After the funeral of Indira Gandhi in 1984 there were riots in Delhi which claimed thousands of lives. As Mother Teresa heard of it, she hurriedly had breakfast, then took several sisters with her to a nearby government school which was being used as a shelter for people whose homes had been burned in the riots. Thousands of people were in the school. They were screaming and crying. There was no food, no water. The police were trying to control the crowds, but could not. Mother Teresa walked around a bit, saying in Bengali and Hindi, “It will be all right. Have courage.”
After a few moments, she told her sisters to go find brooms. They gathered what they could. She took a broom and went into a classroom. She began to sweep and clean the room. As she did she said, “Settle people family by family.” Her sisters did the same in other classrooms. Soon others joined so the whole school was swept and in order.
Next Mother went to the toilets. They were filthy. She began to clean them. Her sisters and others joined in. A sister with Mother noticed the people were beginning to calm down. There was less screaming, less moving about.
Next Mother contacted the government to get drinking water delivered. When it came, she made sure people stood in lines to receive the water in an orderly way.
Next she got some food delivered—and made sure that all people received it. As people had food, there was peace in the camp.
From One Camp to Many
In the afternoon, Mother Teresa and her sisters moved to other camps in the city and did the same. In the evening she called a meeting with the archbishop and all the priests, sisters, and brothers in the city. Soon more than 60 camps were organized. Many generous people joined in helping meet the immediate needs of people. Mother saw to it that everything was distributed fairly.
To quote directly from the Missionary of Charity sister who offered this story as testimony toward Mother Teresa’s cause for sainthood, “Thus, because of Mother’s initiative and concern for the suffering people, Delhi was saved from a great destruction. Mother also got together government officials, ministers, etc., and persuaded them to work together. Whenever she could squeeze in time, she would bandage the wounds of those hurt or burnt. She never stopped saying little kind words, a pat, a smile, a look of love to those needy people. Mother did miracles, which were beyond human understanding in the camps. Mother left after five days of organizing, but soon returned again. Peace came in the camps by the broom.”[This story is from the book, A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC. It is book which combines Mother Teresa’s spoken words with evidence given for her cause for sainthood organized around the 14 Works of Mercy. It is published by Image Books, c 2016. This story came from p 73-74. It is a wonderful and inspiring read!]
Wisdom: Gift of the Holy Spirit
In the middle of the chaos in the city, Mother Teresa had wisdom. Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit and is described in today’s first reading. In the reading, we hear wisdom described with many positive attributes: “intelligent, holy, clear, unstained, certain, beneficent, kindly, firm, tranquil, all powerful.” It is the description later in the reading that catches my eye today,
For Wisdom is mobile beyond all motion,
and she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.
For she is an aura of the might of God
and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty;
therefore nought that is sullied enters into her.
For she is the refulgence of eternal light,
the spotless mirror of the power of God,
the image of his goodness.
Wisdom: Start with What You Can Do
When I think of Mother Teresa entering into a school filled with very distressed people and creating order by sweeping floors and cleaning toilets, it is a picture of wisdom “penetrating and pervading all things by reason of her purity.” People knew Mother Teresa. They knew her goodness. They trusted her enough to do what she asked, “Organize by family groups.” “Stand in line for water.” “Wait for some food.” They dared to believe her when she said, “Take courage. It will be all right.” God’s order could begin to be restored through her.
Yet it took more than trust. It took “the glory of the Almighty,” “the spotless mirror of the power of God.” It took wisdom to know to start with a simple act of cleaning that nonetheless brought a sense that order could be re-created for people who had just lost government leadership, their homes, and maybe the lives of family and friends.
It took Wisdom, which is a gift of God, an expression of God alive and active in the world through the Holy Spirit, for it is a gift of the Holy Spirit to save lives and restore order without force, threat, or even command.
Yes, Wisdom restored order in Delhi that day through the action of ONE HOLY SOUL who started with a broom (which she could do), then moved to spread until the whole city was at peace again. She let Wisdom work through her.
Wisdom Makes the Ordinary Extraordinary
And she, who is one, can do all things,
and renews everything while herself perduring;
And passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets.
For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with Wisdom.
Mother Teresa’s work here was extraordinary—Wisdom—but her actions were ordinary.
Most of Mother Teresa’s actions were ordinary acts of Wisdom: visiting those who had no one to care for them, cleaning wounds, having a peaceful space for people to die, teaching children, praying.
Things I can do. Things you can do. Ordinary things that bring the Wisdom of God, the order of God, the Love of God to the little corner of the world where we live.
Wisdom Brings the Kingdom of God through the next good thing.
The Gospel today reminds us that the Kingdom of God is among us.
Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come,
Jesus said in reply,
“The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed,
and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’
For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”
The folks in Alcoholics Anonymous have a word of advice for any time chaos seems to reign: “Do the next good thing.” That’s what Wisdom did through Mother Teresa that day in Dehli. That is how Wisdom can enable God’s Kingdom to come in my corner of the world today–in your corner of the world today.
How does the Kingdom of God come? “Do the next good thing.”
Lord, I know I should pray for Wisdom, but it seems like a gift beyond me. I am not always prudent, let alone wise. I hesitate to believe that I am ready to receive Wisdom. But how often I look toward heaven and say, “Lord, what do I do now?” Maybe you are answering those prayers with this reading and this mediation today, Lord. You are reminding me that Wisdom belongs to You—but is available to me when I ask for it with purity of heart. You are reminding me that Wisdom has Love, order, and self-giving in it. It does the next good thing. It brings Your Power, Your Goodness into the ordinary by using whatever simple act of goodness I can give. Lord, in that light, give me Wisdom today. All day, let me do the next good thing. Amen.