As part of a research project, I recently read the writings, public and private, of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. I don't know what exactly I expected this famous woman's message to the rest of us might be. A statement of the obvious, perhaps: that people, all over the world, suffered.
Or an exhortation that others emulate her own selfless service to the needy. Certainly I expected to hear the voice of a social activist. And, from what I had read about her private writings, discovered in the years following her death in 1997, I knew Teresa would be a woman who struggled mightily, as I have myself, to sense God's presence.
To my surprise, what I discovered in Teresa's writings was a lifelong evangelist, whose single goal in life appeared to have been to communicate the very same "good news of great joy that will be for all the people" that angels announced to some shepherds 2,000 years ago: that "a Savior has been born" to us all and that "he is the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11).
Far from the zealous social servant I was expecting, I found a woman whose mission among some of the world's neediest people was not to serve them or fix their many problems so much as to embody and communicate Christ to them. Indeed, the evangelical focus of Teresa's ministry to the poor so bothered famous atheist Christopher Hitchens that, while Teresa was still alive, he devoted a whole book to the subject of her unworthiness of the world's honor. She was not a philanthropist, he protested, but a zealot. After her private writings revealed 50 years of faith struggles, I found a woman herself in need of God. Hitchens, however, saw a fraud—thus reducing belief in the Messiah, which Jesus identified as the only real "work of God" (John 6:29), to a mindless, question-less, struggle-free confidence of truth that few believers probably experience. But then, even believers are prone to reduce faith to this.