September 5 marks the Feast day of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta who died on this day in 1997. Born in Albania as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, she is known the world over as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her life was not a 'sound bite.' But rather a metaphor for selfless devotion and holiness. That is why so many young women and men from nearly every corner of the world continue to enter the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity Order that now numbers more than 4500 women ministering in more than 100 countries. They run over 500 homes, hospices and shelters for thousands of dying and destitute people, plus hundreds more schools, mobile clinics, leprosy homes and AIDS hospices.
There are the critics in the Church who say that Mother Teresa personified a pre-Vatican Council view of faith and did not address systemic evils such as defense spending. They criticize her and her followers for their relentless condemnation of abortion. I know many religious women and men who say that there was absolutely no element of prophetic criticism to be found in Mother Teresa’s teachings and her lifestyle. Some say that she was a "safe" model- going so far as to say that every priest and bishop could put her on a pedestal and say to women: 'Be docile, do your womanly thing, but don't go out and criticize anything else.'
When Mother Teresa speaks of 'sharing poverty,' she defies the logic of institutions that prefer agendas for the poor, not communion with individual poor people. Communion disregards conventional approaches. It may never find a job for someone, much less ever get that person shaped up. Thus the agents of communion are called irrelevant. Or they may end up, like Mother Teresa, in being labeled “saint.” Once when this frail, little nun was asked point-blank by journalist how she felt being called holy around the world, she answered bluntly: "Holiness is not a luxury; it is a necessity."
Though she left this world scene eleven years ago today, this tiny nun made the news big time last year with the publication of her letters. Many journalists, magazine editors, television newscasters got the story all wrong with their sensational headlines: “Mother Teresa’s secret life: crisis and darkness,” or “Calcutta’s Saint was an atheist,” or even “Mother and the Absent One.” Some commentators wrote: “She lost her faith and the Church rewards her for it.” These people seem unaware that those who prepared Mother’s Beatification in 2003 cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith and not the absence of it.
What the church looks for in saints is not just good works -- for that there are Nobel Peace Prizes -- but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization or beatification was transformed, inwardly and outwardly, by God’s grace. From her now-published letters we can say that Mother Teresa was a special breed of saint: a genuine mystic. Mother Teresa tells us in those deeply moving messages that she once felt God’s powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation. In the end Mother Teresa had to rely on raw faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite. She was one of us after all!
Years ago when I first met Mother Teresa of Calcutta after a celebration in Rome, she placed firmly into my hands one of her famous business cards unlike any calling card I had ever seen. On the front of the card were printed these words: "The fruit of silence is PRAYER. The fruit of prayer is FAITH. The fruit of faith is LOVE. The fruit of love is SERVICE. The fruit of service is PEACE. God bless you. Mother Teresa" I still carry that card with me. There was no address, phone number of FAX on the card then. Today, in fact, we don't need any of her contact information. She is available to all of us in the communion of saints.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.,
C.E.O., Salt and Light Catholic Television Network