The whole Church Universal rejoiced on Sunday when Pope Francis declared and decreed that Mother Teresa, who was widely acclaimed a “living saint” while on earth, now be officially enrolled in the canon of saints. This coming Sunday, September 11, we will celebrate her canonization in a special way with a Mass of Thanksgiving at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
At her Canonization Mass, in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father said of Saint Mother Teresa, “Mother Teresa, in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.”
Those who personally encountered Saint Mother Teresa can attest that this humble woman, small in physical stature, was a larger than life presence whose sanctity seemed to positively radiate from her. She was always so transparently concerned for people, particularly the most needy, and this touched the hearts of people everywhere, crossing every religious, ethnic and class boundary. There was in her a flame of God’s presence that they recognized.
Years ago, I too had the blessed opportunity to meet and pray with Saint Mother Teresa. What touched me was the grace and ease with which she seemed to absorb everyone there into her life.
Mother Teresa was considered a living saint not because she worked miracles. It was because she so whole-heartedly answered the call Christ makes to us all. From the Cross Jesus said, “I thirst.” To the marginalized woman at the well, he asked, “Give me a drink.” And to those who would listen the Lord said, “When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink . . . whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
The special quality of Mother Teresa was the completeness of her response. With total abandon and utter fullness, she sought “to satiate the thirst of Jesus,” as expressed in the founding rule for the Missionaries of Charity, the order she established to serve especially the poorest of the poor. This is a thirst, she explained, not simply for water, but for souls, the Lord’s longing in love for humanity.
Saint Mother Teresa, who was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, personally tended to untold thousands of people in her almost 70 years of religious life before her death at age 87 in 1997. She served the needs of their bodies and the needs of their souls. For two decades she did this as an educator. Then, after experiencing her “calling within a calling” on September 10, 1946, for nearly a half-century she loved and cared for Jesus in the poor.
Each day Mother Teresa would go out in her iconic white and blue sari, rosary in hand, to find and nurse the sick and dying who were lying in the streets of Calcutta, to wash the sores of the diseased, to care for the orphaned, and more. The way she lived out the Gospel changed the way the world views the poor and awakened our own responsibility to care for them.
In 1950, she established the Missionaries of Charity and today, all around the world, these religious sisters and brothers continue this blessed work of making God’s presence felt through love. This includes locally the Gift of Peace House, which provides loving care for persons with advanced HIV/AIDS or other illness, and the Queen of Peace, which operates a soup kitchen in addition to offering housing for pregnant women and their children.
Mother Teresa used to say, “You can find Calcutta all over the world if you have eyes to see.” A few weeks ago, we celebrated Kraków in the Capital here in solidarity with World Youth Day. Now as we rejoice in this canonization, I wonder if we might recognize in our midst our own Calcutta in the Capital. “Everywhere, wherever you go,” she would say, “you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for – just rejected by the society, completely forgotten, completely left alone.”
So how can we honor Saint Mother Teresa today? By responding to the Gospel, which challenges us to set aside so much of our own preoccupation with self, personal desires, and material goods that clutter our lives, and to instead, in her words, give God permission to work through you.
The greatest memorial to Saint Mother Teresa will be the continuation of her works. That each of us can do here in our own corner of the world through simple acts of charity, in our own compassion for the sick and the dying, the homeless, those who hunger and thirst physically and/or spiritually, the broken-hearted, and the unwanted and unloved. “Let us carry her smile in our hearts and give it to those whom we meet along our journey, especially those who suffer,” urged Pope Francis at the Canonization Mass.
When I met Mother Teresa, she was very solicitous and she asked me to pray for her as she would pray for my ministry. She then gave me a small Miraculous Medal which I cherish to this day. It is comforting as well to know that Saint Mother Teresa continues to pray for me – and for you and all of us – now from heaven in the presence of the Lord she served so well.
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