By Jay Mason
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.”
– Mother Teresa
May is for mothers. I thought it would be good to tell my experience with a beautiful mother. It started as a normal day in Gallup, New Mexico, but somehow I knew it would be different. It was 1984 and unbeknownst to me, the night before, the Bishop had announced that Mother Teresa would be coming to Gallup to explore the idea of starting a mission in our town. Since I was the Bishop’s attorney, I was summoned to assist with the logistics.
The first sign of the day taking a remarkable turn was the sight as I approached the Gallup airport. Normally the airport was a quiet place with some private planes and a daily flight to Phoenix or Albuquerque. As I arrived I noticed that over 5,000 people had preceded me. The Bishop had clearly underestimated the impact of inviting Mother Teresa to our small town. The word had spread to Albuquerque and many people had traveled hundreds of miles to get a glimpse of possibly the most famous woman in the world. Why would this occur?
Certainly Mother Teresa did not fit the secular view of a famous woman. She was a slight woman, barely five feet tall. She walked stooped over and her skin was wrinkled. But her smile was incredibly beautiful and captivating. When she was welcomed by the President of the Navajo Nation, she greeted him graciously and accepted the gift of beautiful Native American jewelry. When our Mayor, a former Catholic, presented her a book about the Bible, she smiled as the missive disappeared beneath her sari. I was thinking that Mother lived the biblical request by Christ to speak the truth with love.
After the dignitaries were greeted, the Bishop attempted to escort Mother to his car and away from the crowd. She instead turned and walked directly into the throng, which was led by some East Indian families from Gallup who brought flowers to thank her for all the good she had done in their country. That night she would dine with one of these non-Christian families at their home.
Eventually the Bishop convinced Mother Teresa to get into his car, and they drove the Bishop’s house on the poor side of town for a press conference. She greeted the newswomen who had flown in from Phoenix and began to answer their questions. I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the news babes with their pounds of makeup and primping before the live shot and Mother Teresa with no trappings of the modern world. She sat in a folding chair around a wooden table made from a wire spool in the Bishop’s backyard.
The questions began, “Why have you come to America, the richest place on Earth, to establish a soup kitchen and mission?” She replied, “You can be spiritually poor even if you have material wealth.” There was no follow up to that question. The other news anchor queried, “Your order has attracted women from the Third World which is probably a way to improve their lives. What makes you think American women would be attracted to your order?” Mother smiled and explained, “We invite women to come and see how we live. Both parties get a chance to see if it is God’s will for them. We serve the poorest of the poor, but it is not a life for everyone.” Then she paused and said, “Maybe you would like to come and see.” To this day I wonder if Mother Teresa saw something in the face of the news anchor that told her she might be a future Missionary of Charity.
Two years later Mother Teresa returned to Gallup and established her soup kitchen and mission. This time, our family talked privately with Mother as she boarded a helicopter to tour the reservation. She gave a miraculous medal to my wife, children and me. There was a special aura about her that is very difficult to explain. It was more than her beautiful smile and simple ways. You really felt that you were in the presence of a very special and holy person. When we talked, the only words that I could utter were, “Thank you, Mother, for coming to Gallup.”
Mother Teresa never returned to Gallup after the second visit. My family and I have met many wonderful Sisters from all over the world in the 25 years that they have been here from her order. One of the most astute comments by Mother Teresa was that doing good begins with the individual, not the masses. She said, “I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one. You get closer to Christ by coming closer to each other. As Jesus said, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.’ So you begin . . . I begin.”
The story is told that Mother Teresa was the guest speaker of a world hunger conference in New Delhi, India. As she entered the conference, a man lay dying of hunger in the street. She stopped and comforted the man and sent for her Sisters to take him to a shelter. The conference organizers informed her that she was late to speak to the many people gathered inside. She said her duty lay outside the conference, and she stayed with the man until he could be taken to one of her shelters.
You see this same spirit as you watch the Sisters minister to the poor at the soup kitchen. I am sure that it is difficult to measure progress when many times you are serving the same people from day to day, yet the Sisters do not regret their work but perform it cheerfully each day. All of my children have worked at the soup kitchen; it was an experience that helped them grow in their faith, but also taught them how to give to those less fortunate on an individual basis. One of my daughters was so moved by their charity to the poor that she almost became a Missionary of Charity.
It has now been almost 30 years since I met Mother Teresa. It seems like yesterday. She has placed her Sisters around the world performing simple acts of charity for the poor of the world. I will remember those few moments that my family and I had with her for the rest of my life. Hopefully it made me better equipped to do my own acts of charity for others. Happy Mother’s Day.