personal experience of someone who actually went with Mother Teresa every day out into the streets to find people who were utterly alone and dying, and had no one and nowhere to go to. They brought them back to the ‘Home for the Destitute and Dying’. Here they shared the remaining hours or days of these people’s lives talking, singing, laughing, feeding them, and giving them the kind of respect that everyone desires at the end of life.
During the Christmas season there is always an intense call for charity. This comes in all kinds of different forms: Salvation Army Bell-Ringing Santa, Christmas Shoeboxes for children in poorer countries, numerous fundraisers and charitable events, and many others. Whether religious or not, everyone recognizes the needs of the less fortunate. Even through modern science we have discovered the impact that mirror neurons have in our minds, causing everyone to personally experience the harm or good we see others go through.
Sometimes such role models as Mother Teresa can be discouraging when we compare ourselves to the work they have done. This kind of guilt that often stops us from wanting to engage with the world of giving to the poor or even to those who are less fortunate, is not necessary. If we think to the words that Shaine Claiborne took to heart, about just ‘starting with one at a time’, this can apply to everything we do. One smile, one nod, just giving some time of recognition, understanding, one kind word, one dollar, it actually doesn’t have to be very much. It’s in all these simple, small, and quick actions that over a long enough time something greater might be constructed which we would never be able to imagine from the individual moments.
Although Mother Teresa faced heavy criticism and controversy, and some of her outdated methods were bashed, her intention was genuinely good. Let’s not forget that the ones who were calling her out were also on the sidelines holding magnifying glasses to her work. All who have made significant impacts to society have at one point or another been flawed in other areas of their lives. Do not let “human imperfection” stop you from giving.
Times of the year like Christmas are great reminders to return to this consistent and ever-growing behavior which serves as a foundation in society for new possibilities in ourselves, in relationships with others, and in small acts of kindness that accumulate to make big ripple effects in humanity.
Author: Jonathan M. Bessette