At first sight the idea that a prize might be able to do something for religion seems faintly absurd. A prize, in the ordinary sense, is an encouragement to succeed or recognition of some measurable achievement. A prize is usually something to be striven for.
In the case of a prize for religion the only certainty is that those who are worthy to receive it will most definitely not have striven for it. I simply cannot conceive the possibility of anyone coldly deciding to do something for religion in order to win this prize. In any case is it really possible for even the most worthy and distinguished judges to decide whether one person has done God’s work better than another? I frankly admit that I was very much in two minds about this idea, even though I realized perfectly well that Mr. Templeton had not conceived this as a prize in the conventional sense.
I respected the intention of his imaginative proposal and I have every confidence in the judges, but I doubted whether it would work.
Then came the news of the person selected to receive the prize together with a description of Mother Teresa’s work, particularly among the very poor in Calcutta. I am sure that Mr. Templeton will forgive me for saying so, but it is really Mother Teresa who has made this prize work in the way it was intended.
The usual procedure on these occasions is to congratulate the prize winner. I don’t think there is any question of doing that today. In this case, we can only be thankful for Mother Teresa’s work and grateful to the judges for drawing our attention to it. It is Mr. Templeton and the judges who are to be congratulated for having Mother Teresa accept the Templeton Prize.
I have already said that I had misgivings about this idea. The misgivings have gone and I freely admit that my first reactions were wrong. However, they have been replaced by even greater misgivings about what I am supposed to be doing here. The sheer goodness which shines through Mother Teresa’s life and work can only inspire humility, wonder and admiration. What more is there to be said when the deeds speak so loudly for themselves?
There is nothing I can say about Mother Teresa, but I think there is much to be learned from her example. I believe that the lesson which we should learn from this occasion is a very simple one and a very old one. It is just that the strength of a person’s faith is measured by his actions. St Paul puts it this way: ‘What use for a man to say he has faith when he does nothing to show it?’ Mother Teresa would not have lived this life and done this work, and could not have done it, without an overpowering faith. Indeed I do not believe there is any other way of measuring faith except through daily action and behaviour. No ceremonies, no protestations, no displays, no routines of prayer and no theorising can compare with the smallest act of genuine and practical compassion as a true reflection of personal faith.
I think there is a very natural tendency for many people to look upon God as the all-powerful creator and then to work downwards looking for his influence on events and for his continuing control of the world. I suspect that it might be better to begin with the evidence of the lives of people like Mother Teresa — that is if there is anyone quite like her — and to work from that evidence towards a better understanding of the power of God. Their work and achievements are really beyond what can reasonably be expected from members of the genus Homo in the strictly biological scientific sense.
Yet they are ordinary flesh and blood; the difference is their motivation, their inspiration, the driving force within them. The nature of that force can be seen quite clearly in the works which it inspires and if it is capable of so trans-forming an individual it must be very powerful indeed. It is in the lives of such people that the nature and influence of God is to be recognized, and it is there that it should be expected, and not in inconsistent intervention in the process of mechanism of nature.
A tremendous power has entered into Mother Teresa. It might, of course, have found her anyway. But I suspect that she was moved to seek this power of God and it was able to reach her because she was brought up within the Christian tradition. It was through the influence of a devout family and community that she became aware of the idea of God as loving and compassionate. It was this introduction which opened up the line of communication and made it possible for the message to reach her. I hope that her example and her Order in their turn may be the means by which the Christian idea is made alive and apparent to a great many people.
Not everyone exposed to the Christian tradition is going to get the message quite in this way but the chances of getting any useful message at all, without some experience of a religious environment and without any will to serve God, is very small indeed. The idea that the world can easily do without religious inspiration betrays a very limited outlook. The extent to which humanity has been converted from groups of superior animals to peaceful and compassionate communities is largely due to the vision and to the example of the great religious leaders.
If that process towards more civilized living is to go on, many more people will have to be exposed to religious thought, so that some, at least, can open up a line of communication which may eventually allow a message to get through. Those who receive a message, whether weak or strong, will have to Jive and work by it every moment of their lives.
Without the chance of receiving the message, the most well meaning, energetic and intelligent human being is really no more than a humble bee trapped in a bottle. Without the sort of moral inspiration which is the whole purpose of religion, all our institutions become rather pointless. Why bother to educate? Is it possible to have a purposeless culture? What is the point of justice? Why be concerned about the weak and helpless, isn’t honesty just a vain hope?
Mother Teresa has shown by her life what people can do when the faith is strong. By any standards what she has done is good. The world today is desperately in need of this sort of goodness, this sort of practical compassion. I hope this prize will help Mother Teresa in her work, but I also hope that everyone who hears about this event, and perhaps as a result of it learns a little about the life and work of Mother Teresa, will gain a better understanding of what is meant by faith.