This Sunday there will be a new saint in the Catholic Church, St. Teresa of Calcutta, A.K.A. Mother Teresa. Pope Francis didn’t just choose her as he might a staff member. Instead her canonization followed strict guidelines that have long been used to decide just who deserves the honor. First someone nominates a candidate. A group of clerics examine all of the evidence pointing to saintliness. Once they are satisfied that the individual was indeed holy they send the nomination to the Pope who decides whether or not to beatify the person. Once two proven miracles have been attributed to the candidate the Pope announces that we have a new saint.
Almost everyone in the world is familiar with Mother Teresa, an Albanian nun who worked with the poorest most forgotten people in Calcutta. She witnessed intense suffering that at times tested her own faith in both mankind and God. She was far from a perfect person but somehow she found the resolve to rise each day, mask her darkness with a smile, and bring comfort to the sick and dying. For decades she toiled among the most shunned and desperate people imaginable, often wondering how they had been so abandoned by God. She prayed for the strength to believe and to continue her work.
So great were her works of mercy that after her death she was beatified quickly. Then a woman with incurable cancer asserted that she was healed after praying to Mother Teresa. A man from Brazil diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor also prayed to Mother Teresa and the tumor somehow miraculously evaporated. In both cases doctors were unable to explain why the people were cured. Mother Teresa was given credit for the miracles.
I’m excited about having this new saint with or without the so called miracles attributed to her. The life that she chose to live would have driven most of us to despair. It is doubtful that we would have been able to survive in the circumstances that defined her daily life. She was a courageous woman who ignored societal rules and considered the needs of her fellow men before her own. She was driven to provide succor for souls who would otherwise have lived in isolated neglect and misery. She was a tiny but mighty woman who loved even the unloveable. The fact that she was also so humanly imperfect only makes her more inspiring.
Who among us has not experienced moments when we questioned everything sacred? How many times have our lives been so difficult that we raged at God? I know that God has always been a part of my life but there have also been times when I felt betrayed by Him. I wondered how He could possibly test me more than I believed I was capable of enduring. Ultimately I knew that He had been with me all along but I often felt intensely guilty and inadequate for questioning Him. Having a bonafide saint who experienced the same confusion and doubt is glorious. She will be not just the patron saint of the sick and suffering but also of those who stumble and lose their way.
I believe that saints are for everyone, not just Catholics. It is not in their natures to only serve those who share their beliefs. Mother Teresa in life was there for anyone who needed her, so she will also be as a saint. She was a practical person less concerned about theology than being certain that her patients received the care that everyone deserves.
Mother Teresa had a profound respect for all lives, including the unborn. She was outspoken about what she saw as the horrors of abortion even when facing powerful politicians who disagreed with her. She believed that eliminating a fetus was akin to murder and even went so far as to proclaim that the profligate use of abortion as a method of birth control was destroying the human family. In spite of the suffering that she witnessed in the crowded and overpopulated streets where she worked she still thought that killing the unborn was an horrific crime which all of mankind should detest. She was unafraid to voice her concerns and held tightly to them throughout her life. Nonetheless she also warned us that when we are busy judging someone we cannot love them.
Mother Teresa was hunched over from continuously bending down to care for the sick and dying. In many ways she is both an unlikely saint and one who will no doubt become a powerful spiritual example for those of us whose imperfections daunt us continually. Through her we learn how to overcome our weaknesses and how to stand for our principles no matter how controversial they may be. According to her letters and diary entries there were times when it took every ounce of her energy to carry on her work and in spite of those reluctant times she never gave up. What a powerful message that is to all of us.
Each of us have our causes, things for which we long. Perhaps a loved one is battling a life threatening disease or a friend is dealing with crippling depression and loneliness. St. Teresa of Calcutta will be our go-to gal. She is the one who will understand our pleas and hopefully provide us with the courage to withstand the challenges that dog us.
I suppose that many people today laugh at the oh so unscientific and irrational idea that someone who is no longer alive has any remaining power. Still, even someone who does not believe in God can be inspired and guided by the example of St. Teresa. It doesn’t require faith or a particular religion to realize that we are at our best as humans when we take time to minister to those in need. We can all be just a bit saintlike. Nurses bring compassion to the sick. Teachers enlighten those hungering for knowledge. A fair and just businessman services the people in the community with integrity. An honest politician who seeks the good of mankind rather than power works for the betterment of all of us. A doctor who cures disease performs miracles everyday. Each of us are called upon in so many ways to demonstrate kindness and to perform corporal works of mercy.
I suppose that in many ways St. Teresa of Calcutta is a someone who while on this earth understood and exemplified the beatitudes so well. She fought continuously for the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the persecuted and above all she was a merciful peacemaker.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As we face an uncertain world that harbors evil and hate I implore, “St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.”