May 27, 2022

Love’s Litmus / Natalie Hoefer

Like St. Teresa of Calcutta, love others and do good ‘anyway’

Natalie HoeferSt. Teresa of Calcutta is often credited with a poem usually mistitled “Do Good Anyway” or simply “Anyway.” It runs through a list of injustices often faced in life, but encourages doing the right thing anyway.

The true author of this poem, titled “The Paradoxical Commandments,” is Kent Keith. He wrote it in 1968 as part of a booklet of advice for high school student leaders.

The poem reads:

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

Whether he intended to or not, Keith wrote a modern-day take on 1 Cor 13:4-7. Like St. Paul’s well-known “Love is patient, love is kind … ” verse, Keith’s poem demonstrates what love in action looks like.

The confusion about the author comes from a book. Mother Teresa: A Simple Path by Lucinda Varday (Ballantine Books, 1995) records a version of “The Paradoxical Commandments” (minus “The biggest men … ” and “People favor underdogs … ”) seen hanging on a wall in St. Teresa’s Shishu Bhaven orphanage in West Bengal, India.

No author was named at the bottom of the list, hence the accidental attribution to St. Teresa.

But don’t those phrases sound like something she would say? Don’t they describe the way she lived?

Legendary stories abound about St. Teresa. In one, a baker spat upon her when she asked for bread to feed the children in her orphanage. She is said to have thanked him for that gift for her, but would he also give the gift of bread for the children.

Another story describes St. Teresa continuing to care for a man who swore and cursed at her as she bathed him every day. Finally, close to death, the man asked if God was as kind as she was.

One of her former spiritual directors, Msgr. Leo Maasburg, spoke about St. Teresa in an interview with Catholic News Agency before her canonization in 2016.

“She attempted to radically love her neighbor—and expected Jesus to take care of the rest,” he said. “She addressed the problems of the Indian society by living the Gospel among the poor. And misery rooted in unimaginable poverty is, and was, certainly one of the sub-continent’s gravest problems.

“But the cure that she wanted to give the people was not a medical, but a spiritual one: unconditional and tender love and care.”

St. Teresa’s actions give flesh to St. Paul’s words in 1 Cor 13:4-7.

Granted, none of us is a St. Teresa. And anyone who claims to be needs a serious dose of humility.

But Keith’s paradoxical commandments give us one simple, guiding word in living love like St. Teresa: No matter what others say or do, be patient, kind and merciful to them “anyway.”
 

(Send your stories of people you know who live out agape as described by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13:4-7 to Natalie Hoefer at nhoefer@archindy.org, or call 317-236-1486 or 800-932-9836, ext. 1486. Include your parish and a daytime phone number where you may be reached.)

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