Mother Teresa’s terrifying premonition




Working at her side as the West prepared for war with Saddam Hussein, I saw her dread as she glimpsed the future of Middle Eastern Christianity

Those of us who knew her feel a twinge of guilt writing about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Mother’s life was always about the other, about Jesus, and she did not enjoy being the centre of media attention. She accepted that for the sake of Jesus and the poor she would have to tolerate a few photographs, but her deal – with God? – was that it meant one soul out of purgatory for every photo taken.

Often she was keen to share news about houses being opened, women joining the congregation or new apostolic initiatives, but there was no sense of self-adulation. Everything that she did, the news that she shared, was ad maiorem Dei gloriam – for the greater glory of God. Ignatian spirituality ran very deep with her.

How to write about someone I loved as a spiritual mother and to whom I owe so much as a priest? I might start with her prophetic insight. She foresaw, I believe, the impending breakdown of the Middle East, and the deterioration of the priesthood. Long before it was so obvious, she described our culture of self-absorption, which Pope Francis recently described as the way of the couch potato.

In 1991, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the military action being proposed by the Americans and British seemed inevitable. I spent that winter in Calcutta and can testify to Mother’s absolute preoccupation with the consequences of the proposed Allied military action. She knew it would mean children orphaned, homes destroyed, limbs lost and the poor becoming poorer. I was set the task, as a newly ordained priest, of helping her to write letters to President Bush and Saddam Hussein. For hours we laboured over them, the draft pressed against the tabernacle by her immense hands and the final copy put on the altar. The letters were delivered.

In a strange way, I feel I was given an interior vision of Mother’s heart. She understood the immediate urgency of the present situation, but she also had a dreadful fear, and a premonition about how the Middle East was to unravel over the next 25 years and fall into chaos. I would venture that God was crying over our catastrophic manoeuvrings in the Middle East and the mayhem we were to cause.

The precious and fragile neighbourly cooperation between Christian, Muslim and Jew – which had somehow allowed those ancient and faith-filled communities to survive – has now disintegrated. The suffering cries of persecuted Christians are like the cries of Rachel’s children.

The posturing of politicians has so much to answer for. John Paul II pleaded for peace, and so did Mother. Through them came the cry of the pierced heart of Jesus.

Somehow the Evil One had bludgeoned and seduced our leaders into thinking that violence and self-righteous anger would build a more settled and respectful world. Mother knew that wasn’t the way.

She always said that if she had not picked up the first dying person off the streets, she would never have started. Every time she spoke to you – believer, non-believer, poor or rich – her deep eyes were filled with an inexpressible Christ-like love. But her heart and soul, wrestling with her dark night, was also penetrating God’s hiddenness, pleading for you in prayer.

Her famous moment of inspiration on the train journey to Darjeeling – in which she received her “call within a call” to serve the poor – and the work of her early years gave her an unquestioning knowledge of God’s deep personal love for each person, in each moment of their lives from conception into eternity. That knowledge – which with Mary “she had pondered in her heart” – took her to the battlefields of the Middle East, the slums of Bogotá, the halls of Kensington Palace and the abortion clinics of New York. Through the Sacred Heart of Jesus, she pleaded for the sanctity of life.

Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales, only met a few times but they were significant moments, not because of glamour but for the reasons of God’s creative plan. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux, in their respective darkness, have all helped us penetrate more deeply (but tentatively) the mysteries and purposes of God. Moments of intense humility, fear of the Lord and wonderment help us, the passive observer, to grasp better perhaps how “the Good God” (in St Thérèse’s words) is speaking to us. Mother reverenced the family and the sacrament of marriage as the wonderful and pre-ordained part of God’s plan. She understood fully the unbreakable bond of marriage and family as a sacred space for the nurturing, protection and formation of children into the reality of knowing that they are loved and marked by God.

Mother loved Diana as a child but also knew that the breaking of the union between her and Prince Charles would have a dramatic effect on many people’s perception and receiving of the call to married life and the openness to children. Much can be said and written about this, but in all these things Mother, if alive today, would not have balked at exhorting all to return to God’s design and plan for marriage and family.

Full of common sense, organisational skill and the habits of a well-formed Religious, Mother knew how to bring order, to address practical matters and to be Martha. She had no time, however, for the fripperies and minutiae of clerical intrigue or the murmurings of daily gossip. She was focused on the essential and immediate business of coming to know, channel and protect God’s unconditional love and purposes for our world.

Priestly formation in the 1980s was perhaps not such an exact science as it is today. We were left (not unwillingly) much more to our own devices. The Missionaries of Charity were a spiritual home, and their love and knowledge of the priesthood were invaluable. Mother, over precious years, helped us young priests to understand that we “had no rival in holiness but Jesus”.

Though we were painfully aware of our deep sinfulness, frailties and inadequacies, Mother said we were – and had to be – Jesus for the people we were to wash, serve, feed with the Bread of Life and prepare for heaven. Jesus was to be for us our pattern, model and calling. She wanted us to be priests for the sake of the kingdom.

We would do well to listen to Mother’s insights today. The statutory controls and demands of insurance companies have perhaps held us too aggressively by the hand. As we have become more profess­ionalised, so we have found it more difficult to “be all for Jesus in the Immaculate Heart of Mary”, as she expressed it.

As Benedict XVI once reminded the German clergy, no soul is saved from the other side of a computer screen or across a desk. Mother exhorted us priests to take Jesus and find him in the people we serve. She wanted us to be free to love, speak of Jesus and be Jesus.

There is much that leaves us hamstrung in our call to evangelise, not least our own fears. Mother loved her priests, but she set us to work so that we would be worn out. Humanly, we hold back, but for Mother there was no time to waste. She was always conscious that in giving we will receive. She did not need to talk about “the smell of the sheep”, for she was already there among them asking us to join her. Perhaps there can be no more prophetic person for this Holy Year of Mercy.

This article first appeared in the September 2 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here.

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5 comments

  1. Kem Dal Reply

    This is the most inspiring article to read about Mother Teresa. The most merciful Nun and an unsumming one. Thank you for publishing and sharing this in the FB.

  2. Maritza Gonzalez Reply

    Please transfer to Spanish thank you God Bless!

  3. Mary Kate Goff Reply

    Now Saint Teresa, then Mother Teresa.
    “Know you are exactly where you are supposed to be”….

  4. Clem Reply

    Thank you Father Alexander for your insight into the life and love of this newly canonized Saint.

  5. Jay Reply

    I am so tired beyond belief of people who felt that leaving that sick twisted evil man in power (like the author of this piece, who has injected his own personal interpretations into the thoughts of God and Saint Mother Teresa), a leader who gassed his own people, a leader who financed and provided aid to the terrorist who acted out 9/11, a man who DID have illegal weapons according to UN sanctions, a man who tortured people daily who disappointed him, but we should have, as the world turned a blind eye to all of Saddam Hussein’s atrocities?!? If as a world we should have just ignored an invasion into another nation on his part then maybe we should have done the same to Hitler. After all look how fighting that tyrant destabilized Europe and allowed the USSR to take over half of it. NO! Evil succeeds when good men do NOTHING. The lesson we needed to learn from WW2 was, NOT TO FLINCH and not to leave a job half done (Patton wanted to take out Stalin…he was right). But that’s not what we did. No we elected Obama and put Dems in full charge who put the ball down and allowed Iranian insurgents aka ISIS total autonomy to act. Obama gave them their leader by opening up GITMO. No. Weak people flinched and sat by and let this happen. Because their small minds can’t perceive that sometimes war is nessasary i.e. SAINT JOAN OF ARC! God sent a little girl to start a war. Why? Because France HAD to be separate from England. Why? Why would any government matter to God? You mean besides the fact that England betrayed the Church and went Protestant through the murder of Catholics? Well France had a Protestant movement as well. So why would France have needed its own national identity, so much so that God charged a young girl to fight for it? Well fast forward a few hundred years, when a bunch of English colonies are deciding to break away from one of if not the massive superpower nations in the world at the time. No other nation would help them but France did and it birthed a nation for all to live FREE. So the war and strife St.Joan of Arc started, the lost limbs and life brought about the USA. You go tell God the ends didn’t justify sending a girl to war! The difference, St.Joan of Arc DIDN’T flinch. Even to her own death. She saw it through. She didn’t understand God’s plan but she knew it had to be. Maybe if we had leaders like her today the middle east would be a land of democracy and REAL peace. Not just a land of silent torture as it was before. The difference between then and now, we’re seeing it. Could Saint Mother Teresa see what was going to happen because weak people would flinch, yes. The author could have interpreted her premonition that way instead of insinuating that the world ignor brutality because a tyrant was leaving Christians alone. HOW is that righteous? Want to stop wars? PRAY THE ROSARY every day! God turns hearts through the rosary. Just pray and for the sake of the world STOP flinching to tyrants!

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