A Message from the Bishop – Saint Teresa of Kolkata, model of holiness

A Message from the Bishop – Saint Teresa of Kolkata, model of holiness
A tapestry of St. Teresa of Kolkata is seen on the facade of St. Peter's Basilica as Pope Francis celebrates her canonization Mass at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

A tapestry of St. Teresa of Kolkata is seen on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica as Pope Francis celebrates her canonization Mass at the Vatican Sept. 4. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The canonization of Mother Teresa has received much attention in the secular press and media. She is for sure a popular figure. Mother Teresa, now Saint Teresa of Kolkata, was introduced to the world by the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge. “Something Beautiful for God” is the title of the book he wrote and published in 1971 after having followed and observed her and her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in their labors among the dying, the hungry and destitute in Kolkata. Muggeridge was an agnostic who eventually converted to Christ and the Catholic Church as a result of what he experienced and witnessed in the lives and ministries of Mother Teresa and her Sisters.

In his homily on the occasion of her canonization, Pope Francis held out to the church, that is, to us, Mother Teresa as a “model of holiness”; as a “tireless worker and generous dispenser of mercy.”

She is now a saint of the church who can teach us about “holiness” and about “mercy,” both of which are goals for the Christian life. Saints are real life people who in their living become holy and more like Christ. No one is born a saint. Sanctity is achieved through life and the living of life with faith in God. The church proposes saints to us for our imitation; for our growing in holiness and in Christ. A saint is a real life example of life in Christ. Mother Teresa lived her Christian life as a consecrated religious. You live your Christian life as, perhaps, a widow, a grandparent, a parent, a single person, etc. Whatever may be your particular state in life, you are called to be holy and to be like Christ. Our new saint offers us insights on how to do this.

“Seek the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time.” Saint Teresa called this “contemplation in the heart of the world.” Seeking God in all; going out to all. This involves eliminating personal prejudices and judgements against those who are different from us and from those with whom we may disagree. To do this demands continual conversion of turning away from self. When we recognize the truth that all women and men are made in the image of God, then we too can do something beautiful for God. Mother Teresa did this hands on by attending to the physical needs of everyone no matter their religion or their social caste. She broke down the walls of division whether they be racial, economic, religious or cultural because she saw the face of God in everyone. This was no easy task for her nor for any of us. Yet, her saintly example encourages us to see the face of God in everyone. To rid ourselves of the barriers we erect between ourselves and others. Yes, this can be very challenging for us, especially since we are bombarded in the media with examples of those who want to build walls between peoples and our world and some communities are plagued by acts of senseless violence. Like Mother Teresa, we can grow in holiness by seeking the presence of God in everyone.

She once said, “God does not ask us to do great things. He only asks us to do small things with great love.” Small things, everyday things like making dinner, washing the dishes, helping one’s children with homework, etc. Small things done out of love. Even great love. To show the charity of Christ to all. Again, a challenge? You bet. Also involved in this love are the poor. Those who cannot ever repay what they receive. Mother Teresa saw in the poor of Kolkata the thirst of Christ which she quenched with acts of mercy. “God gave me a call to satiate the thirst of Jesus by serving Him in the poorest of the poor,” she said. She saw Him in the homeless, the addicted, prostitutes, the unwanted, the child in the womb, the dying. She saw in them Jesus in a distressful disguise. Her response? Great love. Mercy. How can we do this?

Pope Francis chose Saint Teresa of Kolkata for canonization during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Her life is an example of mercy. During this Jubilee we have been reflecting on mercy. The pope has invited us to rediscover the “works of mercy.” These are specific ways in which we can respond to the bodily and the spiritual needs of others. By daily practicing the works of mercy in the small and everyday things we too can do mercy and be merciful. In this way we can grow in God’s love.

Interestingly, on September 1st, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, the pope added to the list of seven corporal and the seven spiritual works of mercy, the need to care for creation. Not surprising, given his recent encyclical letter Laudato Si’ on the environment in which the pontiff raised concerns about the environment and challenged the church and world leaders to care for the creation, the gift of the Creator.

“As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si’ 214) … As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world.” (Ibid.230-231). To care for creation would please Saint Teresa of Kolkata for when the creation suffers, people suffer and where there is suffering, following the example of our new saint, we can respond with mercy.

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