Every day after Holy Communion, Mother Teresa and her community would say the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. The foundress of the Missionaries of Charity carried with her a small reproduction of an old painting of Francis in which the weeping saint holds a cloth to his eyes. “He’s wiping his tears,” she said, showing the picture to the Franciscans around her. “I think he’s crying after receiving the Stigmata.”
She treasured this keepsake, remarking that it is different from other items given to her, which her sisters and friends would sometimes “steal.” “I would never give this away,” she said, smiling.
Why did Mother Teresa admire Francis? And why did she think that he has had an impact on her life? “I suppose it’s because Francis of Assisi tried to imitate the poverty of Christ so closely,” she said.
The incident in the life of Saint Francis that most appealed to her is his kissing of the leper. One day, Francis had passed a leper on the road—too repulsed at first even to greet the man. “But then he came back and embraced him,” Mother Teresa marveled. “That was the beginning of Saint Francis. That act of surrender made Francis. After that he was ready to give anything!”
Mother Teresa took Saint Francis’ life as a model for her own. She and her sisters cared for 93,000 lepers when she was alive.
Some of Mother Teresa’s fascination with Francis was more lighthearted: “I love Saint Francis of Assisi,” she once quipped, breaking into her famous smile, “because he had a great love for animals. He used to talk with them and play with them—and scold them if they did harm to anybody. I love animals, too. Animals are such simple creations of God’s beauty.”
Mother Teresa once recalled with some delight how Saint Clare of Assisi was inducted into the Franciscan family. Clare had stolen away from her wealthy family one night and come to Francis and the friars to have her beautiful golden hair cut off as a sign of her new commitment. “They cut her hair quickly, quickly,” Mother Teresa said with mischievous enjoyment—snipping her fingers in the air, “so nobody would want to take her back home!”
It is clear that Mother Teresa served the “least of us” in her lifetime with a Franciscan spirit. The two saints had an equal love for the poor: A government critic once told Mother Teresa she would do better to give people rods and teach them to fish than to give them fish. “The people I take care of—they are disabled, they’re hungry, they’re sick, they’re rejected by society, they have forgotten what love is. They are completely broken. I will give them the fish to eat and then when they are able to stand and hold the rod, I will hand them over to youand you give them the rod to catch the fish.”