What Mother Teresa Said to College Students

In 1982, Mother Teresa of Calcutta delivered a powerful commencement address at St. Thomas Aquinas College. Today, I share with you her simple yet profound words to those young people. No matter what you’re going through in life right now, Mother Teresa’s timeless words will surely move your heart and remind you that you are beloved.

Snippet from the Show

“Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to love. Even when suffering comes, humiliation comes, pain comes, success comes, joy comes. Remember, you are precious to Him. He loves you.”- St. Teresa of Calcutta



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St. Teresa of Calcutta’s Commencement Address to the Class of 1982

Original Transcript from https://www.thomasaquinas.edu/about/bl-mother-teresa%E2%80%99s-commencement-

The Tenderness of God’s Love

And therefore that good news Jesus came to give us, and that good news you must carry out, you must bring into the world where you are going to move in now. What good news? That God loves you and that you want to love others as He loves you — tenderly, lovingly.

And how do we know that God loves us? There is a very beautiful word in the Scriptures in Isaias where He says: “I have called you by your name, you are Mine. Water will not drown you, fire will not burn you. I will give up nations for you. You are precious to Me. I love you. And if mother could forget her child, I will not forget you. I have carved you in the palm of My hand.” How wonderful it is, the tenderness of God’s love for us. And it is this that you have to carry out in the world of today.

The Joy of Loving

This expectation your parents, your relations, your friends, even the whole world, is expecting that you be that light, the light that Jesus said: “I am the light that you must lit. I am the truth you must speak. I am the joy that you must share. I am the life that you must lead. I am the love that you must love.” Go with that — the joy of loving.

You must experience the joy of loving. And how do you experience that freedom? You need to be free to love. That means have a clean heart. And this is my prayer for you: that you become real carriers of God’s love, in tenderness and love.

Do Not Be Afraid to Love

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to love. Even when suffering comes, humiliation comes, pain comes, success comes, joy comes. Remember, you are precious to Him. He loves you.

And this is something that today we are brought together to proclaim: the joy of being loved and the joy of loving.

We hear so many terrible things happening. But never lose heart. We always — thank God — I can smile. At least you can smile, if nothing else.

The Kiss of Jesus

I never forget one day I met a lady who was dying of cancer, and I could see the way she was struggling with that terrible pain. And I said to her, I said, “You know this is but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close to Him on the cross that He can kiss you.” And she joined her hands together and said: “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.

This is the joy of suffering, the kiss of Jesus. Do not be afraid to share in that joy of suffering with Him because He will never give us more suffering than we are able to bear. I have seen that again and again with our poor people.

We deal with thousands of people, people who die of hunger, of disease, people who die of loneliness, of being unwanted, unloved. And I have never yet heard one of them complain or curse.

Once I picked up a man from the street — from an open drain — and I took him to our home. He did not shout; he did not blame anybody. [He] just said, “I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared [for].” Two or three hours after, he died with a big smile on his face. That was tenderness and love that came to him through the hands of those young sisters.

Now, in our congregation, we have about 70 young American sisters who have joined and who are completely so totally dedicated, and through that taking care of lepers, of the dying, of the crippled, of the unwanted, of the shut-ins and so on. And there is so much — that sharing and joy. Because Jesus wants us to be happy, He wants us to give that joy “that My joy be with you.” And we have no reason to be unhappy because we are loved by God Himself even in suffering. It is not a punishment, it is a gift of God.

Prayer Is Your Strength

And so I think these days when you are, after so many years — four full years you are prepared — I hope you have learned to pray. And if you have learned to pray, that is your strength, that is your joy. And through this life of prayer, make sure — the fruit of prayer is always the deepening of faith. And the fruit of faith is always love. And the fruit of love is action. We must put our love for Jesus in the living action.

How do we do that? If we do it with Jesus, if we do it for Jesus, and if we do it to Jesus, then we know that we are with Him because He has said so.

This is not an act of faith, to believe that I am doing it to Jesus. Jesus has said, “Whatever you do to the least of My brethren, you do to Me.”

And also the condition — in our last day when we come face to face with God, we are going to be judged by what we have been to Him, and He says, “I was hungry; and you gave Me to eat; I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was homeless, and you did it to Me.” There is no imagination, no maybe.

Our Need for the Eucharist

Just as we believe that two and two make four — we don’t need to believe that; we know it is like that — so [it is the same] when Jesus has said, “You did it to me,” that presence. And to be able to do that, we need the Eucharist, we need Jesus in the Holy Communion, we need the Bread of Life. That is why Jesus made Himself Bread of Life to satisfy our hunger for His love. And then He makes Himself the Hungry One so that we can satisfy His hunger for our love.

A few months ago, I had to go to Delhi, and one of the ministers was the top man in social works, and he said, “Mother Teresa, you and we are doing [the] same social work. But there is a great difference between you and us. We do it for something, and you do it to somebody.”

This is for you young people: Remember, do it to somebody; that man, that woman, my brother, my sister — somebody. Jesus in distressing disguise.

Love Begins at Home

And how do we have to do that? Where does it begin, this love? At home. And how does this love begin? [The] family that prays together, stays together. And if you stay together, you will love one another as God loves each one of you, as Jesus wants us to love one another — not in sadness, but in joy. To think that I can love God in my brother, in my sister — it is a wonderful thing.

Only we must come to know. Do we know the poor of this beautiful country? Maybe the poor are in our own family. Maybe we have somebody sick, somebody old, somebody feeling very restless, somebody feeling very lonely. Do we know that?

Rejection and the Loss of Human Dignity

Nakedness is not only for a piece of cloth. Nakedness is also the loss of that dignity, human dignity — the loss for what is beautiful, what is pure, what is chaste, what is virgin. Loss. Homelessness is not only [for] a house made of brick. Homelessness is being that people are completely forgotten, rejected, left alone, as if they are nobody to nobody.

I never forget, one day I was walking down the streets of London, and there I saw a man. The way he was sitting, the way he was looking, he looked the most rejected man that I have ever seen. So, I went right near him, and I took his hand and shook his hand. And my hands are very warm — except here they are a little bit cold.

But I shook his hands, and then he said, “Oh, after so long a time, I feel the warmth of a human hand.” And his face was quite different. There was joy, there was sunshine in his eyes. I can’t tell you the change that came on that man’s life just with that simple shaking of the hand, the warmth of my hand. This is felt.

Abortion is the Greatest Poverty

Now, you young people must go out with that — with the searching eyes. Go in search and find. Maybe in your family; maybe next-door neighbor. Find. There are many people here in the States.

To me, the greatest poverty is that abortion: the fear of the child. The child must die; the child must be killed so that we don’t have to feed one more child, we don’t have to educate one more child. Terrible! Terrible! Mother could murder her own child! Terrible! It is the sign of great poverty. And so, open your eyes to come to know.

Learn from the Poor

One evening, a man came to our house and said, “There is a family with eight children that have not eaten for a long time. Do something for them.” And I took some rice, and the mother took [it]. I could see from the eyes of the children — God knows how long they had not eaten — their eyes were simply shining with hunger, and big black lines under their eyes. And the mother went out with the rice, and when she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go? And what did you do?” And she said, “They are hungry, also.”

Next-door neighbor. She knew they were hungry. I was not surprised that she gave, but I was very much surprised that she knew, because in sorrow like that, in a suffering like that, very often we have no time to think of others. And yet this tremendous woman had the courage to love like that. Great love.

This is something we have to learn from the poor people; they are very great people. You don’t know what is hunger. You have never experienced that. But one day, I picked up a child — six, seven years old — from the street, and I could see the pain of hunger in her face. So, I gave her a piece of bread. And then I saw the child eating the bread, crumb by crumb. I said, “Eat, eat the bread.” And then she looked at me and said, “I am afraid when the bread will be finished, I will be hungry again.”

See, that little one, so small, has already tasted the pain of suffering, the pain of hunger. And this is what I want you — you, who are going out into the world — [to do]: open your eyes.

Many young people come to Calcutta to share in the work — many from different universities, from different colleges. They come and spend two weeks, one month, according to what they are able to make. And there, each one of them, they come, they share the life of prayer with us in our congregation, and we have adoration every day, so for one in the evening.

“I Saw, but I Did Not Look”

So they come. Especially they want to work in the Home for the Dying. And they come with us, and they always say the same thing: “At home, I saw but I didn’t look. You have taught me to see and to look. Now I go home, and I am sure I will find the same. I must find people who need my tender love and care.” All of them.

A girl — a university girl who was in her final examination [for a] Ph.D. in Paris University — she came, also. Before examination, she wanted to spend one month working with Mother Teresa in the Home for the Dying. She was always very occupied, and so on. But then one week before, one day she came to our house, and she put her hands around me, and she said, “I found Jesus.” I said, “Yes, where did you find Him?” And she said, “I found Him in the Home for the Dying.” And I said to her, “What did you do with Jesus when you found Him?” And she said, “I went to confession and Holy Communion after 15 years.”

Then I said, “What else did you do with Jesus when you found Him?” And she said, “I sent a telegram to my parents and told them I found Jesus.” So beautiful.

See: She came, she saw, she looked, and she did. This is what you go out with that determination. Mary came into the room with Elisabeth, the little one leaped with joy. Your presence should bring that in your own family first. The joy of that presence of Christ, the joy of purity, the joy of that real sharing.

Love with a Virgin Heart

It is very beautiful that a young man loves a young woman, and a young woman loves a young man. That’s a beautiful creation of God. But make sure, make sure, that you love with a clean heart, with a pure heart, that you love with a virgin heart. And that on the day of your marriage — when God makes you one, as in the Scripture we read that they cleave together and they become one — on that day, that you can give to each other a virgin heart, a virgin body, a virgin soul. That is the greatest gift you can give to each other.

A few days before I came, I left Calcutta, a young man and a woman came to our house, and just two days before that they had got married. And they gave me a big amount of money to feed the people, because we cook for 7,000 people in Calcutta every day. So, these good young people gave me the money to feed the people.

And I said, “Where did you get so much money?” And they said to me, “Mother, before our marriage, we decided that out of love for each other, we will not buy wedding clothes, we will not have a wedding feast; we will give you the money.” And I said, “Why did you do that?” because that is unheard of in India, especially in a Hindu family. Marriage is something very important, a big part of their lives.

And they said they wanted to give something very special to each other. “We loved each other so tenderly, and we wanted to give something special to each other.” This is a love, a great love.

Light a New Light

So, my prayer for you is that you go in the world today with a virgin heart, with a virgin love, and give that love to all you meet. Your presence should light a new light in the lives of people.

When our sisters went to Yemen — a Muslim country, completely Muslim; there is no church, no nothing there — the governor of that place wrote and said, “The presence of the sisters has lit a new light in the lives of our people.”

This is something that you also — Go forward with the joy and keep the joy of loving Jesus in your hearts and share that joy with all you meet, especially with one another and with your family.

And through this love for each other, you will grow in holiness. Holiness is not the luxury of the few. It’s a simple duty for you and for me. So, let us grow in that holiness so that one day, we will be all one heart full of love in the Heart of Jesus.

Pray for Us

And you, also, pray for us, the sisters and the brothers. We have consecrated our lives to love Christ with undivided love and chastity through freedom of poverty, in total surrender and obedience.

And in our congregation, we take a fourth vow of giving wholehearted, free service to the poorest of the poor. By this vow, we are specially bound to the people who have nothing and nobody, and [we], also, fully depend on Divine Providence.

We accept no government grants, no salaries, no church [supplements]. We are just like the flowers of the field and the birds of the air. We depend on Him fully and He has been a wonderful father to us and to our poor people.

We deal with thousands and thousands and thousands of people, and we have never had to say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have.” It’s always been there. So, you pray that we don’t spoil God’s work, that it remains His work.

Religious Life Is a Great Gift

And you help your children when God calls them to join in giving their lives to God, to [the] priesthood or to religious life. Be grateful to God for this great gift, for this is something very special because God is asking your child to belong to Him totally and to give Him the all for Him.

So, let us pray together for our poor people that God’s love may be shown to them through each one of us:

Make us worthy, Lord, to serve our fellowmen throughout the
world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through
our hands this day their daily bread, and by our understanding
love, give peace and joy.


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Meet Your Host: Jeff Cavins

Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. Jeff then received his MA in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. Since then, he has become a leading Catholic evangelist and author.

Jeff created The Bible Timeline learning system, which revolutionized Catholic Bible Study for millions of Catholics. Since its introduction, Jeff has developed The Great Adventure series of Bible studies to help people better understand Sacred Scripture and its meaning for their lives. 

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