Many people struggle to understand the role of women in the Church. Men, women, religious and lay people alike question the duties that ought to be entrusted to women in the Church. For some women, the lack of definition of their role in the Church may leave them feeling utterly powerless, with no clear direction or purpose. As the Ichthus continues its very own Women’s Week, a week-long series of blog posts about anything and everything pertaining to women and Christian thought and expression, it seems appropriate to present one particular woman’s inspiration for discovering and continuing her specific role in the Church. This woman is Mother Teresa. A poem known as the “Paradoxical Commandments,” a version of which follows, is commonly attributed to Mother Teresa because she displayed the poem on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta, India. However, the poem was actually written by Dr. Kent M. Keith in 1968, when he was a sophomore at Harvard College.
“People are often unreasonable and self-centered,
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives,
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies,
If you are honest, people may cheat you,
Be honest anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight,
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 your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.”
The poem attempts to clarify a woman’s role in the Church by encouraging women to discover their own personal roles and purposes. The poem states that a person’s first and foremost concern ought to be for his or her relationship with God. Yet, the poem is flexible in regards to how we uphold this relationship; it offers generally subjective guidelines rather than strict rules. Additionally, the broadness and subjectivity of the guidelines imply a certain confidence that we are capable of interpreting them and carrying them out in specific ways.
The language of the poem empowers us, too. The repetition of “do it anyway” provides a sensation of freedom. Yet this freedom should not be misconstrued with “license.” The poem’s message to “do it anyway” does not mean that we should break every rule, ignore all of the possible consequences of our actions, or give in to our temptations. The “do it anyway” that the poem refers to is more of a message to do something even if it is not the popular thing to do. It is a message to stop putting so much value in what other people think. The only opinion that should matter to us is God’s. So, every day, ask yourself: “What is it that God is calling me to do?” And when you hear His call, answer it, even if it means defying societal expectations or our own preconceived notions. In many of our endeavors, forces will be acting against us, but if we have God’s blessing, then we should proceed anyway — no matter the odds.
Just as Dr. Kent’s poem empowered Mother Teresa to discover and continue her specific role in the Church, let it likewise empower us as women, as men, and as followers of Jesus.
Marina Spinelli ’18 lives in Eliot House and concentrates in the life sciences.