My dear friend Becky Samuel Shah reflects on the mission of Mother Theresa, in which material and spiritual needs were inseparable. Christianity Today features it on its homepage today. Shah considers Mother Theresa, who is set to be canonized by the Catholic Church this coming Sunday, September 4, 2016, in light of Shah’s own research on the essential role of spiritual resources for escaping poverty. Here is a passage:
On the surface, it might seem that Mother Teresa was solely preoccupied with the physical and material needs of the marginalized. She spent most of her life caring for the sick, feeding the hungry, and rescuing the homeless. Yet even as she set up institutions to resolve world hunger, she talked of people’s hunger for God and their inalienable value as creatures made in his image. Material needs, she insisted, can be easily satisfied, but caring for a person’s spiritual needs is more important. In fact, she regarded it as her primary calling.
Inspired by Mother Teresa’s example, I have worked in India for the last 10 years with Dalits, also known as “outcasts” or “untouchables.” As I’ve studied and served among them, I’ve come to realize the simple truth of her vision. The poor on the streets of “Kolkata” and places all over the world are deprived of basic human necessities like food, clothing, housing, and healthcare. (Most standard poverty measures assess wellbeing solely in terms of “neutral” social indicators, like calorific intake or years of schooling, and many development practitioners and scholars assume these are the only real aspects of poverty.) However, as Mother Teresa understood, poverty is not always reducible to material factors, and it often involves deprivation of dignity and self-worth.