Sep 4, 2017
The canonization of Mother Teresa a year ago by Pope Francis was a momentous occasion for Catholics. Every newly-made saint's brand of holiness teaches us vivid things about love and God which are distinctive and unique. The small, spare woman in the iconic white sari serves as a potent symbol of the indispensability of the Church. St. Teresa of Calcutta is a glowing reminder that millions of the world's poor and vulnerable depend on the immense good that the Church does as she goes quietly about her daily business. To impede her mission or persecute her is to hurt those who rely on her for assistance.
Like many saints, St. Teresa's path to holiness and canonization was rich in improbability. In 1946, the little Albanian nun was nothing but a humble teacher in India when she received her "call within a call." She heard a quiet, internal suggestion to help the poorest of the poor while living among them. In an act of almost terrifying audacity, she made her way (with five rupees in her pocket) to what was probably the most rank and dire slum in the world to serve the destitute and abandoned. That was in 1948. Today, the religious congregation she founded consists of thousands of sisters and is active in over a hundred countries. They run hospices for people with leprosy, AIDS, and tuberculosis. They run soup kitchens, mobile clinics, dispensaries, and orphanages, all for free, while living their vows of poverty and chastity.
The Missionaries of Charity seem to shine with holiness as they go cheerfully about their heavy work, instantly recognizable the world over. But they are only one small part of the vast enterprise that is the Catholic Church's charitable mission. Wherever there is war, famine, disease, ignorance, homelessness, there the Church goes to work, helping more effectively and tenderly than secular NGOs and government programs ever could. In sheer numbers of people fed, elderly and dying housed, lepers attended, AIDS sufferers succored, children educated, and sick cared for, the Church is hands down the largest charitable organization in the world.
This is not a coincidence. The Church boasts luminaries like Mother Teresa because for more than 2,000 years, the Church has believed and taught that Jesus meant what he said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me." To alleviate the suffering of others is a duty of each and every member of the Church. Some, like Mother Teresa, took this duty and rose to dizzying heights. Others are inspired to volunteer for the St. Vincent de Paul society or to lend a hand at the parish nursery school where migrant workers leave their babies as they head off to a hot day in the field.
This charitable concern for the world's poor and suffering has been a mission constantly exercised by the Church along with communicating a message based on the same Gospel teaching of radical equality and brotherhood that inspires her charitable mission. This leads to the conviction that respect for human dignity must be absolute. Therefore, abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide, all ways in which materialism offers death as a reasonable response to human suffering or inconvenience, must be firmly rejected.
Firm adherence to classic Christian teachings leads many to object to her with indignation. The critics of the Church recklessly go about their business with little thought for all those who depend on her. The ACLU gnaws constantly at her sides, demanding she get out of the hospital and clinic business and stop helping the unaccompanied children at the border because abortions are not offered. The Little Sisters of the Poor are still waiting for relief from the Obamacare contraception and abortifacient mandate which threatens them with huge fines for noncompliance. Despite the millions spent by the Church on legal fees and defensive measures, there remains a very real possibility that charities all over the country will be shut down.
Catholics believe that saints in heaven not only take a lively interest in the world today, but that they can also intercede for us and help us in our struggles. If this is true, St. Teresa of Calcutta is likely loving the poor and marginalized even more ardently than she did when she could touch them with her hands. Surely she is hard at work at softening the hearts of those who oppose the Church and seek to shut her down. St. Teresa will not cease to help those who need her, and if her image of perfect goodness can generate sympathy for the Church and her ways, she will have achieved another miracle.