Awaken: Thank you for spending this time with us. There’s so much discontent and divide in the world right now…
How do we maintain our sense of inner peace in the midst of so much struggling?
Mother Teresa: I feel that way too often we focus only on the negative aspect of life – on what is bad. If we were more willing to see the good and the beautiful things that surround us, we would be able to transform our families. From there, we would change our next door neighbors and then others who live in our neighborhood or city. We would be able to bring peace and love to our world, which hungers so much for these things. If we really want to conquer the world, we will not be able to do it with bombs or with other weapons of destruction. Let us conquer the world with our love. Let us interweave our lives with bonds of sacrifice and love, and it will be possible for us to conquer the world… peace and war start within one’s own home. If we really want peace for the world, let us start by loving one another within our families. Sometimes it is hard for us to smile at one another. It is often difficult for the husband to smile at his wife or for the wife to smile at her husband.
Awaken: Jesus has been your beacon of light and abiding inspiration… if you could summarize his teachings in a word, what would you say?
Mother Teresa: when we all see God in each other, we will love one another as he loves us all. That is the fulfillment of the law, to love one another.
Awaken: it’s beautiful how the same message comes forth in all paths and spiritual teachings… I remember the teacher of my teacher used to say “if you can’t see God in all, you can’t see God at all.“
Mother Teresa: This is all Jesus came to teach us: that God loves us, and that he wants us to love one another as he loves us. We must know that we have been created for greater things, not just to be a number in the world, not just to go for diplomas and degrees, this work and that work. We have been created in order to love and to be loved.
Awaken: Many teachings put additional emphasis on giving up desires for the material world, in order to get closer to God. Is this something that you also subscribe to?
Mother Teresa: We must deliberately renounce all desires to see the fruit of our labor, doing all we can as best we can, leaving the rest in the hands of God. What matters is the gift of yourself, the degree of love that you put into each one of your actions… do not pursue spectacular deeds.
Awaken: How do we reconcile the call to surrender our efforts to God with the responsibility to do our best and to put our greatest effort into whatever we do?
Mother Teresa: Do not allow yourself to be disheartened by any failure as long as you have done your best. Neither glory in your success, but refer all to God in deepest thankfulness.… If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride because it shows you trust in your own powers. Never bother about peoples’ opinions. Be humble and you’ll never be disturbed. The Lord has willed me here where I am.
Awaken: We are interested in exploring the idea of what it means to spiritually awaken… what is known in some traditions as “enlightenment,“ or “self-realization.” What does this mean, to you?
Mother Teresa: It’s nothing but a single word: Yes! … “I accept whatever you give, and I give whatever you take.“ It doesn’t mean doing extraordinary things, understanding big things – it is a simple acceptance, because I have given myself to God, because I belong to him. If something belongs to me, I’ve got full power to use it as I want. I belong to Jesus – he can do to me whatever he wants. Total surrender involves loving trust. You cannot surrender totally unless you trust lovingly and totally. … “my father and I are one.”
Awaken: What form does this take in your own spiritual life?
Mother Teresa: What is my spiritual life? I love union with Jesus in which the divine and the human give themselves completely to one another. All that Jesus asks of me is to give myself to him and all my poverty and nothingness. Jesus said, “learn of me.“
In our meditations we should always say, “Jesus, make me a saint according to your own heart, meek and humble.“ We must respond in the spirit in which Jesus meant us to respond. We know him better through Meditations, and the study of the gospel, but have we really understood him in his humility? One thing Jesus asks of me: that I lean on him: that in him and only in him I put complete trust; that I surrender myself to him unreservedly. Even when all goes wrong and I feel as if I am a ship without a compass, I must give myself completely to him.
Awaken: I love that you mentioned humility, as it is something we’ve been exploring… In previous interviews, I have spoken to others about the necessity of this misunderstood virtue, while pursuing the spiritual path… What is humility to you?
Mother Teresa: This is humility: to have the courage to accept humiliation and receive God‘s forgiveness. Our souls should be like a transparent crystal through which God can be perceived. Our Crystal is sometimes covered with dirt and dust. To remove this dust, we carry out an examination of our conscience in order to obtain a clean heart. God will help us to remove that dust, as long as we allow him to; if that is our will, his will comes about.
Awaken: This idea of humiliation is something else that is not understood, I think. Could you explain further?
Mother Teresa: If there has been resentment in our hearts or if we have not accepted humiliation, we will not learn humility. We cannot learn humility from books. Jesus accepted humiliation… We must keep his interests continually in our heats and minds, carrying our Lord to places where he has not walked before, fearless in doing the things He did, courageously going through danger and death with Him and for Him; ready to accept joyously the need to die daily if we want to bring souls to God, to pay the price He paid for souls—ever ready to go to any part of the world and to respect and to appreciate unfamiliar customs of other peoples, their living conditions and language, willing to adapt ourselves if and when necessary, happy to undertake any labor and toil, and glad to make any sacrifice involved in our missionary life.
Awaken: I am fascinated with something you said… this idea of being ready to “die daily” if we want to give ourselves fully to God… It’s like a death of the ego… to be steady on one’s own path and to be totally free from concern about how others may judge you…
Mother Teresa: We must be able to give ourselves so completely to God that He must be able to possess us. Total abandonment consists of giving oneself fully to God because has given Himself to us.
Awaken: We become one with God… Another similarity between traditions… The eastern paths speak often of oneness. Which the Buddhists also call emptiness.
Mother Teresa: We must be empty if we want God to fill us. We must be able to give ourselves so completely to God that he must be able to possess us. We must “give whatever he takes and take whatever he gives.”
Awaken: In preparing for this interview, I read about the deep peace that you experience every night when you spend time in silent prayer and communion with Jesus. What is prayer?
Mother Teresa: Real prayer is union with God, a union as vital as that of the vine to the branch, which is the illustration Jesus gives us in the Gospel of John. We need prayer. We need that union to produce good fruit. The fruit is what we produce with our hands, whether it be food, clothing, money, or something else. All this is the fruit of our oneness with God. We need a life of prayer, of poverty, and of sacrifice to do it with love.…
Sacrifice and prayer complement each other. There is no prayer without sacrifice, and there is no sacrifice without prayer. Jesus’ life was spent in intimate union with his father as he passed through this world. We need to do the same.
Let’s walk by his side. We need to give Christ a chance to make use of us, to be his word and his work, to share his food and his clothing in the world today.… If we do not radiate the light of Christ around us, the sense of the darkness that prevails in the world will increase.… We are called to love the world.
Awaken: And so, we must begin with ourselves as we contemplate the wounds of the world. But this is often misunderstood as selfishness…
Mother Teresa: I have a conviction that I want to share with you. Love begins at home, and every coworker should try to make sure that deep family love abides in his or her home. Only when love abides at home can we share it with our next-door neighbor. Then it will show forth and you will be able to say to them, “yes, love is here.“ And then you will be able to share it with everyone around you.
Awaken: Modern life is so busy, that we fall astray from this… from the simplicity of sharing love within the family.
Mother Teresa: I cannot forget my mother. She was usually very busy all day long. But when sunset drew near, it was her custom to hurry with her tasks in order to be ready to receive my father. At the time we did not understand, and we would smile and even joke a little about it. Today I cannot help but call to mind that great delicacy of love that she had for him. No matter what happened, she was always prepared, with a smile on her lips, to welcome him. Today we have no time. Fathers and mothers are so busy that when children come home, they are not welcomed with love or with a smile.
Awaken: You don’t have children yourself, but your love for children is well known…
Mother Teresa: A child is the greatest of God’s gift to a family, because it is the fruit of the parents’ love.
Awaken: In this day and age, we are so consumed with work… What is the purpose of life?
Mother Teresa: At the moment of death, we will not be judged by the amount of work we have done but by the weight of love we have put into our work. This love should flow from self-sacrifice, and it must be felt to the point of hurting…. Death, in the final analysis, is only the easiest and quickest means to go back to God. If only we could make people understand that we come from God and that we have to go back to him! Death is the most decisive moment in human life. It is like our coronation: to die in peace with God.
Awaken: What is death?
Mother Teresa: Death can be something beautiful. It is like going home. He who dies in God goes home, even though we naturally miss the person who has gone. But it is something beautiful. That person has gone home to God.
Awaken: You once shared a story about a sister who passed very young and unexpectedly…
Mother Teresa: Something happened to one of our sisters who was sent to study. The day she was to receive her degree, she died. As she was dying she asked, “why did Jesus call me for such a short time?“ And her superior answered, “Jesus wants you, not your works.“ She was perfectly happy after that.
Awaken: When did you first become inspired to become a nun?
Mother Teresa: I knew that God wanted something from me. I was only 12 years old, living with my parents in Skopje, Yugoslavia (now Macedonia), when I first sensed the desire to become a nun. At that time, there were some very good priests who help the boys and girls follow their vocation, according to God‘s call. It was then that I realized what Michael was to the poor.
Awaken: And why India?
Mother Teresa: in 1946, when I was going by train to Darjeeling for some spiritual exercises, I sensed a call to renounce everything in order to follow Christ in the poor suburbs, to serve among the poorest poor.
Awaken: What has inspired you along the way? What has kept you motivated?
Mother Teresa: We all have been called by God. As missionaries, we must be carriers of God’s love, ready to go in haste, like Mary, in search of souls; burning lights that give light to all men; the salt of the earth; souls consumed with one desire: Jesus.
Awaken: You seem so capable and strong in all you do. Do you still feel that fervent need to call on God’s help, as you did when you first started on your path?
Mother Teresa: I don’t think there is anyone who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on him 24 hours a day. If the day had even more hours, then I would need his help and grace during those hours, as well.
Awaken: What is your secret to staying so strong, given the charge that you have placed upon yourself, which most would consider overwhelming?
Mother Teresa: My secret is very simple: I pray. Through prayer I become one in love with Christ. I realize that praying to him is loving him. Perfect prayer does not consist in many words, but in the fervor of the desire which raises the heart to Jesus. Love to pray. Feel the need to pray often during the day. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself. Ask and seek and your heart will grow big enough to receive him and keep him as your own.
Awaken: Could you speak further on the most effective way to pray… if there be one, for those who may not be comfortable with prayer?
Mother Teresa: If you want to pray better, you must pray more. We want so much to pray properly and then we fail. We get discouraged and give up. He does not want the discouragement. He wants us to be more childlike, more humble, more grateful in prayer, to remembering we all belong to the mystical body of Christ, which is praying always.
Awaken: When you speak of praying “in a child like manner,” I think of the Jewish reminder to pray in the most simple way…
Mother Teresa: Mental prayer is greatly fostered by simplicity – that is, forgetfulness of self by transcendence of the body and of our senses, and by frequent aspirations that feed our prayer. “In mental prayer,“ says Saint John Vianney, “ Shut your eyes, shut your mouth, and open your heart.“ In vocal prayer, we speak to God; in mental prayer he speaks to us. It is then that God pours himself into us.
Our prayers should be burning words coming forth from the furnace of our hearts filled with love. In your prayers, speak to God with great reverence and confidence. Do not drag behind or run ahead; do not shout or keep silent, but devoutly, with great sweetness, with natural simplicity, without any affectation, offer your praise to God with the whole of your heart and soul.
Let’s not pray long, drawn out prayers, but let’s pray short ones full of love. Let us pray on behalf of those who do not pray.
Awaken: Finally, could you share one of your own favorite prayers with us?
Mother Teresa: I find this little prayer a great help, “Jesus in my heart, I believe in your faithful love for me. I love you.” Or “in union with all the masses being offered throughout the world, I offer Thee my heart. Make it meek and humble like yours.” Pray this prayer for me sometimes – for I ask for this only – that my heart be like his, meek and humble…
Pray much for me – as I do for you. Let us keep the joy of loving Jesus in our hearts and share this joy with all we meet.