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"The flesh is weak"

The passion of Theresa

Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu is born in Skopje in 1910. A regular girl in a regular family. When she is twelve, she hears a mysterious voice saying to her that she will be a religious figure when she grows up. In 1929 Agnes becomes a novice and changes her name to Theresa, after the Belgian sister Theresa, who called her road the 'little road'. This little road means that you serve God by doing the most common, down-to-earth work as well as you can and with a happy and cheerful disposition. Her whole life will follow the theme of this 'little road'.
On 24th May 1931 Theresa takes her first, temporary vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Soon after she leaves for Calcutta, India. This is a big city with many millions of inhabitants and extensive slum areas. Theresa teaches, and later she helps out at the hospital. The sisters really only leave their convent in cases of extreme emergency, but in the hospital Theresa sees horrible misery and poverty for the first time. On 14th May 1937 Sister Theresa takes her second vow, this vow is for life. She becomes the principal of the school of St. Mary. Later she teaches outside the convent walls and visits the slums. Turbulent times follow. In 1943 there is a famine in Bengal. Five million people perish and many flee to Calcutta. In 1946 there is another disaster. Pakistan separates from India, and Muslims and Hindus kill each other. Four thousand people die. This stirs Sister Theresa also.
On 10th September 1946 sister Theresa leaves for Darjeeling for a period of reflection. On the train she receives a calling. God wants her to leave the convent to live outside it and work between the poorest of the poor. She confides in a priest, and only after a long wait does she receive permission - in April of 1948 - to actually go. This is a major step, because sisters don't get permission to leave the convent and break their vows easily. She is given a year to prove that her plan is an actual calling and has a chance of success.
With only five rupees to her name, Sister Theresa leaves the convent. She is 38 years old. She copies the attire of the people in the slums and starts wearing a white sari with a blue edging. First she takes a short course in a medical mission post in Patna. Back in Calcutta she rents a hut in a slum and starts teaching the poor children. This starts the ball rolling very fast, although she doesn't have a real plan. People help her and give her a chair, a closet. Theresa washes the children she teaches, and later she also washes sick people and cares for them. Theresa is very lonely during this time, but very soon her ex-pupils come to her aid. Someone offers her a floor in his house, where she can live with the other sisters who have come to help her. More and more people help her. And she is given yet a larger building. She opens a house for the dying, a house for orphans, workshops. At no point does Theresa have a plan. She just lives from her principles. Theresa follows the little road. She cheerfully performs filthy jobs that nobody wants to do, takes care of filthy wounds, and lives a very sober life. When she is invited to a dinner she asks if she can have the money that was to be spent on it, and gives it to the poor. Maybe her most important principle is that in her eyes everybody deserves to receive the same love, no matter how they look or what religion they have. In her eyes, every man is like Jesus, like God, and so they have to be cared for. Everyone is welcome with her.
The movement Theresa started, grew and grew. She is allowed to keep working outside the convent and is even given her own order: The Sisters of Mercy. From that moment on, she is Mother Theresa. Her work is not limited to India, but spreads over the entire world. Many find it a privilege to work with Theresa. How a small woman can be great.

Open eye for misery
Mother Theresa was convinced of the road she had to travel. This was not an easy decision, she had to prove her calling to the church, have a lot of patience, and above all work very hard. It would have been easy to close her eyes to the misery outside the convent gates, but Theresa went out and looked it up. She placed herself in the middle of it, and lived among the horrors. It was hard, and it was lonely at first, but it was the right way, and precisely the passion with which she did her work made it a great success. Passion made her hold on. When the ball had started rolling, more and more people joined her and her movement became worldwide. People are still following her example. Mother Theresa helps people.

The passion of a vegetarian
Very many animals live in comparable miserable conditions. We know that much injustice is done to them. But it is also made easy for us not to think about them too much. The animals are butchered for us, we don't see any bloody spectacles and undignified living conditions. The meat is cut for us and sometimes delivered in a form that is not recognizably animal, for instance as a fish finger or meatball. Factory farming is far away from us. If we happen across the subject on TV, we change channels quickly. We close our eyes to it. The cat that sits purring on our lap receives an extra cuddle. How can we close our eyes to animal misery? Can we justify this to ourselves? Why do we see a cow as a product and a cat as the most precious house pet? I think you can only continue eating meat and exploiting earth further by doing something very thoroughly, namely cover the truth.
How can we admire Mother Theresa so much for doing something that really everybody can do? Doesn't that give us an uneasy feeling? After all, she didn't cover up the bitter truth. She dove right in, exposed it, even if this had major consequences for her personal life. But she stood up for it. She renounced all her possessions. She lived among the misery. She didn't close her eyes. She sensed that something had to change for real and she put her money where her mouth was. Between the pariahs, the untouchables, she lived her life.
Animals are in that sense comparable to pariahs. They live in total isolation, far from the 'civilized' world, crammed together in breeding farms where nobody can see their misery, waiting for death. You can hardly speak of natural living, it's more a matter of survival. How can we just eat a piece of meat, knowing how this 'product' came to be? Why don't we open our eyes to the misery? Can you, as a meat-eater, look at yourself in the mirror?
I would like to tell you how I experience the word passion. To me, passion is love for life in the widest sense of the word. This is the principle I live by. Not just love for my own life, but love for other people, the animal kingdom and the earth around me. I think that if you love yourself, you have to take care of the world around you. Passion is living from the heart. When you listen to your heart, you cannot fool yourself.
I'm not saying that everyone has to become a second Theresa, everyone has to find their own road. But maybe you will think about what it is you're eating when you eat meat the next time. Don't think it is no use, that nobody can do anything about it, that there is no point anyway. Every little bit helps. Don't forget that the power rests with the consumers. You don't have to realize any big plans. Start small, like Mother Theresa, who followed the little road. Even little roads can have great consequences in the end.
Maybe you were one of those persons who once asked a vegetarian what got into him and why he was a vegetarian. Maybe you should start by turning things around. Ask yourself: "what has gotten into me, why do I eat meat?" Dare to open your eyes for the truth and draw your consequences from that. Follow your heart, walk your own 'little' road!

contribution by Gineke Wayer