The Archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica remembered at Mass on Thursday how a promise he made to Mother Teresa 40 years ago preserved his vocation. She taught him that without prayer, charity cannot exist.
Cardinal Comastri presided over the Eucharistic celebration at Rome's San Lorenzo in Damaso Church, which had a very welcoming feel with the presence of more than 100 Missionaries of Charity sisters, over 20 concelebrating priests, local government leaders and a very diverse collection of faithful.
Church-goers were pleasantly surprised by the presence of newly-arrived prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who also concelebrated and read a message from the Pope at the beginning of Mass.
In a homily which emphasized that love is the foundation of our existence, Cardinal Comastri remembered a personal encounter he had with the Missionaries of Charity's founder when he was just a young priest.
His first contact with Mother Teresa came when he mailed her a letter just after he was ordained a priest. Her "unexpected" response was especially striking, he recalled, because it was written on "very poor paper, in a very poor envelope."
At a later date, Cardinal Comastri sought her out when she was visiting Rome to thank her for the answer. When he found her, she asked him a question that left him "a little embarrassed."
"How many hours do you pray a day?" she asked.
In 1969-70, he recalled, the Church was in a time of "dispute," so thinking that it was "near heroism, then-Father Comastri explained to her that he said daily Mass in addition to praying the Liturgy of the Hours and the Rosary.”
To this, she responded flatly, "That's not enough.”
"Love cannot be lived minimally," she said, and then asked him to promise to do half an hour of adoration every day.
"I promised," said Cardinal Comastri, "and today I can say that this saved my priesthood."
Trying to defend his case at the time, he told Mother Teresa that he thought she was going to ask him how much charity he did. She answered him, "And do you think if I didn't pray I would be able to love the poor? It's Jesus that puts love in my heart when I pray."
She helped the poor, but it was "always Jesus' love," the saintly sister told him.
Then, Mother told him something that he would never forget: she told him to read Scripture.
Through Jesus' teachings, she said, we are reminded that "without God we're too poor to help the poor.” This, she explained, "is why so much assistance falls into the void. It doesn't change anything, it doesn't contribute anything because it doesn't bring love and it isn't born of prayer."
Concluding, Cardinal Comastri said, "Through this little woman ... we are reminded that charity is the apostolate of the Church and that charity is only born if we pray."