Mother Teresa at the cathedral Read the full text of her speech during a 1982 visit to the Arlington Diocese.

Following is the address Mother Teresa gave to the religious sisters, permanent deacons and their wives, and the priests of the Arlington Diocese in Burke Hall at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More June 1, 1982.

In the name of Jesus, let us ask our Lady to be with us in a special way during this short time that we are together. And we’ll ask her to give us her heart so beautiful, so pure, and so immaculate; her heart so full of loving purity; that we may be able to receive Jesus in the Bread of Life, love Him as she loved Him and serve Him in the disparaging disguise of the poor.

During the last synod, Holy Father asked me to come and take part; and then I had to speak. When I began my talk, I said to the Holy Father, “Give us holy priests and real religious — and our families will be holy.” I think this is why we have become religious and priests, for one purpose, to be only all for Jesus.

Our Constitution, which explains our vow of chastity, begins with something very beautiful. It says: Jesus Christ, all first; His life-long, personal friendship in faithfulness in espousing us in tenderness and love. This is really what happens to each one of us when we give our work to God; that we are going to be only for Him. I feel that we do, all of us. But, actually, none of us can claim to be social workers if we are true to Jesus. We are real contemplatives in the heart of the world.

I will never forget the last time I was talking to our Minister of Social Welfares in India; he said, “Mother Teresa, you and we are doing the same social work; but there is a great difference between you and us. We do it for something and you do it to somebody.” Exactly, that “somebody” is Jesus for us! As He has so clearly said: “you did it to Me.” I think this “you did it to Me” is not just an act of faith; I think it is an act of conviction! Just as we don’t doubt that two and two make four; in the same way, I think, we don’t have to believe that 2+2=4; we know it’s like that. We are to have that conviction that whatever we do to the least, we do to Him.

Our vocation, yours and mine, is to belong to Jesus with the conviction that nothing and nobody can separate us from the love of Christ. We all have the same vocation. It is a beautiful sort of thing that He has called us by our name. We are in relation with Him. He loves us. He has chosen us. Because He has called us, there’s that conviction, “I belong to Him!” Since I belong to Him, He has the right to use me without consulting. Thus is that conviction that nothing and nobody can separate me from the love of Christ.

That’s why we read how Saint Paul was so in love with Christ. And he was really tested: He almost drowned, they beat him, and so on; still he remained one with Jesus. Nothing separated him from the love of Christ. The work that the Church has entrusted to you and to me: it’s only our love for Jesus in a living action. To you maybe at the university level; to me maybe at the slum level. But neither that nor this; neither are yon teaching the wealth of that child nor am I serving the poverty of the poor. Both of us are serving the child of God — teaching or feeding — it’s to Him that we do it.

our love for Jesus in a living action

For this, we need that conviction of being in love with Christ. If we are in love with Christ, nothing or nobody will separate us from His love. This is very important. How do we get that conviction? That is why Jesus made Himself the Bread of Life. He made Himself that living presence to satisfy our hunger for His love. He made Himself the Bread of Life. How do we love Christ? We can’t see Him with our eyes. Now it is not like before, when He was going about doing good, when you could see Him. Now He has made Himself bread. We can’t see Him — and yet it is Jesus alive in the Eucharist. Then, to help us to love Him better, in return for His love, He makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one; and He insists: “Love as I have loved you. As the Father has loved Me, I have loved you.”

One day I asked a priest, “Father, please tell me: how did God love Jesus? Jesus wants us to love others as God has loved Him; and as He has loved me, I am to love others.” He looked at me and said, “You are asking a very difficult question!” By your loving the child or man or woman you are serving, you are loving that person as God loved His Son, Jesus; because He became poor, He became helpless, He became small — just to be able to be one of us in all things except sin. So I think this is such a wonderful thing for us to understand: the tenderness of God’s love. He loves us tenderly. We are somebody to Him, not just a number. I always tell the sisters, “Sisters, I don’t need numbers in this society. We are many, many vocations.” I don’t need numbers. I want the sisters to be in love with Jesus, so that they can really, totally surrender themselves to Him — that they can do totally what He likes.

So, what is our vow of chastity, that undivided love for Christ in chastity? True freedom of poverty.

Because poverty, if we truly understand it fully, is nothing but freedom — complete freedom because you feel that nothing; neither money, neither things, neither persons can come between you. You can have material riches, or spiritual riches as well. Nothing or nobody — that’s the undivided love for Christ. If we have understood that we belong to Him, obedience is natural.

The One to Whom we belong has the right to use us, and to use us without consulting us. We want to be consulted. We want to know; and especially nowadays, we have to give so many reasons why we are saying to do this. I remember some time ago a priest came to our place in Calcutta. He was giving a talk to the religious superiors. He spoke about obedience and he said, “Now you have to give reasons why you are doing what you are doing.” That was something new to me — I had never done it before! So I thought I’d better practice what Father taught us. When I got home, I told one of the sisters, “Tomorrow I would like you to go to such and such a place, and here are the reasons for going.” I spent my time giving her all the reasons. And then that sister began to cry. She said, “Mother, I don’t need your reasons. Tell me what you want me to do. Send me where you want me. I don’t want your reasons.” So, the next day, when we were going to our continuing instructions, I said, “Father, I put to practice what you told us and this is what happened to me — the sister started crying.” He said, “Well, if it’s like that, keep her from crying!”


If my superior is not free with me — to use me as he wants; then where does the sacrifice of obedience come in? Obedience is a sacrifice; but it is a sacrifice of joy, because we choose to give. This I know: I could refuse what I choose to give and love to give. Obedience is one of those wonderful gifts of God to us human beings because there we can be most like Jesus. For being born, He became man; and He kept on saying, “I have been sent to do the will of My Father.” And He obeyed just blindly — everything. I am a fond believer that obedience has been the greatest surety of His presence. We are never to doubt, not at all. It’s like the Holy Father wanting me to work, going around like this; and I find it very, very difficult. I even say “Maybe the Holy Father’s making a mistake in sending me, but I don’t make a mistake in obeying!” So, for me, it has been a sacrifice; but God has graced this sacrifice in such a way that He has given us many beautiful and wonderful vocations from all over the world. From the United States alone, we have more than 70 sisters who have joined the Missionaries of Charity. And what do these girls want? They want a life of poverty, prayer and sacrifice — they need that freedom!

I think that if this obedience is to be fruitful, we have to be one with the Church; because God doesn’t speak to us directly. One day I was reading the Gospels to find out where God spoke to Mary. I read through the whole thing, and I couldn’t locate any place where God spoke directly to Mary. Even for that greatest obedience, it was given to her by the angel. Nothing more. Such a tremendous thing; and yet, it was through the angel. And she accepted it: “Be it done unto me according to Thy word.” She did not even mention God. So, the same thing for us. We need a free heart, a clean heart; and we can get a clean heart from prayer.

we cleave to Christ

It is very important for us that our lives get very woven with the Eucharist. The truth of that union is always that oneness we read about in Scripture: that a man and woman cleave to each other. From that cleaving comes a oneness that none can separate. It’s the same for us. By our consecration, in the religious life or priesthood, we cleave to Christ. Jesus and we become one. Nothing can separate us. In order to do that, we need a life of continued prayer. In that oneness, we allow Jesus to pray in us! I always say that we have received many, many graces from Jesus in the Eucharist.

Up until 1973, in our Congregation, we used to have one hour of adoration once a week, during our day of recollection. On that day, we would have one hour of adoration, confession, and Father would give us an instruction. Then, in ’73, we had our chapter; and we were about 61 of us at that chapter. It was one, sudden, unanimous decision to have adoration every day. We had not talked to each other before about it, but it was unanimous. I said, “We have so much work to do! We really have a lot of work to do! How can we have that hour of daily adoration?” I don’t know what’s happened; but we have not had to cut our work at all for the poor. Yet we are having, in all our houses, one hour of daily adoration, during which we expose — we have permission from the bishops — to expose the Blessed Sacrament.

In the first half hour we pray the rosary and the Divine Office. In the other half hour every sister is all alone to simply “be” in the love of Jesus. Then, everything we do, we do together. We are a very close community because we are still a family. We are not “belonging to an institution.” We need that oneness together. Since we started daily adoration, there has been such a deepening of our personal love for Christ: we are much more closer, much more simple, much more intimate. Then also, between ourselves: there has grown a better understanding, a better forbearance, much more patience, more love for each other. And then, for the poor: a deepening of compassion.

We give them free service. We don’t accept government grants. We don’t accept church maintenance. We don’t accept salary. And yet we have never had a day when we have had to tell the people, “Sorry, we have nothing.”

We have, finally, never seen so many vocations. We have over 320 novices in our novitiates. On June 6th, 131 postulants will come to join us. Every six months they come to join us, to be in our family. I have been seeing many, many young people coming for adoration with the sisters. Even last year, when we opened in East Berlin (we have been able to get permission even there), the young people are actually coming to adoration with the sisters. It is wonderful if they can bring to the young people the living Christ. Many, many things will change in the life of the people; in our own lives as well.

As you know, the sisters take a fourth vow also: for giving whole-hearted free service to the poorest of the poor. By this vow, they are bound in a special way to those people: the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the lonely, the unwanted, the lepers, the dying, the alcoholics, and so on. We give them free service. We don’t accept government grants. We don’t accept church maintenance. We don’t accept salary. And yet we have never had a day when we have had to tell the people, “Sorry, we have nothing.” There, in Calcutta, we cook for 7,000 people every day. And if we didn’t cook, they wouldn’t eat.

Free service to the poorest of the poor

One day, a sister came to me and said, “Mother, there is nothing to cook.” I did not know what to say. This had never happened before. That was early morning. By 9 o’clock that morning, the government closed all the schools (nobody in the city knew why). They give a slice of bread and a cup of milk to every poor child at school. So, this day, when the schools were suddenly closed, there were thousands of loaves left over. And so, a truck full of bread came to our house. Our poor people for two days ate bread. Never in their lives had they tasted such good bread! It was really the thoughtfulness of God to close the schools. And I’m sure the teachers must have been happy also! But I knew why He did it.

It happens so many times. If I were to sit here all day and tell you all the wonderful things of His tenderness and love, you would be surprised. In such small details! One time, in the beginning, we were in need of rice for our dinner. There was a Hindu lady, as she was going back home from the office, something was saying to her, “Go to Mother Teresa and bring her some rice.” And so she came (she had never come before), and she brought us this rice. When I saw her coming with the rice, I said, “Please, excuse me, I will tell you after; but, please may I measure how much you brought?” There’s a special way of measuring the rice, how much you want to cook for dinner. So I brought it in and I measured it. It was exactly the amount we cook for dinner! And when I told her, “See, this is what has happened: God has used you to be His providence to us.” She began to cry, saying, “Oh! God has used me!” See? That is the tenderness of God. That is what we continually see with our people.

And one more beautiful thing: we make our own mattresses. You know in the Gospels where it is described, “Take up your bed and walk?” That’s the kind of mattresses we make for our sisters. Once, there was not enough cotton to finish a mattress for a postulant that was coming. So I told one of the sisters, “Please take my pillow. I can sleep without a pillow. Finish that mattress.” But the sister didn’t think I could sleep without it. So, I took my pillow and opened it to take out the cotton. At that instant, there was a knock at the gate. At the gate there was an Englishman standing there, holding a big cotton mattress! He said, “I’m leaving for England, and I thought Mother Teresa would be happy to have the mattress.” See? He could have come before; he could have come after — but the delicate thoughtfulness of God has it this way! This is what we have continually as we deal with thousands of people. The Gospel is true, the word of Jesus is fully alive, when it says that we are more important to God than the doves and sparrows. It is such a wonderful thing to think that. God cares.

We have to prove that today to the people; in spite of all the suffering, hunger and misery. I am sure you have never felt that hunger yourself; neither have you seen someone dying of hunger before you. But in my hands — children, underfed, have died of hunger. Consider the dying of Calcutta: in the past five or six years, we have picked up off the streets 42,000 people — sick, destitute and dying. And out of that, 19,000 have died with a ticket for Saint Peter; because he won’t let them in otherwise! So, we give them the ticket we call Baptism.

It is beautiful to see them die — yes, beautiful. We brought a man in from the street; we washed him, cared for him and prepared him to die. He just looked up at sister and said, “Sister, I’m going home to God” — and he died. So beautiful. So peaceful. This is something that comes from a life of union with God. It is our love for Christ in action. And so, for you especially, priests, how clean your hands must be to be able to hold the bread and say that word. And the power of God’s forgiveness! We come to confession as sinner with sin; and we come out of that confession as sinner without sin. The tremendous ... how can I say it? ... oneness there.

How clean the heart of the priest must be to be able to say that word: “This is My Body.” That is why I think we need really holy priests. We need priests that will give us only Jesus. We need Jesus! It doesn’t matter what part of the world you go to — they need God. I have never seen the world more hungry for God.

When we opened a house in Mexico, we were in a very, very poor area. There was no fire to cook — that means they had no food left. The children had bare feet — that means they had no shoes. Things like that. So many things were not there! Yet nobody asked for things. Every family asked us, “Teach us the will of God! Give us God!” People are hungry for God.


Something very beautiful. Some years back in a completely Muslim country, for 800 years there was no regular Christian religious congregation and no priest. The Prime Minister asked me, “Kindly have your sisters come work with our people.” I said, “I’m willing to give you the sisters, but on condition that you allow a priest to come with us; because without Jesus we don’t go!” And then, they must have consulted amongst themselves, because they gave permission for the priest. I have never seen anything like that before: the moment the priest set foot there — there was an altar, there was a tabernacle, there was Jesus — after so many years!

So we went there as we are, dressed in our habit and praying the rosary in the street. Later I talked with the Minister. I said, “See, this is simply our way of life. The work that we do is our love for God in action. You must respect us as we are or we won’t be able to do anything.” He looked at me and said, “The presence of the sisters in our country has breathed a new light into the lives of the people.” Really, it’s wonderful — a complete change. They gave us land and houses — everything. They even built our convent and our chapel. I never saw such eagerness to do things for the sisters. They knew somehow that without a life of prayer, without that oneness with Jesus, we wouldn’t be able to stay there. I don’t think I could persevere one week where we did not have the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. That’s why we need the priests to help us to be ho1y. I think, more and more, to be able to do that, we need Mary to teach us how she prayed.

And something very beautiful: Bishop Sheen once told me, as we were talking about the Eucharist, “It has taught me so much. The day Jesus came into Mary’s life — that was her first Holy Communion day. Then, the moment He came into her, immediately, she went in haste to give Him to Elizabeth. This is exactly a priest’s vocation: to go in haste to give Jesus to others.” Something else he told me when, on our first birthday, he came to our chapel in New York to say the Mass. “From the day I was ordained up to today, I have never missed my hour of adoration, Remain faithful to that, and Jesus will always be with you!” Then he said, “All the joy, all the love that I have experienced in my life has been at the foot of Our Lady in her oneness with Jesus.”

So I think what you priests have — it’s difficult to express but please, give us Jesus! We are hungry for Him. Give us Jesus. Teach us how to love Jesus; how to come closer to Jesus — and we will be able to teach others. We cannot give what we don’t have. But, you and I, we are not meant to be social workers. We may be doing social work, but we are not social workers. We are real contemplatives in the heart of the world. Why? Because we are present all 24 hours.

Hunger is not only for a piece of bread. Hunger is for that love you have here in the United States. We have some 200 people in New York that we feed and another 70 or so here in Washington that we feed; but that’s a small amount. Just now 5 million people are facing hunger because there has been no rain in Ethiopia. And in India we have many like that. But even here there is a hunger. When I find a man hungry in the street, I give him bread or a bit of rice or something; but when I visit a shopping mall in a big city like London or here, I still see the need for a tender, persevering compassion. What I can hear in the shoutings is the loneliness; people are so hurt, so painful inside.

Homelessness is not only


That is where priests and you and I need to bring Jesus. Nakedness is not only for a piece of cloth. We have stripped away from the poor their dignity. We have so many adjectives for the poor. We think they’re good-for-nothing, they’re lazy, they’re this, they’re that. We have taken away their dignity. Homelessness is not only for a house made of bricks. It’s also that having been rejected, unwanted, unloved ... it’s a terrible feeling!

Sometime ago, I picked up a child from the street — her eyes — you’d think they’d come out with hunger! Shining black hungry eyes. I gave her a piece of bread. The little one took that bread crumb by crumb. I said, ‘Eat, eat the bread.” The little girl looked at me and said, “I’m afraid when the bread will be finished, I will be hungry again.” So, to prolong the eating, she kept on eating crumb by crumb. I’m sure none of you have had that experience; but I’ve seen it again and again and again! People coming to the gate, “Mother, you come — my husband, my child!”; terrible, terrible hunger. You don’t know this hunger. I don’t know this hunger.

We don’t know what’s the pain in deep hunger. That’s why it is necessary for us to share that pain through prayer and also through penance. Let us share something of the goods God has given us.

Especially you priests, come to know your poor in your parishes. They may not be poor for money. For some families there’s so much disturbance. I know that many are so rich; but terrible things do happen: broken homes, so much hurt, people starving for God. So, I beg of you, let us pray together and let us make this beautiful resolution: no parish, no community, no home — will anybody ever feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for.

When you come home after you have seen so much suffering, you want somehow to share in that terrible passion of Christ

To be able to do that, we need that closeness, that oneness with Jesus. We need a life of prayer. We need a life of penance. In our Congregation, we lead a life of prayer and penance because when we go out and see the people suffering like that; naturally we want to do something. The Passion of Christ is being relived again and again in the suffering of the people. So, for us in our Congregation, we still take the discipline; we still wear the chains. We try to share the Passion of Christ, We need that!

When you come home after you have seen so much suffering, you want somehow to share in that terrible passion of Christ. And this is something you can do. Priests especially: you see that terrible spiritual suffering of the people; and you are the only one who can pay the price. You can obtain the grace of peace for that family or for that person. And so, I have a very great love for our priests, because I think they are so clearly Jesus in our lives. Help us to help our people to grow in holiness’ Help us to bring Jesus into their lives. Together let us obtain grace for families.

Something that has helped us is consecration to the Sacred Heart. It has helped us a lot. Lately, for the last two years or so, on the eve of first Fridays, we’ve been having that adoration from 11 to 12 at night.

Also on first Fridays, we don’t have lunch. Instead of cooking the lunch for ourselves and eating the lunch for ourselves, we take that lunch money to help repair the houses of the people, or we buy shoes or books or something for some poor family. We don’t keep that money. This has brought us so close to the heart of Jesus. And this consecration also brings wonderful gifts to our families. So much change has come in the families that even the Hindu families come to Mother, “Why don’t you consecrate our family also?” So we have prepared a small prayer for them, so that we can consecrate them to God. The priests have been wonderful in working with the sisters in this consecration. I think it is a wonderful thing.

One thing I would ask from you, sisters: I beg of you. Learn to teach the people natural family planning. This would help the people not to have abortions. The evil of abortion is a nightmare. The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion. We are fighting abortion by adoption. I’ve sent word to all the hospitals, clinics, police stations: just do not destroy the child; give us the child. There are many such children. There’s a joke going around that says: Mother Teresa is the whole time talking about family planning and abortion, yet she herself is not practicing family planning at all — she is getting more and more children!

But it is a wonderful thing, so I beg of you, learn this. In every parish teach the people: We nuns are the best people to teach them. Why? Because we have a vow of chastity. And natural family planning is nothing but self-control of the will. This is what our poor people have told us, “Sisters, please teach us because you who have the vow of chastity are the best people to teach us natural family planning.” So, I beg of you, please give at least one or two nuns from every community to learn how to spread this. You will see the peace and the joy that will come into that family. You will be able to save so much sin and misery.

Let us pray for each other today, for it is a need of the times. Holy Father is very anxious that we do this beautiful work; especially for unwed mothers also. He has given us a beautiful house in Rome for unwed mothers. And I hope we can do something together here for the girls also. So let us pray.

The most important thing is that we cannot give what we do not have. We cannot help people to holiness if we are not holy. It is there, for that reason, I would ask you: let us pray for the poor people. The closer I get to the poor people, from what I understand, the more I see that I receive much more than I give to them. I have received tremendous graces from my poor people. So let us ask God to give us the opportunity to understand that presence of Christ, for He has said, “You did it, to Me!”



John Rich | Catholic Herald File

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