I have been thinking a lot these days about the time I spent with Mother Teresa in 1994, when she invited me to speak to sisters and priests in India about the work of Priests for Life. We had many discussions about the pro-life movement. When I told her about some of the legal persecution that pro-life people face, she looked at me and said, "Father, if we had laws like that here in India, I would have been thrown in jail many times!"
We discussed her February 3, 1994 speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, in which she told our government leaders that a country that allows a mother to kill her own child is not teaching its people how to love, but rather how to use violence to get what they want. I told her what an impact the speech made on the pro-life community. "What about the rest of the American people?", she asked me at once. She then gave me a homework assignment to spread the speech far and wide, which Priests for Life has been doing ever since.
Reflections on the life and work of Mother Teresa characteristically focus on her "love for the poor." She did love the poor. But her understanding of what poverty is was much more profound than that of most observers. To grasp it, we need to appreciate her message about the vocation of the human person. We were made to love and be loved, she would often remark. To give and receive love is the calling and greatness of human beings.
The fundamental poverty, then, is to fail to give and receive love. That is why a society which throws away its children by abortion is poorer than one which does not have many material resources. The society that permits abortion fails in its vocation to give love, to welcome the inconvenient person. To fail to love is poverty. To fail to love to the point where the other person is not even recognized as a person, and is legally destroyed, is poverty to the extreme.
Mother Teresa picked up the dying from the streets of Calcutta with the same love with which she pulled women away from abortion facilities. Love is indivisible. It means making room for the other person, whether that person is in the street or in the womb. It means feeding that person, not just with food for the body, but with the recognition, attention, and compassion that their personal dignity demands. This is why those who praise Mother Teresa's work "for the poor," but do not share her opposition to abortion, simply have failed to understand both.
We are called to give and receive love. As we rise above the culture of death, we will be free of the poverty that fails to welcome our brothers and sisters. We will, instead, sacrifice ourselves for them, and will discover the kind of riches which only grow greater the more we give them away.