The spirituality of abandonment

NOTE: Mother Teresa will be enrolled in the book of the saints that we as Roman Catholics venerate as our models of the Christian life. Since my encounter with her through the Missionaries of Charity Brothers, I've grown to love her for what she represents, much needed love for our brothers and sisters who are beyond the margins.

The following is my final paper for the course Fundamental Theology with Rev. Fr. Robert Manansala, OFM. This paper is about my experience with the MC Brothers in the Philippines.


Having worked all your life for the family only to end up abandoned, rejected, and alone, how would you feel?

Helpless, disabled, and unable to care for yourself, you don’t want to be a burden to your family, can you ever live a full life or would the rest of your life be full of regret?

Christ teaches us to be a comfort, a light for the people in the margins. People who may well be beyond the margins, because they have no one to depend on. People who may just have lost all hope of living. Those who are sick, abandoned, and rejected. 

How can we, as Christians, be that beacon that Christ expects us to be?

While many of us try to fulfill our obligations individually or through our respective organization or congregation’s ministries, we could not help but to also realize that in a world dictated by the economy of profit, many have been left out, deprived, and robbed of their basic human right to a decent life.

This is most apparent among our brothers and sisters whom society seemed to have forgotten. Our brothers and sisters who have been abandoned by their very blood relatives, their loved ones, for one reason or the other. Our brothers and sisters whose sickness and apparent lack of financial resources has left them vulnerable to neglect and abuse. 

What are we to do?

One institution is making this mandate of Christ a reality – caring for the abandoned, the sick, Christ’s anawim – and in our first immersion program at the Inter-Congregational Theological Center, I was privileged to have been assigned in the institution – the Missionaries of Charity Brothers of Bld. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 

The Missionaries of Charity

The Missionaries of Charity Brothers was established by Jesuit priest Br. Andrew (Ian Travers Ball) in 1963 taking inspiration from Bld. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who also served as co-founder and guide in the formation of the MC Brothers. 

Just like the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, the MC Brothers worked among the poorest of the poor, especially the abandoned elderly and the terminally ill. 

They arrived in the Philippines in 1981 setting up their first community in Manila. By 1987, the MC Brothers decided to expand their ministry among the abandoned elderly by opening the Bukal ng Kapayapaan-Home for the Abandoned Elderly in Novaliches, Quezon City.

Today, the institution has around 39 residents with six MC Brothers, mostly foreign, taking care of them 24/7. Assisting the MC Brothers are several volunteers, three of whom are regularly employed – the social worker and two full-time caregivers.

A volunteer doctor also visits the institution every Saturday to check on the patients, and several care-giver training schools have made the institution a partner for their on-the-job training programs, occasionally sending a number of would-be caregivers for training and experience.


Aside from the abandoned elderly, the MC Brothers have also extended their ministry to street dwellers with their weekly night apostolate of distributing food to the homeless, as well as to their volunteers all of whom come from desperate economic background. 

Each of the MC Brothers has also adapted a community near the institution and every week they distribute food rations as well as medicines, especially for those who have maintenance medication.

They also have several scholars coming from the communities, in addition to some of the children of their volunteers.

There is not a day when the MC Brothers do not perform charitable acts and that has become their way of life. In addition, the Sunday mass that they host in the chapel has also become a way of meeting the spiritual needs of their surrounding communities.

The residents

When it comes to the residents, the Bukal ng Kapayapaan caters to a diverse group coming from different backgrounds. From former street dwellers to overseas workers who come home abandoned by his family, or solitary individuals who grew old away from their biological family, and without them having a family of their own, or being abandoned outright by the people they considered as their family.

There are also those who voluntarily presented themselves to the MC Brothers, not wanting to be a burden to their families for one reason or the other. Several of these are terminally ill, and because their family live on subsistence, that is their daily wage is barely enough for their daily needs, having to take care of a sick member would be an added burden.

These backgrounds have turned the Bukal ng Kapayapaan into a treasure trove of stories of betrayal, abandonment, of hope, and of gratitude.

Tatay Felix

During our stay in Bukal ng Kapayapaan my dialogue partner was Tatay Felix, who happened to be from the same province as I. 

At the age of 12 he decided to go with his friends to Manila to find work, but his main motivation then was to learn how to fluently speak Tagalog. Since arriving in Manila he claimed that the number of times that he was able to visit his home province was very few, and when the MV Doña Paz tragedy happened in the late 1980s he was not able to visit anymore and totally lost contact with his biological family.

Since then he has been living alone in Rizal province, although there were also instances when he had companions, but these moments were brief, in fact, he claims that he has several children but he never saw any of them.

In 2004, an ailing Tatay Felix was brought by the DSWD to a facility for abandoned elderly in Rodriguez, Rizal, the Anawim Lay Mission Foundation. But when he contracted tuberculosis in 2011, the foundation refused to sustain him because they had no facility for residents with contagious diseases. He was left to the care of the MC Sisters in Tayuman, and was later transferred to the MC Brothers when his condition was controlled.

But ever since his transfer, he felt that he was cheated and that instead of bringing him back to Anawim, which he apparently considered as his home, he was brought to Bukal ng Kapayapaan, and so his story that he was kidnapped by the MC Brothers took root and he somehow developed a revulsion for the MC Brothers, even accusing them of not taking care of his needs, or of using the money that was supposed to help the residents of the facility. 

He still clamors of returning to Rizal.

Tatay Jose

Tatay Jose, on the other hand, was a former member of the community of the MC Brothers. He was a professed MC Brother, but eventually left the congregation because of some differences with the foreign MC Brothers, which mostly comprised the communities.

But when he was not able to take care of himself, he asked to be taken in by the MC Brothers as a patient, and so they did.

One could only find gratitude from Tatay Jose, although, conversations with the MC Brothers would reveal the difficulty of Tatay Jose when he was a brother. He was insistent of his ideas and was unable to live a frugal life, which was demanded and is basic for the MC Brothers. He always has requests for material things which they judge to be unnecessary like television or a room of his own, which is contrary to their way of life. Still, they tried and did provide him with what he requested, to the point of giving him a room of his own with his own television. But he was still not satisfied and so he left the congregation.

This attitude of Tatay Jose would sometimes show as he reminisce the past which is seemed to be full of regret, but at the same time gratitude for the care afforded to him in the present. He keeps on saying that if only he had a camera he would have been able to document the many wonders that he’d seen in his youth; or if only he had this and that he would have been able to do this or that. 

What is very glaring with Tatay Jose at present, though, is his aura of cheerfulness. There are times when he prefers solitude, but when he is approached by someone, he easily gives his smile and interacts in such a welcoming manner. And he never misses to say some words of gratitude even for small things and gestures.

Tatay Virgilio

Tatay Virgilio met a freak accident that left half of his body paralyzed. He was confined to the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital and when the MC Brothers visited the hospital, he asked them to take him in because he did not want to be a burden to his family.

There is not much that Tatay Virgilio could do, except to draw cartoon characters on illustration boards given to him by the occasional visitors that they get, just for him to pass the time. He also leads the prayers of the residents, and most specially during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every Thursday where he also leads the praying of the Rosary.

Tatay Virgilio is a quiet person, but in some days he would talk about his family, about what he wants. He said he wants to draw more because this could be his only way of actually earning some money which he could send to his family. 

He no longer wants to return to his family, he said, because he does not want to be a burden to them.

Tatay Pepe

Early in the morning he throws curses at people, his anger can be very infectious. He throws his waste at people who tries to clean him up, and his bed smells of urine.

He always asks for gin or some other alcoholic beverage, saying that it’s his medicine. He could no longer walk, his knees, he claims, are very painful, and so all day he sits on his wheelchair, assisted by volunteers. By midday, his wheelchair would smell of urine, but he does not mind.

One could say that he is delusional, as he talks of how he designed and constructed the buildings of Bukal ng Kapayapaan. “I constructed many buildings,” he would say. “I am an architect.”

He claims that he has a daughter living abroad.

“She is just so busy that is why she has no time to come here. But she will take me away from here when she comes home,” he said, adding that he worked abroad for a very long time as he segues into his claim of being Marcos’s right hand man. 

Despite the angry nature of Tatay Pepe, there were times when he would express his gratitude for treating him with respect, although this is usually delivered in an angry voice – flat and hasty – yet one could feel the sincerity in his words. 

Tatay Felix, Tatay Jose, Tatay Virgilio, and Tatay Pepe are some of the long-time residents of Bukal ng Kapayapaan. They reflect the diverse desires, longings, hopes, frustrations, and pains of the residents who have made the institution their home – whether they have accepted it or not. 

Regardless, they know that this is where they will take their last breath, as they usually say, though in jest, “They have already prepared our graves.”

The Gospel of John

The Gospel of John is considered to be one of the most controversial Gospels owing to the fact that it is written in a style that is so different from the Synoptic Gospels. Some scholars even thought that the Gospel has little to do with Jesus of Nazareth saying that it is totally “devoid of historical value” (Brown xxii). 

However, many scholars contend that its being classified as a Gospel “presupposes that John is based on a tradition similar in character to the traditions behind the Synoptic Gospels” (Brown xli).

Based on the dating of papyri texts of John, many believe that the Gospel was written between 100 to 110, “with strong probability favoring the earlier limit of 100” (Brown, lxxxiii).

And when it comes to authorship, there is no certainty as of yet, although in around the second century, Irenaeus made claim that it is John the apostle who wrote the Gospel. This has garnered support over time. But as Moloney pointed out, many scholars believe that this claim is insufficient as it may have been motivated “by the need to authenticate the Johannine tradition, to save it from the speculations of the Gnostic writings” (7).

Moloney, however, argues that regardless of the identity of the author, what is more relevant is that the “authority of this Gospel flows from the way it tells the story of God and God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and its challenge to all who would wish to be his followers” (9).

One is thus led to question the motive behind the writing of this book, of which Brown suggests four, namely: 1) Apologetic against the sectarians of John the Baptist; 2) Argument with the Jews on the justification of Christian claims and an appeal to Jewish Christians in the diaspora synagogues; 3) Argument against Christian heretics; and 4) Encouragement to believing Christians, Gentile and Jew (lxvii-lxxix).

A Survey of John 19

This very long chapter, part of the Passion Narrative, can be divided into several parts starting from the scourging of Jesus up to his crucifixion, death, and burial.

It takes off from where Chapter 18 left off – the trial of Jesus and the eventual abandonment of his people, the Jewish people, and their denial of Him as the Messiah, choosing instead for Pilate to release Barabbas who is a known revolutionary. 

And so after Pilate decided to release Barabbas through the demand of the people, he had Jesus scourged, and as the soldiers were doing this, they mocked him, crowning him with thorns and dressing him in a cloak of royal purple before he was again presented by Pilate to the people (vv. 1-3).

When Pilate asked the people what they want to do with Jesus, all the more they clamored that he be crucified for he claimed to be the Son of God, which worried Pilate (vv. 4-8).

But even from Jesus, Pilate could not get any information that would otherwise exonerate him from the accusations thrown at him by the Jewish leaders. Even with Pilate’s pleading as he told Jesus, “Don’t you know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?”, and somehow, Jesus’ response elicited an even greater fear from Pilate who was now too eager to release him (vv. 9-11).

But then he was threatened by the Jews saying that if Jesus was released it would mean that he was no friend of Ceasar because of Jesus’ apparent treasonable statements. So he gave him over to the Jews to be crucified (vv. 12-16).

Finally, Jesus was crucified (vv. 16-18), and Pilate had a notice hang on the cross, with the words: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” This statement offended the chief priests but Pilate maintained the sign by saying “What I have written, I have written” (vv. 19-22).

Then we go to the stories at the site of his crucifixion, where the soldiers divided his clothes (vv. 23-24), as Jesus gave charge to John to take care of his mother (vv. 25-27), and the eventual death of Christ (vv. 28-30).

From here we are taken to the story when the soldiers ascertained if Jesus was dead (vv.31-36), and his eventual burial at the behest of Joseph of Arimathea (vv. 37-42).

John 19:28 – The Text

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said, (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” (RSV).


This Gospel passage tells us three things: 1.) Christ’s humanity, 2) His awareness of scripture, and 3) His determination to fulfill his role.

Having gone through a lot of suffering throughout the day, from the torture to miles of walking under the blazing heat of the sun, it is but normal for a human being to suffer from dehydration. And that was what Jesus experienced when he was crucified, or even before the act of crucifixion itself. He was completely human, and the reactions of his body were that of an ordinary human being, with all its physiological needs and frailty.

From the flogging, of which he may have already lost a lot of blood, to the march to Calvary under the scorching heat of the sun, with probably a heavy beam that could be part of the cross on his shoulders. He must have lost a lot of fluid.

In a special report in Newsweek, Kings College London physiology department head, Jeremy Ward, was quoted, saying, “They were routinely whipped, then had to carry at least part of the cross to the site of execution. By the time they get there, they’re already pretty traumatized. Probably lost some blood.”

In his humanity, it is but natural for him to try to quench a very human need – thirst. Although, medically speaking, a person who is dying rarely thinks of his thirst or hunger, which he may be experiencing at the time. Dehydration, in fact, would reach a plateau that would elicit a mild sense of euphoria for the dying. More like an anesthetic that would lead to a much peaceful death, the reason why, a recent controversy on palliative care has cropped up involving forced dehydration as a more humane way of dying.

In her article in the American Hospice Foundation’s website, Dr. Cheryl Arenella enumerates the many benefits of dehydration for dying patients, including less cough and congestion, increased comfort for those with edema and ascites, decreased experience of nausea, vomiting, bloating, and regurgitation, and less irritation for incontinent patients. 

One could surmise then that it was never Jesus’s intention to alleviate the pain that he was suffering when he declared that he was thirsty, rather it was to illicit an action from the bystanders, probably the centurions watching over their frail bodies to prevent looters or sympathizers from taking the bodies down. 

The last two points are closely related. First, Jesus’s awareness of scripture led him to the realization that all these sufferings that he had to endure was predestined as He is the fulfillment of the scriptures – which is definitely not all milk and honey.

The phrase, “to fulfill the scripture” before he declared his thirst, is most probably making allusion to Psalm 69:21, which states:
“They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me
vinegar to drink.” (RSV).
While, as Brown suggests, the beginning statement, “knowing that all was now finished,” readies the next part of the story which is that the “cry of thirst and the offering of the wine are to be related to the finishing of the great work of ‘the hour’” (929). 

The thirst was not mere physical thirst. Christ’s thirst, and the subsequent action of the offering of vinegar was but a fulfillment of God’s expression of love for humanity, an act that is to culminate the very expression of self-sacrifice, the final giving up of the spirit so that the whole of humanity may experience the joy of resurrection - a sacrifice of love and peace. 

It is the ultimate expression of God’s love. It speaks of sacrifice, it speaks of servant leadership. To plea. To admit one’s helplessness. To learn to accept help from an enemy, without expectations, without any malice, without any waste thoughts.

This is the root of Christ’s message. A kingdom where everyone is his/her brother/sister’s keeper, where the “wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together” (Isaiah 11:6 RSV).

A sacrifice that is to serve as an example of true discipleship in Christ and true sonship in God.

The thirst of Christ and Mother Teresa

When Mother Teresa was leaving Calcutta for Darjeeling on September 10, 1946 for her annual retreat, she encountered a beggar who kept on repeating the words: “I am thirsty.”

Having been reminded of the dying Jesus on the cross, telling the centurion, “I am thirsty” before breathing his last breath, Mother Teresa became greatly disturbed at the scene before her. And when she realized the comfort of their accommodation, she was scandalized. How could they be in so much comfort when just a few coaches away there is so much discomfort. 

The extreme poverty that India was experiencing at the time, aggravated by the political turmoil of the country and the people’s desire for independence from British rule, has exposed her of the realities and the hardships of the life of ordinary citizens, as opposed to the apparent wealth and comfort that they were experiencing as religious in the confines of their convent.

She could not reconcile Jesus’ suffering with the abundance that they had in her community. While they worry when they are to miss a meal, outside their gated community, people are worrying how they could get even just one meal in a day. 

They were like the rich man, who ignored the poor Lazarus at his gate (Luke 16:19-31). This disturbed her. She had to do something. And so on returning home after her retreat, she talked with her spiritual director, Jesuit priest Fr. Celeste Van Exem, who then helped her in acquiring permission from the Bishop to pursue an apostolate for the poor outside the cloister of her community. And so was born the Missionaries of Charity Sisters.

Mother Teresa interpreted this plea to mean Christ’s thirst for the love of humanity. And in her words, she endeavored to satisfy this thirst of Christ by bringing to him humanity’s love, starting from the poorest of the poor, the terminally sick, and all those who have been left out by society because of their physical ailments.

For Mother Teresa, Jesus’s cry, “I thirst,” is not simply a rhetoric of a dying man but a key to the realization of God’s kingdom. 

As Joseph Langford quotes Mother Teresa in his book, Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire, “’I Thirst’ is something much deeper than just Jesus saying ‘I love you.’ Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you—you can’t begin to know who He wants to be for you. Or who He wants you to be for Him” (56). 

And so this has become her congregation’s mission: “to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for delicate love” (Mother Teresa 51).

But more than a congregational motto, “I thirst” is a call for all Christians to quench Christ’s thirst for humanity’s love by being embodiments of his love for the whole of humanity, starting from the poor and suffering.

Theological Reflection

The residents of Bukal ng Kapayapaan are thirsting for meaning, for purpose, for affection, and when such are provided to them they would be able to accept and transcend their fate of being abandoned. 

When an institution would bring the abandoned in, they should be ready to assist them in experiencing transcendence from their current state of suffering, sorrow, and grief. 

In the stories of Tatay Felix, Tatay Virgilio, Tatay Pepe, and even Tatay Jose, one could feel the pain of abandonment and rejection. One could feel the longing for home, the affection of family. One could experience the thirst for love.

Jesus’s thirst on the cross was a fulfillment of God’s love. It is a thirst that is to be the very living water that itself would quench the thirst of the poor, the abandoned, the neglected, the members of society who are in need of love. God’s love is the living spring that never dries up, and we will never thirst if we take from it (John 4:10-14). 

Mother Teresa has extensively reflected on this matter and the water she drew from the constantly flowing spring of God’s love was made manifest in the establishment of the various congregations that would share her longing to quench Christ’s thirst. 

In Bukal ng Kapayapaan, one would experience grieving, one way or the other. For one grieves from being separated from the world, from being separated from one’s comforts, but after the grief, when acceptance seeps in, one begins to experience the beauty of the gift that the MC Brothers have offered in Bukal ng Kapayapaan – family.

Gratitude will not always be evident among the residents, but when such is expressed, it is sincere and heartwarming. 

When Tatay Pepe expressed his gratitude it was not a random event, rather, he felt that he was given importance, and so he said, “Thank you for making me feel human.” It is not that his caregivers are treating him badly, but perhaps for one reason or the other, when a task becomes routine its operation becomes automatic and the heart in the task becomes lost. One’s actions would simply be mechanical when one is faced with so many things to do with so little time. 

In an institution where everyone is hungry and is seeking for love and attention, it becomes humanly impossible to provide for everyone. But when one has made himself a channel for the living spring Himself, he would not draw water from his own resources, but would be drawing from the bottomless source that never dries up, and he would have more than enough to give around.

Mother Teresa keeps on reminding her children, the members of her congregation, to always draw water from the eternal spring which is Christ. For this, prayer is an essential part of their life, including moments of solitude and silence, where one would experience the encounter with Christ.

In the book, Mother Teresa’s Lessons of Love and Secrets of Sanctity, Susan Conroy quotes Mother Teresa as saying, “Prayer enlarges the heart and makes it capable of containing God’s gift of Himself” (119).

Prayer allows us to give that love which comes from the living spring that is Christ. With this water, we quench humanity’s thirst for love, reviving an otherwise dried up spring, from which, in turn, we gather the water that would quench Christ’s thirst on the cross.

“I thirst,” Christ says. Hasten then to quench that thirst, not with vinegar, but with the sweet gratitude and love from dried up springs that have been revived by the eternal waters of the Living Spring, with you as the conduit.

Pastoral Plan

And so we are faced with the dilemma of how to deal with our abandoned brothers and sisters, or those in the margins, in general.

Yes, every person has a story, most especially those whose life seemed to be laden with burden as the realization of being abandoned by the very people whom one believed would give him the love and care that he desired. These stories are treasure-filled, but how do we separate the stones from the diamonds?

Our profit-oriented world has spawned a culture of self-centeredness. We are beset with a society whose lack has brought people scampering for the scraps of the rich who hoarded the world’s resources. But even with the little that we have, Mother Teresa has shown us, that with sacrifice and love, we are still able to give and share. Not our extras, but what we have that is to be intended for ourselves, to meet our own needs. Are we willing to feed our neighbor at the expense of us going hungry?

This is not easy. And sometimes tiredness would set-in in the form of burn-out. When we forget to drink from the refreshing waters of the living spring we will feel tired. That is why prayer should become the center of our lives. To be constantly connected with the Father through Jesus Christ.

For this it is apparent that what Mother Teresa desired was for our very actions toward the sick and the afflicted, especially the poor, to be a reflection of God’s love, of Jesus’s love for them and for us. By becoming the embodiment of love, we also encourage people to love God all the more, and so be the very fulfillment of Bld. Mother Teresa’s dream of quenching Jesus’s thirst for the love of humankind. 

As for the Bukal ng Kapayapaan, it is still apparent that many springs still need reviving. The constant feeling of abandonment that frequently visits the thoughts and hearts of the residents, especially when they feel that the care they are receiving tastes of bitter vinegar rather than the sweet taste of the Eternal Spring, will never be quenched and it will constantly come. But despite this, the most that the caregivers could give is an injection of sweet spring water from the Eternal Spring, and for this prayer is very vital. Prayer allows us to make love be present in our every action, it allows love to overflow. It gives us the encouragement and the will to share that in the first place we do not have, but as conduits, as channels of the love coming from the Eternal Spring, we can have so much to give. 

Action coupled by prayer allows us to be the brother needed by the residents of Bukal ng Kapayapaan.


Brown, Raymond E., S.S.. The Gospel According to John I-XII , The Anchor Bible Vol 29. Garden City, New York  (1966): Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Brown, Raymond E., S.S.. The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI , The Anchor Bible Vol 29A. Garden City, New York  (1966): Doubleday & Company, Inc.

Conroy, Susan. Mother Teresa’s Lessons of Love and Secrets of Sanctity. Huntington, IN (2003): Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.

Langford, Joseph. Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire. Huntington, Indiana (2008): Our Sunday Visitor.
Mother Teresa. Where There is Love, There is God: Her Path to Closer Union with God and Greater Love for Others. (ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.). New York (2010): Image.

Moloney, Francis J., S.D.B.. The Gospel of John, Sacra Pagina Series Vol. 4 (ed. Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.). Collegeville, Minnesota (1988): The Liturgical Press.

_______________________. “How the Romans Used Crucifixion – Including Jesus’s – as a Political Weapon. Newsweek. April 4, 2015. Accessed February 7, 2016.

Arenella, Cheryl MD, MPH, “Artificial Nutrition and Hydration at the End of Life: Beneficial or Harmful?”. American Hospice Foundation. Accessed February 7, 2016.

Felix, Jose, Virgilio, and Pepe. Interviews by author. Quezon City, August 8 to September 8, 2015.

Mother Teresa: In the Name of God’s Poor [Motion Picture]. Produced by Robert Halmi, Sr. and Directed by  Kevin Connor. 1997; USA: Inspired Studio, July 5, 2005.


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