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Catholic Heroes… Mother Teresa Of Calcutta

September 9, 2014 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

After returning from a visit to Mother Teresa of Calcutta and giving a retreat to her Missionaries of Charity there, Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, told a class of lay faithful, “Americans are living in a dream world.” He spoke of the thousands of people dying on the streets of Calcutta where Mother had begun her work with the poorest of the poor.
In Skopje, Macedonia, Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu was born on August 26, 1910 to parents of Albanian heritage. From the time she received her First Holy Communion at the age of five and a half, she yearned to do God’s will. She received Confirmation a year later, suffering the tragedy of her father’s death only two years after that. Her mother struggled to raise the family with her limited means, but held the children accountable with discipline.
Agnes, learning from her mother’s example about frugality and discipline and learning spirituality from the Jesuits at the nearby Sacred Heart Church, received the foundation for her future religious life.
In September 1928, she left for Ireland where she joined the Sisters of Loreto, taking the name Sr. Mary Teresa after St. Therese of Lisieux. Four months later she boarded a ship bound for the Sisters of Loreto in Calcutta, India, arriving on January 6, 1929. For the next few years she completed her formation, took her final vows, and taught at the school run by the Sisters of Loreto. After some years she was named principal, loved by the faculty as well as by the students of the all-girl school.
On September 10, 1946, during a train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling — a trip of more than 600 kilometers — Mother received her “call within a call” to serve the poorest of the poor. Our Lord asked her to gather “victims of love” who would “radiate His love for souls.” She understood Jesus’ pain at the neglect of the poor and dying. Thus her desire from that day was to feed the hungry, nurse the sick, and slake the thirst of Jesus by loving the marginalized people of the world.
On August 17, 1948, after 20 years of living with the Sisters of Loreto in Calcutta, she donned her white sari with its blue borders and walked out into the streets of Calcutta, trusting that God would provide whatever she needed to do His work. Until she found a place for her mission, she stayed with the Poor Clares.
Calcutta is a challenging metropolis. Although it is the 50th largest city in the world in terms of population, it is second in density of population. In a country with a population of 1.2 billion, Calcutta’s population is 4.5 million, a figure that tops the population of half of the states in America. The poor take up 14 percent of the population while another 33 percent live in the slums.
It was not until December 1948 that she finally began the work of her second calling, having received permission to leave the Sisters of Loreto as well as permission to begin her work among the poor. On December 12, after she had received Holy Communion, she grasped her rosary and went to the slums where she visited families, washing the sores of the children. She cared for a sick man on the road like the Good Samaritan in the Bible. She nursed a woman dying of hunger and tuberculosis.
She continued going out each day by herself but was soon joined by a former student — then another and another and another. On October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa officially received permission to establish her new order, the Missionaries of Charity, in Calcutta. In the early 1960s she began to send her sisters throughout India.
By 1962 she had received the Padma Shri Award for her charitable works. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for the glory of God in the name of the poor.
When Pope Paul VI recognized the great work her sisters were doing, he encouraged her to send her sisters to Venezuela, with a foundation opening there in 1965.
Soon she sent sisters to Rome and to Tanzania as well. With fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1980s, she began to send her sisters to all the Communist countries, with the sole exception of China.
As this work continued to expand so quickly, so did the number of orders she founded. Eventually she had the following orders: Missionary of Charity Brothers, Contemplative Brothers, Missionary of Charity Fathers, Co-Workers of Mother Teresa, Sick and Suffering Co-Workers, Lay Missionaries of Charities, and the Corpus Christi Movement of Priests.
When Pope John Paul II met her in Rome, he congratulated her on the work she did to care for the sick and suffering among the poorest of the poor. However, he reminded her that their souls were more important than their bodies. He wanted her sisters to evangelize and catechize as well. This presented a problem since her sisters were nurses and not well catechized themselves even though they had hearts of gold when it came to caring for the destitute.
He advised her to meet with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger about the issue who connected her with a Jesuit named Fr. John A. Hardon, a master catechist and spiritual director. Fr. Hardon met with her, spending the first five hours talking about the contemplative life. With her approval, he wrote a 36-lesson catechetical course for the Missionaries of Charity and began to travel around the world to visit these nuns and to teach them the course, as well as to give them retreats.
As Mother Teresa’s health began to fail in the mid-1990s, she hoped to step down as superior general of the Missionaries of Charity. Much to her dismay, her nuns elected her again as superior general, so she called her spiritual director, Fr. Hardon, asking him what to do. “It seems God’s will has been manifested,” he told her. She served one more term until 1997 when a successor was finally elected in March of 1997. She died six months later, on September 5, 1997.
India, a country which is mostly Hindu and Islamic, held a state funeral for her. Fr. Hardon concelebrated her funeral Mass at her personal request; he was the only concelebrant who was not a cardinal.
Although Mother Teresa had received the clear locutions on the train to Darjeeling which left her thirsting to love the Sacred Heart of Jesus through serving Him in the poor she met in the streets, she suffered a stark aridity for the rest of her life. Through that unending dark night of the soul, she remained faithful to her spiritual practices and especially to her devotion to our Lord in the Real Presence. She sought only to do the will of God, not to receive glory or honors.
Pope John Paul II beatified her in 2003.
Dear Mother Teresa, who loved poverty and the poor, help us to strip ourselves of our attachment to worldly goods and honors. Help us, by your intercession, to make more room for Jesus in our hearts, ridding ourselves of unnecessary worldly possessions which take up not only space and time, but our minds and hearts as well. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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