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Women and the Eucharist

Blessed Mother Teresa's address given at the 41st International Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia (7 August 1976)

Dear co-workers of Christ:

I believe that our mother the Church has elevated women to a great honour in the presence of God by proclaiming Mary the Mother of the Church. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. This was the first Eucharist: the gift of his Son, when He gave Him to Our Lady, establishing in her the first altar.

Mary was, from that instant on, the only one who was able to affirm with complete sincerity, This is my body. She offered her body, her strength, her whole being, to form the body of Christ. It was on her that the power of the Holy Spirit rested, and in her that the Word became flesh. Mary gave herself to him completely because she had previously consecrated herself to him – in order to preserve her virginity virgin, her purity pure, and her chastity chaste, and in order to offer them to the only living God.

When the angel announced to Mary the coming of Christ, she only posed a question: she could not understand how she could take back the gift of herself that she had made to God. The angel explained it, and she understood immediately. Her lips uttered a beautiful response that asserted all that she was as a woman: “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.”

They Have No More Wine..

Our Lady – the most beautiful among all women, the greatest, the most humble, the purest, the holiest – in the moment when she felt flooded by grace, full of Jesus, ran in haste. I think this is why God chose a woman to show his love and compassion toward the world. It was she, the woman, who gave evidence of her kindness by immediately sharing what she had just received. To say it in another way, she hastened to share the Eucharist.

We known well what happened to John the Baptist in the womb. In the presence of Christ he leaped for joy. This is our gift as women. We have been created to be the centre and the heart of the family. As St Thérèse of the Child Jesus once said, “I want to place myself in the heart of the Church in order to offer love.” You and I have been created for that same end: for loving and for that love, as Mary did everywhere and at all times.

We too have to go look for our children, just as Mary did when Jesus was lost. We must live through the worry of not knowing where our children are. The home is not a home without the child. We also discover the genuine Mary, full of tenderness, in the wedding feast at Cana. She was moved by seeing the newlyweds exposed to the humiliation of not having wine. That is why she said to Jesus, “They have no more wine.” I think this is the wonderful tenderness of a woman’s heart: to be aware of the suffering of others and to try to spare them that suffering, as Mary did. Do you and I have that same tenderness in our hearts? Do we have Mary’s eyes for discovering the needs of others? Perhaps in our own homes: Are we able to perceive the needs of our parents, of our husband, of our children? Do our children come home with us, as Jesus went home with Mary his mother? Do we offer our children a home?

We know what happened to Mary, the mother full of tenderness and love who was never ashamed of proclaiming Jesus her son. Eventually everyone abandoned him. Mary stayed beside him. Mary was not ashamed by the fact that Jesus was scourged, that his face was spat upon, that he was treated as a leper, as one unwanted, despised, hated by all. Because he was Jesus, her son. And there surfaced the deep tenderness of her heart as a mother.

Do we know how to stay beside our own in their suffering, in their humiliation? When our husband loses his job, what do we represent to him? Do we feel tenderness toward him? Do we understand his anguish? When our children are pulled away from us and receive bad advice, do we feel that deep tenderness that makes us go after them in order to draw them toward us, to welcome them kindly in our home, and to love them with all our heart? Am I like Mary for my sisters in the community? Do I realize their suffering, their sorrows? If I am a priest, do I have a heart like Mary’s? Do I experience the tenderness of forgiveness? Can I offer God’s forgiveness to the humbled sinner who stands before me?

The Greatest Gift of God to us

Mary did not feel ashamed. She proclaimed Jesus her son. At Calvary we see her standing upright – the mother of God, standing next to the Cross. What a deep faith she must have had because of her love for her son! To see him dishonoured, unloved, an object of hatred. Yet, she stayed upright. As the mother possesses her son, she possessed him, knowing that he who belonged to her was at the same time her absolute master. She was not afraid to accept him as her belonging. Do we know how to consider our own as our belonging when they suffer, when they are discarded? Do we acknowledge our own as our family when they suffer? Do we realize the hunger they have for Jesus in the hunger they feel for a love that understands them?

This is the source of Mary’s greatness: her understanding love. You and I who are women – do we possess that great and magnificent thing, that love full of understanding? This is the love I observe with amazement in our people, in the poor women who day after day discover suffering and accept it because of their love for their children. I have seen many fathers and mothers deprive themselves of many things, very many, and even beg, in order for their children to have what is needed. I have seen fathers affectionately carry their abnormal children in their arms because those children are their own. I have seen mothers full of a very tender love toward their children.

I remember a mother of 12 children, the last of them terribly mutilated. It is impossible for me to describe that creature. I volunteered to welcome the child into our house, where there are many others in similar conditions. The woman began to crey. “For God’s sake, Mother,” she said, “don’t tell me that. This creature is the greatest gift of God to me and my family. All our love is focused on her. Our lives would be empty if you took her from us.” Hers really was a love full of understanding and tenderness. Do we have a love like that today? Do we realize that our child, our husband, our wife, our father, our mother, our sister or brother, has a need for that understanding, for the warmth of our hand?

The Love of Small Things

My sisters also work in Australia. On the reservation, among the Aborigines, there was an elderly man. I can assure you that you have never seen a situation as difficult as that poor old man’s. He was completely ignored by everyone. His home was disordered and dirty. I told him, “Please, let me clean your house, wash your clothes, and make your bed.” He answered, “I’m okay like this. Let it be.” I said again, “You will be still better if you allow me to do it.” He finally agreed. So I was able to clean his house and wash his clothes. I discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust. Only God knows how many years had passed since he last lit it. I said to him, “Don’t you light that lamp? Don’t you ever use it?” He answered, “No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I do it for?” I asked, “Would you light it every night if the sisters came?” He replied, “Of course.” From that day on the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. We cleaned the lamp, and the sisters would light it every evening. 2 years passed I had completely forgotten that man. He sent this message: “Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life continues to shine still.” I thought it was a very small thing. We often neglect small things..

Hungry for God 

Some time ago our sisters in Rome came across someone in very sorrowful circumstances. He was one of those persons who are locked up in themselves, with no contact with the surrounding society. I think the sisters had never seen anything like that. They washed his clothes, cleaned his room, prepared some hot water for him. They left everything ordered and clean. They even prepared some food for him. He was still mute; he was not able to utter a single word. The sisters decided to go to his house twice a day. A few days later he broke his silence to say, “Sisters, you have brought God to my life. Bring me also a priest.” That man made his confession, after 60 years. The next day he died. This is beautiful. The tenderness of those young sisters carried God to that man, who for many years had forgotten what God’s love is, what loving each other means, what it means to feel loved. He had forgotten it because his heart had closed itself to everything. The humble, simple, tender work of the young sisters was the tool God used to enter the life of that poor man. But what impressed me most was the greatness of the priestly vocation; that poor man needed a priest in order to come into contact with God.

I believe that what we can learn from Our Lady is her tenderness. All of us, you and I, have to use what God has given us, that for which he has created us. God has created us for great things: to love and offer love, to experience tenderness toward others, as he did, and to know how to offer Jesus to others. People are not hungry for us; they are hungry for God. They are hungry for Jesus, for the Eucharist.

In 1976, at the invitation of the President of Mexico, we opened a house in that nation. Our sisters, as is the custom in our congregation, were full of activity – seeing everyone, walking tirelessly until their legs could endure no more, trying to discover where the greatest need was in order to begin there. They found deep poverty everywhere in Mexico. All the zones they visited appeared immensely poor. But no one asked them for clothing or medicine or food – nothing. Only, “Teach us the word of God.” I was very surprised. Those people are hungry for God: “Teach us the word of God.” They didn’t know the sisters; they had never seen them. But they saw that the sisters carried rosaries in their hands, and they thought about that.

When we walk the streets, in whatever part of the world, the sisters carry in their hands the crown of the rosary. The Virgin is our strength and our protection. I can assure you that throughout all these years the younger sisters have been penetrating the most difficult places without being touched by anyone.

Even in New York, although it is said that we have been in the most difficult district of the city these past 5 years, I can assure you with complete honesty that the sisters have never had to hear a discourteous word. As they pass, there are no sarcastic comments. No one has ever put their hands on them or caused them the least harm. The greatest respect and dignity have always accompanied them, even though they enter ruined houses, inadequate for habitation. They enter places where others cannot easily enter.

The Virgin always protects us. She is the cause of our joy, and we try to be a cause for her joy. Thus gathered, following her example, invoking her protection, staying united with her, we can move through the most difficult places with no fear at all because Jesus is with us and he will never abandon us: Jesus is our love, our strength, our source of kindness.

God has created women for this. Perhaps he didn’t create them to do great things, but certainly at least do small things with a great love. And I believe that this love is to begin in the home, coming from our hearts; in our families with our neighbours, next door, with our neighbours on the next street. And then it must be extended to all. Only thus will we be able to extend the meaning of the Eucharist. The meaning of the Eucharist is love that understands. Christ understood. He understood that we are terribly hungry for God. He understood that we have been created for loving. That is why he became the bread of life. And he said, “If you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not be able to live. You will not be able to love. You will not be able to serve” (see Jn 6: 53) We have to eat him. The kindness of Christ’s love is his love that understands.

Christ wants to offer us the means of putting our love for him into action. He becomes hungry, not only for bread but for love. He becomes naked, not only for bread but for love. He becomes naked, not only for a piece of clothing but for love that understands, for human dignity. He becomes dispossessed, not only for a place of shelter but for the sincere and deep love for one another. This is what the Eucharist is all about. This is Jesus, the living bread that has come to be broken with you and with me.

I think that the greatest love and honour we can demonstrate to Our Lady may be to stand up and recite the Angelus.