God Is Love
In reply to the question “What or who is God?” Mother Teresa on one occasion said, “God is love and He loves you and we are precious to Him. He called us by our name. We belong to Him. He has created us in His image for greater things. God is love, God is joy, God is light, God is truth.”
This statement encapsulates her belief in God and her experience of Him: God exists and is the Source of all that exists; His very being is love; He has created us in his likeness with spiritual powers of intellect and free will, with the ability to know and to love; He is a Father who loves each of us uniquely, personally, and He ardently desires our happiness. No hardship or suffering, her own or that of her poor, could undermine Mother Teresa’s conviction that God IS love, that all He does or permits is ultimately for some greater good and, therefore, an expression of His immense and unconditional love. St. Augustine wrote at the beginning of his Confessions:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
It was Mother Teresa’s conviction that all people “deep down in their heart, believe in God.” There is a longing for God in each of us and though it may not be recognized or consciously expressed as such, the search for joy, for peace, for happiness and above all for love, is a manifestation of this longing. Though the desire, or “hunger” for God, as Mother Teresa expressed it, is implanted in every human heart, entering into a relationship with Him depends largely on our cooperation with His grace. The freedom to cooperate or not is yet another expression of the love and respect that God has for each of His human creatures. He does not force Himself on anyone; He leaves it to our choice. Yet, the response befitting a creature before its Creator, who is infinite love and wisdom ought to be one of love and trust, praise and adoration, recognition and thanksgiving. Loved so greatly by God, each person is called to share that love; as Mother Teresa often affirmed: “We have been created for greater things, to love and to be loved.” To love as God loves, meeting daily with Him through prayer is essential. Without it love dies. Mother Teresa stressed its importance by saying, “What blood is to the body, prayer is to the soul.” But to enter into prayer, silence is necessary, for “in the silence of the heart God speaks.” Her aphorism expressing these truths has become well known:
- The fruit of silence is prayer;
- the fruit of prayer is faith;
- the fruit of faith is love;
- the fruit of love is service,
- the fruit of service is peace.
This simple yet profound saying places silence as the point of departure for practical love, peace, and service. As Mother Teresa asserted: “Silence is at the root of our union with God and with one another.” Silence and recollection are the indispensable conditions for prayer. An atmosphere of exterior silence is certainly very helpful, but Mother Teresa, who spent most of her life in large, overcrowded cities, learned to be interiorly silent and recollected in the midst of much noise and activity. She shows us that to practice silence one need not flee from the world and live as a hermit. What is necessary is to learn to quiet the mind and heart to dispose ourselves for prayer.
Prayer permeated Mother Teresa’s day: she started, ended, and filled each day with prayer. Her first words upon rising were addressed to God, and throughout the day she spontaneously spoke to Him of her love and gratitude, her plans, hopes, and desires. As soon as some need or difficulty presented itself, however small and insignificant, she turned to God, making her requests with the trust and the expectation of a child dependent on its father. In addition to daily Holy Mass and the morning and evening Liturgy of the Hours (containing psalms, Scripture reading, and intercessions), traditional prayers such as the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, litanies, and novenas, kept her in continual union with God.
An important time of prayer for Mother Teresa was her daily half-hour meditation on the Sacred Scriptures. Formed in the traditional Ignatian method of meditating on the Word of God, principally the Gospels, Mother Teresa was led to intimate conversation and communion with God. Through this prayerful reading, the Word of God took root within her, inflaming her love, influencing her words, and directing her actions. She also nourished her soul each day with an additional half-hour given over to the reading of the lives and writings of the saints or other ascetical works. To help foster recollection throughout the day, Mother Teresa was in the practice of praying “aspirations” --- short prayers that raise one ’s mind and heart to God in the midst of daily activities. These repetitions were a great aid to keeping herself in God’s presence. Through these means, she grew in deep knowledge and love of God and was able to respond to Him and to her brothers and sisters in love. Since “love is of God” [1 Jn 4:7], human love is to be a reflection of and a sharing in divine love, which is entirely selfless and seeks only the good of the other.
True love is selfgiving, self-sacrificing, a “dying to self ” in order to love and serve others, and this was the love that Mother Teresa exemplified. In a culture where “love” is overly identified with feelings rather than an act of the will, with pleasure rather than sacrifice, Mother Teresa’s life and teaching, modeled on that of Christ’s, exemplifies the Christian ideal of love.
In an interview Mother Teresa was once asked, “Can you sum up what love really is?” She promptly replied: “Love is giving. God loved the world so much that He gave His Son. Jesus loved the world so much, loved you, loved me so much that He gave His life. And He wants us to love as He loved. And so now we have also to give until it hurts. True love is a giving and giving until it hurts.”