Mother Teresa. One. One. One.

During a recent phone conversation, my son and I were talking about helping people in very difficult situations—which he does. I told him that sometime in the past I’d read that Mother Teresa’s philosophy for caring for those in extreme poverty is to do it one at a time, and that I’d find for him that reference. Here is what I later replied to him:

I told you that I’d find the reference to Mother Teresa and her belief that she serves Jesus by ministering to people one by one. The following lists that reference, and it also is my encapsulation of the key points of “One. One. One” that I gleaned from it:

Ek, Ek, Ek. One. One. One.

That’s how Mother Teresa approached (and her Missionaries of Charity continue to approach) the seemingly overwhelming problem of the many poor. As this Time Inc. Books special issue (with selections from multiple authors’ articles being quoted here) records:  “Teresa had promised Jesus ‘to do everything possible for the poorest and weakest’ in the midst of an ‘abyss of need.’” The issue goes on to say that “in the big picture the task was truly hopeless. But to see the needy as discrete individuals whose problems had solutions dictated by God reduced this grim complexity to something much simpler . . . ‘of gathering children around a plum tree, or of lifting a dying human from the gutter’ (33).” Another quote by Teresa reinforces this belief. She said, “God doesn’t ask us to do great things. He asks us to do small things with great love” (5).

Pope Francis taught a crowd in Buenos Aries another of Teresa’s beliefs—that we can find Jesus in those most in need. The Pope spoke of Teresa’s direct means of being the hands and feet of Jesus’s compassion: He asked the crowd, “And what did Mother Teresa have in her arms? A crucifix? No—a child in need” (6).

As the Time issue observes, “Teresa herself insisted she was merely ‘a little pencil’ in God’s hands, referring decisions to him case by case. Or as she liked to put it in Hindi: ‘Ek. Ek. Ek.’ One. One. One.” (34).

— source: Van Biema, David. Mother Teresa: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint. New York: Time Inc. Books, 2016.

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