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Posted October 27, 2004

In “Riding the Dragon, author Robert Wicks recommends we recognize our renewal zones. Among them is reading biographies of others whom we admire. It is a wonderful way to overcome depression and re-energize us. The following is one such biography.

Book: Mother Teresa: A Biography
Author: Meg Greene
Greenwood Press, Westport, CT, pp. 152

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

In this new biography, students will follow Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu from her humble Albanian birth to worldwide celebrity as Mother Teresa. The nun who cared for the dying and diseased in Calcutta, India, and established her missionaries of Charity around the world is revealed to ahve had a singular determination from a young age. As a woman in the patriarchal Catholic system, she had to prove to the hierarchy, even the Vatican, that she was capable of handling each project she proposed. Her vision to live and work amongst the “poorest of the poor” led to the founding of a new order that tended to society’s outcasts.

This biography suggests that Mother Teresa transcended her ordinariness with a belief that she was called to her life’s work. When her work brought Mother Teresa unsought fame, she used it to further her causes. In a global age, celebrity worship allowed her to work the system, and she became an icon of service and selflessness — yet her human flaws remained behind the saintliness. This narrative chronicles the expansion and success of Mother Teresa’s order and the eventual attention that was showered on her efforts. This increasing attention led to scrutiny and criticism of her ideology, methods of care, and financing. The accusations of hypocrisy, among others, are discussed, as is her controversial beatification. Readers will be challenged to consider for themselves whether Mother Teresa deserves to be sainted.

An Excerpt from the Book:

When asked to explain the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa once remarked, “We are first of all religious; we are not social workers, not teachers, not nurses or doctors, we are religious sisters. We serve Jesus in the poor.” With that statement, Mother Teresa made clear the mission of the order and to the best of her abilities lived her life following that simple premise.

Still, there is no question that for the last 20 years of her life Mother Teresa and her work were at times seriously misunderstood. She inspired many people not through powerful speeches or magnificent works but because she exemplified a way, imperfect as it was at times, of using the power of love to heal and save. As journalist Mary Poplin pointed out, the key to understanding Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity is the sacredness with which they treat all people and their humble way of carrying out their work. To the Missionaries of Charity, Jesus is present in everyone they meet whether it is a young volunteer from New Jersey or an old Muslim woman starved and half-eaten by rats and worms, or the deformed infant just born and left in a garbage heap. Christ is present in everyone, but most especially in the poorest of the poor. From the very beginning, Mother Teresa and her order reached out to treat each person they encountered as they would Jesus Christ. Thus, they performed each task for the benefit of the poor as they would do it for Christ. In other words, it is Jesus’ diapers they wash, his meals the prepare, his ailing body they tend, and is hand being held.

On closer inspection, Mother Teresa appeared a contradiction, a walking paradox, and later, a woman out of step with the times. But that assessment dismisses her and her work much too easily. Mary Poplin, the journalist who volunteered for the Missionaries of Charity, tried to explain her understanding of Mother Teresa:

Many writers have depicted Mother Teresa as someone who saw the poor and responded sympathetically to their needs. That is not quite the case. Mother Teresa served the poor not because they needed her but because God called her to the work. She was obedient to God’s call, not to her social conscience. She often remarked that if God had told her what was to happen after she picked up the first dying person off the Calcutta street, she would never have done it, for she would have been too afraid.

Mother Teresa called herself “a pencil in God’s hand.” What she meant was that she was simply God’s instrument and she did only his bidding, relying on his providence to provide for her order and the poor.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 Skopje

Chapter 2 Answering the call

Chapter 3 A new direction and a new journey

Chapter 4 Out of a cesspool — hope

Chapter 5 “Rigorous poverty is our safeguard”

Chapter 6 Kalighat

Chapter 7 Shishu Bhavan and Shantinagar: Places of Peace

Chapter 8 The growth of a miracle

Chapter 9 Blessings and blame

Chapter 10 “The most obedient woman in the church”