Editorial: Mother Teresa taught us to encounter Christ by serving the poor

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St. Teresa of Kolkata gives comfort to a sick man at the Missionaries of Charity home in Kolkata, India, in this undated photo. OSV News photo/KNA

Earlier this month, we celebrated the feast day of St. Teresa of Kolkata, known around the world as Mother Teresa. She is considered one of the greatest saints of the 20th century. Her radical love for Christ, expressed in her care, compassion, and mercy for His neediest sons and daughters, enthralled and inspired people everywhere.

She famously described her ministry as the “Gospel on five fingers,” as she counted out the words on her hand: “You. Did. It. To. Me.”

We find these words from Jesus in Matthew 25:40: “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

“In nearly every public talk she gave, Mother Teresa mentioned Matthew 25:40,” Bradley Gregory, associate professor of biblical studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington, said in a recent lecture presented by the Mother Teresa Institute at Catholic University. “It would not be going too far to say that her life was modeled on this verse.”

“As Mother Teresa deeply grasped,” he added, “this is a very sobering thought: that Jesus considers acts done to the needy as actually being done directly to Him. … Actions done to the poor are – in some mysterious way – acts simultaneously done to Christ.”

“Care for the poor is not simply a good deed or an obligation,” Gregory said. “It is an integral declaration of faith that one believes in Jesus’ kingdom, which is not of this world. Mother Teresa understood this theological truth deeply. In the book ‘A Call To Mercy,’ she explains why she takes the call of Matthew 25:40 this seriously. She says that she does this ‘because I love God, and because I believe His Word.’”

The poor “are a living opportunity to encounter Christ,” Gregory said in his lecture, as reported by OSV News. “This is the insight at the heart of Matthew 25:40.”

Serving Christ by caring for the needy allows us to “incarnate the Gospel” in our lives, Gregory said.

How can we “incarnate the Gospel” in our lives? The opportunities are all around us if we open our eyes to them. Catholic Charities, Diocese of Nashville and the St. Vincent de Paul Society are always in need of volunteers. Parishes across the diocese host food pantries for the hungry and participate in Room In The Inn; they can use your help. Being involved in prison ministry allows you the opportunity to offer God’s mercy and compassion to those who have fallen in dramatic ways. 

These examples only scratch the surface. But for each, the first step in the journey is to truly see the face of Christ in others.

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