Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Credit: Manfredo Ferrari via Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Credit: Manfredo Ferrari via Wikipedia (CC BY SA 4.0)

As far as vastly-misquoted leading historical figures go, Mother Teresa ranks right up there with the likes of Albert Einstein and Abraham Lincoln.

The internet is ripe with sickly-sweet memes and quotes supposedly from the beloved saint. As it turns out, many of them are actually the words of other people, while others are an attempt at paraphrasing Mother, and still others are just blatantly false quotes.

The problem is so persistent that Mother’s own order has a webpage dedicated solely to debunking these falsely-attributed quotes. It has three sections: quotes Mother Teresa never said, those quotes translated into Spanish, and then significantly paraphrased or personal interpretations of Mother’s words. At the end, another clarification: “These lists are not comprehensive.” Meaning, there’s more out there that even her sisters haven’t caught yet.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular quotes that are frequently mis-attributed to Mother Teresa that you’re likely to see swirling around social media from time to time.

Below are some quotes that Mother Teresa DID NOT say:

“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us.”

“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, People may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank, People may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, They may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway. You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway.” (This is an adaptation of the Paradoxical Commandments by Dr. Kent M. Keith)

“I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is not hurt, but only more love.” (These are the words of Daphne Rae)

“Live simply so others may simply live.”

“Nuclear war would not be an unjust punishment for a nation that promotes abortion.”

“I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.”

“I think it is very good when people suffer. To me that is like the kiss of Jesus.”

"I can't believe how often I'm misquoted." - also not Mother Teresa

“I can’t believe how often I’m misquoted.” – also not Mother Teresa

There are a few issues with falsely attributing quotes to saints and holy people. One of the most obvious and serious issues is that some of these quotes (the one about nuclear war, for example) are blatantly out of line with Church teaching. Some quotes belong entirely to other people. Others attempt to attribute sappy Hallmark-card-esque sentiments to a great saint, rather than her actual, beautiful words.

Below are some real Mother Teresa quotes:

“Be only all for Jesus through Mary. Be holy.”

“Let us love one another as God loves each of us. And where does this love begin? In your own home. How does it begin? By praying together.”

“The child is God’s gift to the family. Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things – to love and to be loved.”

“Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simply duty, for you and for me.”

“God has created us to love and to be loved, and this is the beginning of prayer – to know that He loves me, that I have been created for greater things.”

“When He was dying on the Cross, Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’ Jesus is thirsting for our love, and this is the thirst of everyone, poor and rich alike. We all thirst for the love of others, that they go out of their way to avoid harming us and to do good to us. This is the meaning of true love, to give until it hurts.”

“Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”

The next time you see a Mother Teresa quote that causes you to pause, remember that she may not have actually said it. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “not everything you read on the internet is true.”

The texts or videos of many of Mother Teresa’s addresses with her actual words can be found online, including her 1994 address to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., her address to the 4th United Nations Women’s Conference in Beijing, and her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. There are also numerous books and interviews that contain the real words of Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa is best known for her work with the poorest of the poor with the Missionaries of Charity, a congregation founded by Mother Teresa in the Diocese of Calcutta. Mother Teresa’s work and spirituality went on to draw worldwide admiration. She died Sept. 5, 1997 at the age of 87. She was beatified just six years later by St. John Paul II Oct. 19, 2003, and canonized by Pope Francis on Sept. 4, 2016.

 

This blog was originally published Aug. 23, 2016.