Years ago I met a young woman who travelled all the way to Calcutta in order to ask Mother Teresa whether she could join the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa told her: “Stay where you are, find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely, right there where you are—in your home and in your family, in your workplace and in your school. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved.”
The Missionaries of Charity have made it their mission to love those who are unloved, and they clearly take this mission from Our Lord himself, who tells us that if we care for the least among us, we will be blessed by God.
It may seem obvious, but what exactly is Our Lord asking of us in the Gospel today? There are at least a couple of different ways to answer this question. First, Our Lord means exactly what his words say. Our Lord is asking us literally to tend the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and visit those in prison. These are the “least” of his brothers and sisters. They are especially close to his heart, and he will hold us accountable for how we treat them.
Another way to look at this passage is to listen to Mother Teresa, who told us that “Calcutta” is everywhere. Think of those in spiritual prisons; so many people may seem fine and dandy on the outside, but they feel trapped inside. How about the elderly neighbour who lives by herself? She isn’t exactly a prisoner, but she clearly has some limitations and would appreciate visitors. Or what about spiritual hunger? All around us, there are people who need to hear about God. They are literally hungry for the good news of God’s love and mercy.
Mother Teresa lived out both approaches. In a heroic way, she took care of the sick, fed the hungry, and clothed the naked. But she also knew that each person needs to be loved and treated with dignity and honour—and she did just that for everyone she met, kings and peasants alike. Let us follow her example and be ready to embrace every opportunity to feed the people around us, both physically and spiritually.