MINISTERING TO THE POOREST OF THE POOR IN SAIGON VIETNAM ACCORDING TO THE SPIRITUALITY
The world in which we are living in is home to billions of people. As a matter of fact, the population of the world reached 6.5 billion in 2005 and as of June 25, 2007, the world’s population has increased to 6,723,472,750. It is predicted that the world’s population should reach 7 billion in a couple of years. Ninety nine percent of that growth will have come from developing countries.
MINISTERING TO THE POOREST OF THE POOR IN SAIGON VIETNAM ACCORDING TO THE SPIRITUALITY
For permission please write to:
Rev. Hanh Van Pham
St. Philip the Apostle Church
3513 Cimarron Blvd.
Corpus Christi, Texas 78414
or email for permission at Frhanh@stx.rr.com
The author/student retains exclusive and unrestrictive copyright of this dissertation.
The world in which we are living in is home to billions of people. As a matter of fact, the population of the world reached 6.5 billion in 2005 and as of June 25, 2007, the world’s population has increased to 6,723,472,750. It is predicted that the world’s population should reach 7 billion in a couple of years. Ninety nine percent of that growth will have come from developing countries. Among the over six and a half billion population over three billion live in poverty. The majority of the three billion poor peoples are mostly concentrated among the developing countries. Through no faults of their own, the less fortunate people are simply born into a poor family or poor country, where opportunities to improve their lives are limited or non-existence. It is also reported that, “More than one-half of the world’s people live below the international defined poverty line of less than U.S. $2 a day.” This vast number of poor people represents almost fifty per cent of the world’s population. As desperate as this might appear, the more than half of the world’s poor mentioned here are still able to work and scrape out a living for themselves and their families. Within this incalculable figure of poor people, there exists an even poorer group of people who are in desperate need and who, without the assistance from good and generous people, will definitely perish. This group of desperate people is identified as the poorest of the poor.
The poorest of the poor consist of people who are poor in both the physical and spiritual sense. The poorest of the poor can be found in both developed and developing countries alike. However, they are more likely to congregate among the developing countries such as: India, China and Vietnam. For the most part, the heart of this dissertation will be focused on the poorest of the poor in Saigon, Vietnam. On the surface, it seems as though the world’s poor represents an enormous problem for all of us who have a special love for the poor and are in position to do something about it. Even if we are ankle deep in our pastoral ministry among the poor, we cannot help ourselves: “Are we doing enough?” “What more can we do concerning the world’s poor?” “What is the Church’s teaching on the poor?” “What is the best and most effective ways to minister to the poor?” “Is meeting and fulfilling the physical needs of the poor enough?” “What about the spiritual needs of the poor?”
These questions are indeed valid questions and should be asked. Although not all questions can be answered nor should they be, however, some proposed problems are resolved through the loving works of the many charitable organizations which specialize in helping the poor. However, some of the charitable organizations concentrate too much on their administration aspects. In order to have a well-oiled and well-functioning charitable organization, many of them require a big staff with a high overhead. Thus, when the charitable contributions are received, only a small percentage of the contribution reaches the hands of the poor and those who truly need it. The majority of the contributions are used to pay the salaries of the people in administration and management. When it is all said and done, the poor are still in dire need but the needed funds have been greatly depleted. Moreover, many charitable organizations condition the people to give according to seasons and situations instead of teaching the people to give as a way of life. Needless to say, these charitable organizations merely satisfy the small portion of the physical needs of the poor. The other aspect of the poor namely their spiritual needs are almost never or rarely mentioned or addressed.
This fact, however, does not mean that there are no charitable organizations in societies that emphasize the whole person both body and soul when it comes to ministering or helping the poor. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity is a charitable congregation that ministers to the whole person, touching both body and soul. Her missionaries are usually found in the slums of over crowded cities including the city of Saigon in Vietnam. Saigon is considered to be one of the many over crowded cities in the world. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity had a brief presence there. However, the communist government being fearful of the publicity which comes with Mother Teresa’s notoriety refused her permission to remain and to minister to the poorest of the poor in Vietnam. Although Mother Teresa’s missionaries’ presence in Saigon was brief, the seed of their charitable works have born much fruit and the fruit is the result of the newly formed congregation which lives the spirituality of Mother Teresa and imitates her works among the poorest of the poor. November 4,1993 when Mother Teresa arrived to the South of Vietnam, Archbishop Paul Nguyen Van Binh had retired from active ministry and Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi was in charge of the Archdiocese of Saigon as Apostolic Administrator for the being time. Mother Teresa had two intentions : one was to sponsor a few Vietnamese sisters to India for further training; the other was to open a house in Vietnam but both were denied. Thus, Mother Teresa decided to write a letter to Auxiliary Bishop Nicolas Huynh Van Nghi to form a community of Vietnamese sisters, which belongs to the Archdiocese of Saigon, under the title of Missionaries of Christ’s Charity.
The purpose of this dissertation is to show the inherent desire within all able people to help the poor, to point out that the most effective way to assist the poorest of the poor is to follow the spirituality of Mother Teresa, how the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity minister to the poorest of the poor in Saigon by imitating Mother Teresa’s method to touch the poorest of the poor both physically and spiritually, and to show how people in all walks of life can participate in this wonderful ministry among the poorest of the poor. Thus, the dissertation: (1.) reflects on the intrinsic desire of love in people for the poor; how society compartmentalizes the love for the poor into seasons: Thanksgiving and Christmas; and situations: hurricanes, storms, tidal waves and the radical love of Mother Teresa; (2.) dwells into Mother Teresa’s second call – a call within a call and her spirituality; (3.) expounds on the three evangelical vows of obedience, chastity and poverty and the fourth vow which highlights the apostolate of the Missionaries of Charity; (4.) reflects on Mother Teresa’s spirituality on silence, prayer, faith, love, service, peace, the Eucharist and her goal to quench Christ’s thirst; (5.) recounts her presence in Vietnam; (6.) looks at the formation of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity; (7.) focuses on the poorest of the poor in Saigon namely the pregnant teenagers, the orphans, the HIV/AIDS victims and the abandoned elderly; (8.) examines the plight of pregnant teenagers; (9.) reflects on the dilemma of the orphans; (10.) looks at the predicament of the HIV/AIDS victims; (11.) examines the challenge of the abandoned elderly; (12.) reflects on the possibility of establishing co-workers of the Missionaries of Christ’s Charity. The intent of this dissertation is to encourage people to courageously live out the love which is inherent within each person and reach out to the less fortunate of society. There are many ways and methods to assist the poor but Mother Teresa’s spirituality of touching both the body and the soul proves to be more preferable and desirable. Although, each person has his/her own life to live and vocation to fulfill, it is still possible for any person to minister to the poorest of the poor according to the spirituality of Mother Teresa and remain faithful to his/her present vocation.
The Natural Intrinsic Desire In The Human Person To Love
Society Compartmentalizes Love According To Seasons And Situations
And The Call To Love Like Mother Teresa
Love is a calling which is intrinsic to every human person. The evidence of this calling of love can be traced back to the book of Genesis where the author tells us that we are created by God and for God. Saint John the Evangelist reveals to us that God is love. Jesus further emphasizes the importance of the virtue of love when he says, “By this, all will know that you are my disciples that you love one another.” Jesus goes on to summarize the long list of commandments in the Torah into two commandments of love of God and neighbor. As humans, we are created to love and be loved. In God is the purest form of love but love in the human tends to be altered to fit our own wants and needs. Our humanistic love is often compartmentalized into seasonal and situational settings. Although it is praiseworthy when any kind of love is extended to the down trodden, love should not be reduced to what we do; but love is, and always will be, who we are. Thanks to the works and examples of Mother Teresa among the poorest of the poor, the virtue of love is once again restored to a personal level and as a way of life.
1.2 THE NATURAL INTRINSIC DESIRE IN HUMAN TO LOVE
Every human being is born with an intrinsic desire to love for as the author of Genesis writes, “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.”  Although, we (man) were not created until the sixth day into God’s creative activity, yet we represent the climax of creation when God gives dominion and authority for us to care for the rest of creation. Love then is possible among all human beings. It is natural for us to love ourselves but when we express our love for others, especially the poor and less fortunate among us; we are truly reflecting the image of God in whom we were created. This love which we possess for ourselves and for others is further expounded upon by St. John when he exhorts, “Beloved let us love one another because love is God; everyone who loves is begotten of God and has knowledge of God. The man without love has known nothing of God, for God is love.” Love as we share in it testifies to the very nature of God and to his presence in our lives. We who love God show that we are children of God for God’s very being is love.
Love is the message Jesus emphasizes throughout his ministry while he was on earth. On the night before he dies, Jesus entrusts to his disciples a new commandment, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: by your love for one another.” From this saying, we can safely surmise that when we love each other we are actually giving witness to God and signifying to the world that we are His followers and disciples. Jesus has made love and charity the distinguishing mark for his disciples. On another occasion when a lawyer in an attempt to trip up Jesus, asked him, “‘Teacher, which commandment of the law is the greatest?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
There was a popular story circulated among the Jewish Scholars to see who could stand on one foot and recite all the commandments without falling. Whoever succeeded would be considered great among the scholars. But it proved that none could do it. Originally, there were only Ten Commandments which were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. However, by the time Jesus made his appearance, the commandments and rules had increased to over six hundred major laws not including minor laws. Among the hundreds of major laws and commandments, Jesus has summed them up into two greatest commandments to love the Lord your God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. In doing so, Christ has made the commandment of love of neighbor His personal commandment. Jesus further wills himself, His disciples to be the object of this love and charity saying, “I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.” The mission of love is given and entrusted to all people. While rejoicing at our given mission of love, we should see and hold it as an honor when we are called to minister to the poor, the sick, the suffering through our charitable works to alleviate all kinds of human needs.
While love is a natural inclination in all human beings, the Catholic Church has made love her characteristic mark. In the early days, the Church associated and connected love to the Eucharistic supper. In doing this the Church showed herself as the Body of Christ and Christ is the head united by the bond of charity and love. Throughout centuries, the Church has always claimed love and charitable works as its mission and right. Thus the works of mercy done for the poor and the less fortunate are held in special honor in the Church. The Church makes it an obligation for individuals and nations that are capable of assisting to love the poor and less fortunate by stating the following, “Wherever men are to be found who are in want of food and drink, of clothing, housing, medicine, work, education, the means necessary for leading a truly human life, wherever there are men racked with misfortune or illness, men suffering exile or imprisonment, Christian charity should go in search of them and find them out, comfort them with devoted care and give them the help that will fulfill their needs. This obligation binds first and foremost the more affluent individuals and nations.”
1.3 THE COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF LOVE BY SOCIETY
Today the Missionaries activities and works of charity have become much more urgent and worldwide. With the aid of modern technology and communication, the awareness of the need to assist the poor and less fortunate has never been higher. Works of charity should reach not only the local community but communities in all parts of the world. Although, people are conscious of the need to love and give, they are unknowingly conditioned by their societies and cultures to compartmentalize love according to seasons and situations. In the United States, we divide the year into seasons, not the natural seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter, but vacationing, working and giving seasons. Works of charity is also sorted out into situations in case of natural disasters such hurricanes, storms and tidal wave.
In the United States, the day after Halloween marks the beginning of the holiday season. This so called holiday season is also dubbed as a Giving Season. During this season, the chilled air brings out the carolers and mailboxes are full of Christmas and New Years’ cards. It is during this holiday season that America is at its most generous, monetary wise. Shoppers pack into malls, looking for the perfect gift for their loved ones. But the generosity during this season is not just essential and vital to the retail world; it is also a very important time for charities. This is the time when different charitable organizations are in the fund raising mode.
Giving at any time is praiseworthy and recommendable; however, we should not limit our generosity and works of charity to seasonal giving. Most local churches fall into this same trap and predicament. During this so call giving season, charitable groups in the local parish such as Works of Mercy and St. Vincent de Paul advertise their annual project of helping the poor families who are in need of Thanksgiving Dinners. Parishioners have a choice of giving a Thanksgiving turkey, dressing or a whole Thanksgiving dinner. Amazingly, the good-hearted parishioners rise to the occasion and fulfill the request of every needy family. Following Thanksgiving is the glorious Christmas celebration. The Works of Mercy and St. Vincent de Paul continue with their charitable works by following up with the giving tree to help the poor families who are in need of Christmas presents for their children. Each ornament on the giving tree represents a child of poor families who without this program would not have a Christmas gift. Remarkably, every last ornament is picked by the parishioners. Within days, the Christmas gifts arrive with the ornaments attached and addressed to the less fortunate children.
The charitable organizations in the local parish are affected by situational giving as well. Living in the Gulf Coast, the threat of a Hurricane making land-fall is a reality. It is not a mater of whether the hurricane will hit but when it will hit. Not more than a few years ago, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and its surrounding neighbor cities. In our effort to reach out and help the victims of Katrina, all local parishes were urged to pick up a second collection to assist and help the victims. However, after the one time fundraiser, very little else was done to see whether the victims had resettled or not. The same can be said about tornado victims in the Mid-West, where a little town was completely wiped out by a cluster of tornadoes which ranked as high as an F5 in strength and destruction. A collection was encouraged to help the victims of the mid-west town but that was the last that we heard about it. A few years back, the coastal countries in East-Asia were devastated by the tsunami which resulted from the earthquake in the middle of the ocean. Countless numbers of people lost their lives and families were torn apart, not to mention the loss of property and memories; again, the people of the world poured out their hearts with their assistance. But it too was short-lived. While these works of charity are praiseworthy and commendable, our culture has unintentionally and inadvertently conditioned and trained the people of good will to give and do works of charity according to seasons and situations. Charity and love in all truth is neither seasonal nor situational. On the contrary, love is supposed to be personal. As human beings who are created in God’s loving image, works of charity and assistance for the poor should be a way of life.
1.4 MOTHER TERESA’S RADICAL LOVE
Throughout the centuries, there have been numerous dedicated people who devoted their whole life to promote the need of ministering to the poor and in doing so raised it to a more celestial and divine way: people such as St. Francis of Assisi who after having awoken from a life of dissolute living, abandoned all earthly wealth to live with and among the poor; Albert Schweitzer, who after having heard the Gospel of Lazarus and the rich man, gave up his glittered life as a concert pianist in the Concert Hall of London, studied to become a medical doctor and moved to Africa to be one with the poor; the latest was Mother Teresa who became the champion of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India and eventually the whole world. Her radical ways of ministering to the poorest of the poor are recognized and respected by most people. Mother Teresa’s works are rooted in the words of St. John, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory.” Reflecting on this scripture verse, Mother Teresa was able to clearly see the suffering Christ disguised in the persons of the poorest of the poor. She truly believed when serving the poorest of the poor she was touching Christ who was disguised in the persons of the poorest of the poor. Armed with this belief, she fearlessly and courageously embraced all poorest of the poor in society.
The first chapter provides a glimpse of the calling love which is intrinsic in each and every human being who was created by God in his image. We are capable of love as we are told by St. John that God is love. Love then is personal and relational. But society has a tendency to twist and compartmentalize love and works of charity into seasons such as a giving season and situations such as tragedies with hurricanes or storms. Any work of charity is always recommendable regardless of how or when it is done. However, we are called to raise and elevate this love of neighbor to a personal and relational level. In other words, we are called to elevate our love and charitable works to the level like that of Mother Teresa. What prompted and enabled Mother Teresa to love and serve the way she did? The next chapter will explore on Mother Teresa’s upbringing and training which molded her to become a sister of Loretto and her response to the call within the call to become the Missionaries of Charity who devoted her life to serve the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa’s Childhood,
Her Call To Become A Religious Sisters
The Call Within A Call To Be A Missionaries Of Charity
And Her Spirituality
While growing up, most children dream lofty dreams of becoming famous, striking it rich or saving the world. Mother Teresa’s only desire was to work among the poor for she was born a weak and sickly baby. Her goal as a teenager was very different from other children. Being born into a deeply religious family, Mother Teresa yearned to give herself to God as a religious sister. This chapter recalls Mother Teresa’s childhood, her upbringing, her vocational discernment and her call to become the sister of Loreto and her inspiration to work among the poorest of the poor. Even after dedicating her life to be a sister and teacher, she remained open to God’s call. One day while riding on a crowded bus, she received an inspiration and risked everything to follow this new calling which she wisely discerned as, “a call within a call.” Mother Teresa, in following her second call, had to face many difficulties and sacrifices. Yet she pushed on and faithfully followed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and left behind all that she ever knew. Little did she know that God would use her to make His name known all over the world. She was more than happy and willing to oblige.
2.2 MOTHER TERESA’S CHILDHOOD
This brilliant and shining Missionaries of God’s love was born on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, Yugoslavia (it is part of modern day Republic of Macedonia.) She was the youngest of three children born to Nikola and Drana Bojaxhiu. Like all good and faithful Catholics of the day, she was baptized as Gonxha Agnes. Gonxha was the nickname fondly given to her by her family which means “rosebud.” With her dedicated family infusing in her the love for Christ in the Eucharist, she received her First Communion at the age of five and a half. She continued her religious education and was confirmed on November 1916. From the very first day of her First Holy Communion, a love for souls was within her. Her happy and carefree life was cut short by her father’s sudden death at the age of eight. Nikola, her father, made his living by being a business assistant, building contractor and merchant. He was believed to be poisoned and died after he underwent surgery. Her family was thrown into dire financial straits. Hardships did not deter her mother Drana from raising her children in the Church. She was quite a seamstress and began a fine cloths sewing business for ladies. Her siblings were worried about not having enough but Gonxha Agnes thought that there were other ways of being rich. She was beginning to resemble her mother’s values more and more each day. When Gonxha got older, she attended public schools but Drana, with the help of the local pastor, made sure that she was well grounded in her Catholic faith. She attended daily mass and made annual pilgrimages to the Madonna of Letnice. Gonxha often thought of her father Nikola. He seemed strict but he had a big heart for the poor. He often sent the children out with food and money to give to the poor. As a child, Gonxha used to think that all the guests around the dinner table were relatives. Only later did she find out that they were people who just needed a decent meal. Her mother’s dedication made a great imprint and influence on her daughter’s character and vocation as well. Gonxha recalled on one occasion as she chatted with her mother, “Every one must think you are a saint.” Her mother looked at her in surprise and said, “The point of doing good is not to have people think well of you.” Her mother always had a soft spot for the less fortunate people when she took in six children whose mother had died. Years later, Gonxha observed that her family was full of joy and love and the children were happy and contented.
2.3 MOTHER TERESA’S CALL
Mrs. Drana Bojaxhiu often thought that her daughter Gonxha Agnes would not be with her for long. She would either lose her because of her poor health or she will give herself to God as a sister. Little did Mrs. Bojaxhiu know that she was being prophetic. When Gonxha Agnes was twelve, she told her mother about wanting to become a sister. Drana told her to put it out of her mind. Unknowingly, she was fostering Agnes’ religious vocation by insisting that she attended daily mass and prayed the rosary at home. Being deeply involved with the local parish with the assistance of the vibrant Jesuit pastor also helped Gonxha’s religious formation. The local pastor had a heart for the missions. He often preached on the topic, took up collections, passed out pamphlets and invited missionaries to come and give talks. Agnes was drawn to the Missionaries sister. She often pondered on the words of a visiting Missionaries, “Each person has a special road to follow, and one must follow that road.” Again, she consulted her mother. This time Drana encouraged her daughter by granting her blessing. She reminded her daughter, “Strive to live only and all for God and for Jesus Christ.” Agnes wanted to confirm her call by seeking advice from her confessor. He assured her, “You will know by your feelings, if the thought of being a sister and serving God and people makes you happy then you vocation is genuine…even if the road for you is difficult.” Indeed the road to become a Missionaries sister was difficult. Agnes had to leave her mother, brother, sister, friends and relatives. By the time she was eighteen, Agnes was convinced that God was calling her to be a Missionaries sister to serve the poor.
2.4 MOTHER TERESA AS A SISTER OF LORETO
Since Gonxha Agnes wanted to be a Missionaries sister in India, she naturally applied to the congregation of the Sisters of Loreto because they had missionaries there. Before she could go there, she had to enter the communion of the motherhouse in Ireland. After a few months of training and preparation, Agnes was accepted into the novitiate on May 23, 1929. Like all the sisters who went before her, she had to choose a patron saint for her name and forsake her birth name. Agnes chose St. Theresa of the Child Jesus. Since one of the Loreto sisters already had a name Theresa, Agnes spelled her name Teresa. Under the guidance of a novice director, Sister Teresa learned about prayer. She would go to confession once a week. One of her many tasks was to teach the poor children for a couple of hours each day. Besides prayer and teaching, Sister Teresa had to learn English. On March 24, 1931, Sister Teresa made her first temporary vows which consisted of poverty, chastity and obedience. She would have to be in formation for another six years before making her final vow. In the meantime, she was sent to Calcutta to attend college for a teaching certificate. She would have never guessed what she would encounter there.
The college which Sister Teresa attended was outside the convent walls. On her way to the school, she could not help but come face to face with many poor people who lived in wretched existence. She felt compelled to do something for these poor people in Calcutta. On Sunday, Sister Teresa would often visit the slums where people fondly called her “Ma.” During the month of May of 1937, Sister Teresa made her perpetual vows. The Loreto Sisters have a tradition whereby when the sisters made their final vows they would no longer be called “sister” but “mother”. So Sister Teresa came to be called Mother Teresa. Not long after Mother Teresa made her final vow, she was appointed superior of St. Mary’s School and she was made principal a year later. Drana, her mother, wrote to congratulate her at the same time reminded her not to forget the purpose of her coming to India to work among the poor. Her mother’s words echoed what she was already feeling. As she roamed the streets, she wondered why she was teaching the well to do children when there were so many poor children who were in greater need. The idea began to take shape and in her heart of hearts she realized that God meant for her to serve the poorest of the poor. 
2.5 MOTHER TERESA’S SECOND CALL - A CALL WITHIN A CALL
In September of 1946, Mother Teresa was riding on a train to her annual retreat from Calcutta to Darjeeling. Even though the train was crowded with people and filled with noise, Mother Teresa clearly heard God’s voice speaks within her, “You must leave the convent to help the poor by living among them.” Mother Teresa attributed this calling as an “inspiration,” her “call within a call.” On that day, in a way Mother Teresa could never explain, Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls took hold of her heart and the desire to satiate his thirst became the driving force of her life. Over the course of the next several months, by means of visions, Jesus revealed to her the desire of His heart. Mother Teresa felt compelled to follow Jesus’ desire to establish a religious community, Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor.
Mother Teresa confided with the archbishop of Calcutta. He quietly listened to her story and then leaned forward and said to Mother Teresa, “I would like to support you, Mother, but you know that Rome won’t grant permission for a new order if a similar one already exists.” The archbishop continued, “Did you ever consider transferring to the Daughters of St. Anne? They work with the poor.” Mother Teresa respectfully agreed with the archbishop that the sisters do wonderful work but she added, “But afterwards they return to their lovely convent. I would like to actually live with the poor and share their life.” Undeterred by challenge and obstacle, Mother Teresa continued to pray and sent the application to Rome. God did not disappoint her for she was granted Exclaustration by Pope Pius XII – even though she had not asked for it. Nearly two years of testing and discernment passed before Mother Teresa received permission to begin her society of Missionaries of Charity. One August 17, 1948, Mother Teresa exchanged her Loreto sister’s habit and dressed for the first time in a white, blue-bordered sari and passed through the gates of her beloved Loreto convent to enter the world of the poor. In her bag were only five rupees, the equivalent of about one dollar.
Gonxha Agnes grew up in a loving and faith-filled family. She was taught to love and serve God by her first church namely her family. Her belief was reinforced by her local church parish. In responding to God’s call, she became a sister of Loreto. Her life, she thought, had been clearly marked out for her, yet her heart was always opened and ready at God’s disposal. In the midst of chaos and noise, God called her the second time. Just as she had risked everything the first time, Mother Teresa did not hesitate to risk everything for God once again. Her love and trust in God has always been the hallmark of her life as a Missionaries of Charity. Obstacles and difficulties followed her but they could not deter her from faith and devotion in God. The next chapter will reflect on her spirituality which enabled her to do supernatural works among the poorest of the poor.
The Growth Of The Misisionaries Of Charity
Their Three Evangelical Vows
Their Special Fourth Vow
Like most congregations, Mother Teresa’s society began with a humble and modest beginning. Working as a lone sister, she started by visiting the poor, caring for their sick, cleaning their homes and washing their clothes. Her ministry began to spread. The little ripples of her charitable works began to make waves. Soon, the waves gathered strength to have a tidal effect that overwhelmed and drew many selfless women to work and live her spirituality. Volunteers, young and old, began to come and assist her in her work. Before long, Mother Teresa had a growing community that needed training, teaching and forming. Chapter three will show how Mother Teresa faithfully followed the directions given by the Church as stated in Canon Law. Her sisters professed the three evangelical vows plus the fourth vow to serve the poorest of the poor which indicates the special apostolate within the order.
3.2 THE THREE EVANGELICAL COUNSELS ACCORDING TO THE CODE OF CANON LAW
During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He teaches and encourages his disciples to live the evangelical counsels. The Church has always encouraged her faithful to live and practice the evangelical counsels; but the evangelical counsels are obligated for all those who live religious or consecrated life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church further explains why the evangelical counsels are obligations for those who embrace the consecrated life, “The perfection of charity, to which all the faithful are called, entails for those who freely follow the call to consecrated life the obligation of practicing chastity in celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, poverty and obedience.” The Code of Canon Law makes the evangelic counsels an obligation to which all religious must profess. Code 654 states. “By religious profession members assume by public vow the observance of three evangelical counsels, are consecrated to God through the ministry of the Church, and are incorporated into the institute with rights and duties defined by law.” Canons 654 through 658 of the Code of Canon Law regulate the vows of members of religious orders and congregations in the Roman Catholic Church. The vows are tempered by durations: temporary (short term) or final vows (permanent or perpetual). Under the Benedictine Rule, which is utilized by most monks and nuns, the vows are: obedience means to place oneself under the direction of the abbot/abbes; stability translates to committing oneself to a particular monastery; and conversion of life which includes the notion of stability. During the 12th and 13thcenturies, the Franciscan and Dominicans put emphasis on mobility and flexibility by dropping the notion of “stability” and their vows became those of poverty, chastity and obedience.
3.3 THE THREE RELIGIOUS VOWS OF OBEDIENCE, CHASTITY AND POVERTY
Vows are professed in two varieties: temporary vows and perpetual vows. The highest level of commitment is exemplified by those who have taken their perpetual vows. Whether the vows are taken temporarily or perpetually, the three professed evangelical vows remain the same, namely chastity, poverty and obedience. Obedience means, “Those who are bound to religious vows willingly submit to the authority of their local ordinary, such as the head of an order, their local superior, abbot, abbess or bishop. In this, they emulate the obedience of Christ to His Father. For Christ was obedient unto death, death upon the cross. So too those who have chosen this way of life, cheerfully undertake their crosses under the guidance and direction of those lawfully appointed over them.” Obedience is the general submission which religious vow to God, and voluntarily promise to their superiors, in order to be directed by them in the ways of perfection according to the purpose and constitutions of their order or congregation.
The vow of chastity, within a religious life, means, “That one gives up marriage and the fruits it bears, for the kingdom of Heaven. A person can be fruitful, produce good works, and deeds in a manner different than in holy matrimony. Mind, body and spirit are directed away from pleasures, and fecundity of the material, to be open to that which is spiritual.”
The vow of poverty means, “Detaching oneself from material goods. Personal possession is surrendered and the person must learn to depend for his daily bread through the head of the community to which they are joined. This mirrors Jesus in his total dependency on the Father for his daily needs.” There is a twofold benefit to the vow of poverty. It allows for greater availability and freedom and it brings the person closer to the poorest of the poor. The faithful observance of the vow of poverty creates a condition of openness. It marks the person’s being, by making a place in their hearts for the needy and victims, thus making it possible to enter into solidarity with them. Mother Teresa further reflects, “Voluntary poverty such as that lived out by the Missionaries of Charity is a counsel – a prescription for living that the Church gives only to those seeking to live in perfect imitation of Jesus. But each person, Mother Teresa said, is called to live with less in order to have more to give.”
3.4 THE ADDITIONAL FOURTH VOW OF THE MISSIONARIES OF CHARITY TO SERVE THE POOREST OF THE POOR
Throughout the ages, orders and religious congregations professed the three basic vows, though some added a “fourth vow,” indicating some special apostolate or attitude within the order. Fully professed Jesuits take a vow of particular obedience to the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, to undertake any mission laid out in their Formula of the Institute. Centuries later, the Missionaries of Charity, founded by Mother Teresa are another example of this, in that she and her sisters take a fourth vow of special service to the poorest of the poor. “The Missionaries of Charity choose to live in poverty in order to help those who are poor. Thus the fourth vow which each Missionaries takes is to dedicate her life in giving herself wholeheartedly and totally to the poorest of the poor.” As the sisters of the Missionaries of Christ comment, “It is easy for us to do this, as our giving is voluntary. We live in the slums because we wish to, the poorest of the poor are forced to do so, and it is by serving them we serve Christ.”
Mother Teresa further elaborates on the fourth vow, voluntary poverty such as that lived out by her and her sisters is a counsel, a prescription for living that the Church gives only to those seeking to live in perfect imitation of Jesus. Since the beginning, starting with Mother Teresa, each of her Missionaries of Charity possess only a sari which was and still is worn by the poorest of the poor in India because of its cheap fabric, a pair of sandals, some undergarments, a crucifix which was always visible on her habit, a rosary which is always prayed when walking or traveling, a prayer book, an umbrella during monsoon season, a silver bucket for washing and bathing, and a thin bed. The sisters were forbidden, however, to own a fan despite the oppressive Indian summer’s heat.
In their poverty to serve the poorest of the poor, the Missionaries of Charity do not accept payment of any kind. They do no fund raising, even though, it was often suggested by good-hearted people. They refuse all government and Church assistance for their programs. In their self-imposed poverty, they lived day to day and hand to mouth, begging for food and sustenance, like the poor they served. Mother Teresa would often warn her sisters, “Beware of money and the desire for ease and comfort, for it will turn your heart from God.” She added, “One loses touch with God when one takes hold of money…Once the longing of money comes, the longing also comes for what money can give…Our needs will increase, for one thing leads to another, and the result will be endless dissatisfaction.” The Missionaries of Charity practice their life of poverty with the absolute faith in God’s divine providence that this will bring them closer to God. Like St. Francis, they live and work only through the generosity of others. They live what they teach in that they do not own any more than the poor they serve.
Mother Teresa taught and reminded her sisters to be a witness of penance. They were to take on the sins of others and offer them up as a way to co-suffer with Christ. They were to endure hardships and suffering on behalf of others. They should readily accept suffering so that others would not have to. Mother Teresa insisted that they be ready to take the place of the people who suffer and to take their sins and expiate them.
She further elaborated on the meaning of the need for each sister to suffer with and for the poor like Christ had willingly suffered for us, “Without suffering, our work would just be social work, very good and helpful, but it would not be the work of Jesus Christ, not part of Redemption. Jesus wanted to help by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony, our death. Only by being one with us has he redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same; all the desolation of the poor people, not only their material poverty, but the spiritual destitution, must be redeemed, and we must share it, for only by being one with them can we redeem them, that is, by bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.”
The Missionaries of Charity began with one frail and weak yet courageous sister, Mother Teresa. The love which she felt for the poorest of the poor was made visible through her actions. Her loving example drew many others to imitate her ways. With the blessed increase of members, the congregation needed structure and guidelines and it was provided by the evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty and obedience. In the case of the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, a fourth vow was added, a vow to serve the poorest of the poor. This fourth vow is permitted as long as it reflected the attitude of the congregation. When people questioned the fourth vow and her works among the poorest of the poor and complained that she spoiled the poor, Mother Teresa simply responded, “It is not so bad to have at least one congregation that spoils the poor, when everyone else spoils the rich. I am deeply impressed by the fact that before explaining the word of God, before presenting to the crowds the Eight Beatitudes, Jesus had compassion on them and gave them food. Only then did He begin to teach them.”
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