Mother Teresa’s Primary Love Language

Gary Chapman
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A well-known example of someone with the primary love language of acts of service is Mother Teresa. As a teenager, Agnes Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa’s birth name) joined a Catholic youth group in the Jesuit parish of the Sacred Heart in her hometown of Skopje, Macedonia. At the age of eighteen, she moved to Ireland to join the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto. Three months later she was sent to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, and later to Darjeeling, near the Himalayas, where in 1937 she made permanent vows and took the name “Teresa.”

“For her, loving God meant serving people.”

After nine years of teaching at the only Catholic school in Calcutta for girls, most of whom were from well-to-do families, Sister Teresa became aware of a different calling. She said, “I had to leave the convent (Loreto) and consecrate myself to help the poor, living among them. Abandoning Loreto was an even harder sacrifice than leaving my family that first time in order to follow my vocation. But I had to do it. It was a calling. I knew I had to go; I did not know how to get there.”[1]

Some of Mother Teresa’s former students followed her, and they formed the nucleus of what became “Missionaries of Charity.” Mother Teresa started working with those she found first: abandoned children living in the city parks. She began by teaching them basic habits of good hygiene. She helped them learn the alphabet. She had no master blueprint for her work, but her goal was clear: to love and serve the poor, seeing Jesus in them. She said, “In determining which work would be done, there was no planning at all. I headed the work in accordance with how I felt called by the people’s sufferings. God made me see what he wanted me to do.”[2]

When she found a woman dying on a sidewalk, she took the woman home with her and shortly thereafter opened the Home for the Dying to provide a peaceful and dignified place for people to die. Later, when she found abandoned children, sometimes the sons and daughters of those staying at the Home for the Dying, she opened Shishu Bhavan, the first of a series of children’s homes. In similar manner, she started homes for lepers, people with AIDS, and unwed mothers. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she did not consider the cash award as personal property but accepted it in the name of the poor and spent it all on them.

To view Mother Teresa as simply an unusually altruistic person is to miss the central message of her life. As she explained: “Whoever the poorest of the poor are, they are Christ for us— Christ under the guise of human suffering,” and “the Missionaries of Charity are firmly convinced that each time we offer help to the poor, we really offer help to Christ.” On another occasion she said, “When we touch the sick and needy, we touch the suffering body of Christ.” And again, “Jesus is the one we take care of, visit, clothe, feed, and comfort. Every time we do this for the poorest of the poor, to the sick, to the dying, to the lepers, and to the ones who suffer from AIDS, we should not serve the poor like they were Jesus; we should serve the poor because they are Jesus.”[3]

“The central dimension of Mother Teresa’s acts of service was spiritual in nature.”

The central dimension of Mother Teresa’s acts of service was spiritual in nature. “To me, Jesus is the Life I want to live, the Light I want to reflect, the Way to the Father, the Love I want to express, the Joy I want to share, the Peace I want to sow around me.”[4] For her, loving God meant serving people.

In addition to service, love meant sacrifice for Mother Teresa. After all, she reasoned, that was how God expressed His love to us: “True love causes pain. Jesus, in order to give us the proof of his love, died on the cross. A mother, in order to give birth to her baby, has to suffer. If you really love one another, you will not be able to avoid making sacrifices.”[5]

When Mother Teresa challenged others to join her in loving God, her invitation was most often expressed in terms of acts of service. “I invite all those who appreciate our work to look around them and be willing to love those who have no love and to offer them their services. Are we not, by definition, messengers of love?” Later she said, “Let us not be satisfied just by giving money. Money is not everything. The poor need the work of our hands, the love of our hearts. Love, an abundant love, is the expression of our Christian religion.”[6]

To those who sought to follow her example, Mother Teresa emphasized the connection between loving people and loving God:

It happened once, when the Congregation of the Missionary Brothers of Charity was first established, that a young Brother came to me and said, “Mother, I have a special call to work with the lepers. I want to give my life to them, my whole being. Nothing attracts me more than that.” I know for a fact that he truly loved those afflicted with leprosy. I, in turn, answered him, “I think that you are somewhat wrong, Brother. Our vocation consists in belonging to Jesus. The work is nothing but a means to express our love for him. The work in itself is not important. What is important is for you to belong to Jesus. And he is the one who offers you the means to express that belonging.”[7]

Mother Teresa realized that caring for spiritual needs was even more important than caring for material needs: “We have the specific task of giving material and spiritual help to the poorest of the poor, not only the ones in the slums but those who live in any corner of the world as well. . . . If our work were just to wash and feed and give medicines to the sick, the center would have closed a long time ago. The most important thing in our centers is the opportunity we are offered to reach the souls.”[8]

[1] José Luis Gonzalez-Balado, Mother Teresa: In My Own Words (Liguori, MO: Liguori, 1996), ix.

[2] Ibid., x.

[3] Ibid., 24, 109, 26, 30.

[4] Ibid., 34.

[5] Ibid., 33.

[6] Ibid., 38, 80.

[7] Ibid., 107.

[8] Ibid., 108-109.

For Further Reading:

God Speaks Your Love Language

by Gary Chapman

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