Mother Teresa (1910-1997) would have died on the 26th anniversary of her death. August turned 100 years old. The national director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Austria, Leo Maasburg (62), who accompanied the Nobel Peace Prize winner for about seven years in India and other countries, experienced her restless commitment, her humor and her handling of criticism. In an interview with the Catholic News Agency (KNA), the priest and book author remembers the nun from Calcutta.
CBA: Monsignor Maasburg, what was the most fascinating thing about Mother Teresa?
Maasburg: That it was so normal. Her wrinkles and stern lips reminded me of my grandmother. Discipline applied to this generation. She has spoken of herself as a "nothing". If her work was praised, she referred to Jesus and said: "This is his work."
CBA: How did you get to know the nun??
Maasburg: That was in Rome, when I interpreted in English for a Slovak bishop so he could talk to Mother Teresa. Right after the first translation she asked me if I had a car. By the time I said yes, I was already committed to driving three sisters to the airport.
CBA: Mother Teresa was surrounded early on by the air of holiness. But she was also said to be sly.
Maasburg: "Bauernschlau", as we say in Austria, she was certainly. She grasped situations very quickly. If she noticed tension between people, for example, she immediately tried to do something about it. That was done with a light-hearted remark. Or she would seat people differently at events.
CBA: Is it true that she once called US President Ronald Reagan??
Maasburg: This was at the time of the great hunger crisis in Ethiopia. An ecclesiastical relief service had raised a large amount of grain and food, but could not distribute it. That's when she called the White House from a phone booth. Within minutes came the callback. She asked the president for help with transportation. Reagan then sent a few helicopters from a unit stationed in the Mediterranean to distribute them.
CBA: It was recently revealed that Mother Teresa had long struggled with doubts about her faith. How did she deal with it?
Maasburg: It is important to know that she had lived an intense life as a religious for more than 20 years. Novice for seven years, then took temporary and perpetual vows. In 1942, a private vow of devotion was added, in which she promised Christ that she would never refuse Him a request. Then, in the early 1950s, she fell into what in Catholic mysticism is called the "night of the soul". This trial affects people who have a very close relationship with God and now feel a God-forsakenness like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. The inner life of a human being needs redemption as much as the outer world, where hunger, need and injustice are at stake.
CBA: Did you notice anything of this conflict?
Maasburg: Nothing at all. She didn't talk about it with anyone, only with a Dutch priest she met by chance at a U.S. airport in the 1960s. After 20 minutes she asked him to give a retreat to her sisters. In addition, she began a correspondence and poured out her heart to him in 18 letters. St. John of the Cross is said to have gone through this night of the soul for a year and a half; for Mother Teresa it was 35 years.
CBA: What virtues distinguished her?
Maasburg: Kindness. In her environment one felt at home after a very short time. Never felt the need to keep secrets from her. However, her rhythm of life overwhelmed us, the boy. When ours fell into bed completely exhausted after a hard day, she went to the chapel and prayed for another hour or two. When we came to mass at 6 o'clock in the morning, she had already been up since three o'clock in the morning. On the airplane she prayed the breviary, then the rosary, then made her notes on a bundle of paper. She was always in action, with a dogged fidelity to the mission. But she understood when someone could not keep up with her pace.
CBA: How did she deal with criticism? One accusation was that she had accepted donations from dictators.
Maasburg: She was very open to criticism because, after all, Jesus could have said something to her through it. It was important for her to check the statement for accuracy. If criticism was justified, then it was: ask for forgiveness and see to change. If she was unjustified, prayer helped her. As far as donations are concerned, she always saw the individual person. She did not accept gifts from industry, politics, even from the church, but only from person to person. At the same time she acted pragmatically.
CBA: And the accusation of deliberately not improving medical care?
Maasburg: She built the house for the dying in Calcutta because she wanted to give the many people dying on the streets there the possibility to be loved and cared for in their last hours. The institution was deliberately not a hospital. If it was financially possible, the sisters also brought people to the hospital. Mother Teresa only allowed herself to be treated medically when she received arances from doctors that she would be allowed to bring the poor as well.
CBA: How can Mother Teresa be a role model today?
Maasburg: One is attracted by their social activity, the other by their Eucharistic piety. We are still a long way from penetrating the depth of her personality. I am convinced that she will be elevated to the status of church teacher. We have heard from her about 5.400 profound, extensive theological writings for families, children, for theologians, for religious, for politicians, which she wrote during her travels.
CBA: What would Mother Teresa have said about her veneration as a beatified woman??
Maasburg: Surely she would have dropped a witty remark like: "Don't put the candles too close to the pictures."She once stressed to a journalist: 'Holiness is not the privilege of a few, but holiness is the simple vocation for each one of us'". We are all called to be holy."Interview: Barbara Just
Literature reference: Leo Maasburg: "Mother Teresa. The wonderful stories", Pattloch Verlag Munich 2010, 240 pages, 19.95 euros.