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Catholic Heroes… St. Teresa Of Calcutta

July 20, 2021 saints No Comments


Long before Princess Diana hugged AIDS victims, a diminutive nun no one had heard of from Macedonia rescued her first dying man from the gutter. Carrying him back with her, she washed his wounds and removed maggots, covered him in clean sheets and gave him water. And he said, “I have lived like an animal, but I will die like an angel [because I am loved].”
The term “iconoclast” hails from the Greek, literally “image destroyer.” The meaning stands for both those who literally smash images — including Catholic ones — and also those who would destroy institutions, like the faith we hold dear. Attacks on the Church began long before “God is dead,” long before Communism or Hitler, but with the Flight into Egypt and the Babe born in Bethlehem. Anyone who follows in His footsteps may expect the same. In these days of smashing statues, it behooves one to have some answers ready for attacks one hears ad infinitum — about one of my favorite saints, for example, Mother Teresa.
She was born 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, which later fell to the Communists after World War II. Her father died when she was nine, and by twelve she felt the call of God. Six years later, after getting over her shock, her mother agreed to let her join the Sisters of Loreto at age eighteen. She said: “Put your hand in His hand and walk alone with Him. Don’t look back or you will go back.” She never saw her mother again. But in later years, she would require her sisters in the community to write to their families monthly.
Mother Teresa is fairly well known to people, having died not long ago and having been canonized less than 20 years after her death, in 2016 by Pope Francis. She began as a missionary teacher in India, but after some time, felt drawn increasingly to leave the convent to start a new order and serve the poorest of the poor. A mystic, her story is told beautifully in Come Be My Light, to which I will return later. So, this week’s column serves as a “start guide” to answer some of the objections leveled at her by anti-Catholics:
How dare she be pro-life and anti-population control?
She subsisted on divine charity, but why no balance sheet showing giving?
As a nun her order took vows, sure, but what’s all this about the need for poverty? Her original home for the dying grew to 19 houses in India alone plus 133 more countries — yet to some she is “racist” because she imposed herself on India, and:
The Missionaries should be a hospital, they are too successful not to be!
Had she really wanted to serve the poor, said the serpent, she would have backed birth control, population control, and abortion. Yet Mother understood the horrible evil these were. She accepted NFP but said at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, “In destroying the power of giving life through conception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him/her.” To support the 18 million aborted annually in India would have been not just racist, but demonic.
Christ said the poor would always be with us. Yet again there are those who criticized her order. Why don’t they use washing machines and modern conveniences? They could help more people. Why do they wash the soiled linens on their knees, with everything else? The answer, of course, lies in the answer that they are a religious order, not a social justice enterprise. Poverty is a central element of the religious life, a virtue, and to leave the material and embrace the spiritual you need less of the former to find the silence of the latter. So, there is prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, not cell phones.
Even in times when they assist in a crisis, Mass comes first. This is the haven that prevents the sisters’ burnout, promotes humility, sanctity, fortitude, and love. One of Mother’s many acts was creating mobile leper clinics and a leper settlement starting in the late 1950s. She said: “I see God in every human being. When I wash the leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself. Is it not a beautiful experience?” Mother explained they were there for Christ; they were not social workers. This is a vocation, not a job. Ora et labora.
In the 1940s, the future Mother Teresa began to have mystical experiences where she knew she was being asked to carry Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor. A voice was pleading to her, “Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My Light.” All should read the beautiful accounting of her biographical journey as told in Come Be My Light. Let us simply fast forward for now and let it be known that she was able to start the Missionaries of Charity. And indeed, the Missionaries take the usual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but to this they add a fourth vow, to serve Him in the poorest of the poor. At first they were few, then put together a Home of the Dying, then the Home of the Orphans, and so on.
Everything they had on their backs, ate, or used was from God. They lived like the poor and the poor knew this and over time grew to love them because they lived from divine Providence, like Christ. One day Mother was begging and she was spat upon. In humility, she responded by saying, “That was for me. But what will you give me for my orphans?”
Her order grew in fame and success, but the sisters still don’t have two dimes to rub together. Liberals want to see the balance sheet accounting for the vast amounts donated. Well, ask the Vatican, which now largely handles the finances. It takes great resources to run homes in over 133 nations. Some also complain that bad people gave her money, but they must not have read the Gospel about how hard it is for a rich man to get into Heaven. Did St. Francis balance a checkbook? As they grew, so the Missionaries have had to adapt and others now look after finances for them. But you still can’t see the Vatican’s annual statement.
Some also accuse Mother’s apostolate of being too successful. The sisters reused what they had. This included needles and donated medicines and so on. (Many forget needles were sharpened and reused here in the U.S. too, in the 1940s.) Some say they overreached their medical capabilities in nursing the sick and dying. Listen: Mother started with a few nuns, no money, bringing dying in from the streets and housing them in an abandoned temple. She cared for them with love — and no, this is not the same as “hospice care.” The order has rightly countered they are a religious order, not a hospital. Those who benefited received free food, care, and love as best was available. Now suddenly liberals accuse them of not being a hospital. Why not start with all the hungry they saved from starvation or those who died with a smile on their lips, or those who were saved? And the order has been making strides toward improvements (no more needle reuse, obviously; they run AIDS houses).
The order grows and perhaps the best thing is to take a cue from Mother’s 1979 Nobel Prize speech, where she calmly explained, “To be able to do this, our sisters, our lives, have to be woven with prayer. They have to be woven with Christ to be able to understand, to be able to share. Because today there is so much suffering — and I feel that the Passion of Christ is being relived all over again.”
India granted her one of its highest civilian honors, the Padma Shri, and the very rare privilege of a state funeral. Only so many foreign dignitaries were in attendance, however, because half the space was reserved for the poor. And by the way, no, she didn’t allow forced conversions. Today’s politically correct would love to forget she won the Nobel Prize and so many countless awards. But as she once told the famed former atheist-turned-convert Malcolm Muggeridge, earthly rewards mean nothing.
Mother Teresa, may your peace, love, and faith be ours. Her feast is September 5.

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