St. Mother Teresa
“Champion of Charity” Feast: September 5 Lifetime: 1910-1997 Patronage: The Missionaries of Charity, World Youth Day
RECOLLECTION Mother Teresa had one of the most recognizable smiles of the 20th century and gave a new face to charity and the modern Church.
Standing no more than 5 feet tall, this little woman towered as a worldwide celebrity. She was a paradox for one so famous because she retained humility. Instead of getting caught up in worldly accolades, she remained focused on Jesus.
When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Prize in 1979, she initially did not want to accept it (out of humility), but was encouraged by spiritual directors to accept as an opportunity to share Christ with the world. In her acceptance speech she said it was "for the glory of God and in the name of the poor.”
During her speech she broached taboo subjects relating to morality, among them, abortion:
"And I feel one thing I want to share with you all, the greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent unborn child. For if a mother can murder her own child in her womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?”
She was not afraid to say and do what was right.
On another occasion, when giving a speech before the United Nations, she set a prayer card on every seat in the house. There is a strict rule against prayer in the United Nations proceedings, but she defied the rule, and that day everyone prayed the Prayer of St. Francis.
When she spoke at the Harvard Commencement, one of the key points in her speech was on the virtue of purity, saying it was the greatest gift young people could give one another.
She closed the speech mentioning Christ:
"My prayer for you is that you grow in that love for each other. That you grow in that likeness of Christ, in that holiness of Christ. Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty for you and for me."
A documentary filmmaker was there that day, who was privileged to follow Mother Teresa over many years. She said the Harvard graduates reacted positively to her message, and they mentioned being thankful for her words, because "no one ever talked to them that way."
These instances were consistent with Mother Teresa's gutsy character.
This character was molded in the land of Skopje, in the Balkans. Born Gonxha Agnes, she grew up in a Catholic home. Her father died when she was 8 years old and put the family in financial trouble. Despite this, she and her family remained joyful and would often help those less fortunate than themselves, welcoming them into their own home.
When Agnes was 18, she felt called by God to enter the religious life and so became a member of the Sisters of Loreto who were based in Ireland. The main reason she chose this order was because of their missionary charism. She soon received her new name, Sister Mary Teresa. Teresa was a tribute to St. Therese the Little Flower, who in- spired her desire for missionary work, and who taught her how to show love in the little things (read Oct. 1).
Her next step was to move to India. She would be teaching at St. Mary’s School for Girls in Calcutta. During this time at the school, Sister Mary Teresa professed her final vows, became the principal and became known as ”Mother Teresa."
It was 17 years since she left home, and she felt fulfilled in her vocation. Little did she know, God was getting ready to call her to a new height.
While taking a long train ride to reach her order’s annual retreat, she experienced what she later referred to as her “call within a call.” She felt an overwhelming urge to serve the poor, and this spark was kindled into a burning fire over the next months by numerous visions of Christ calling her to serve him and finally to establish a new community: The Missionaries of Charity.
After two years, Mother Teresa was permitted to embark on establishing a new order. She modeled the order’s habit after the Indian sari with a white and a blue stripe.
It was the first day of winter when she entered the slums to start her work, and it was symbolic because she was entering into a spiritual winter. She began helping the poor by herself, although Christ was with her. She encountered all sorts of diseases, ailments and depths of poverty in a way she had never experienced.
It was difficult work to say the least, but thankfully God sent other women to join her, many of them former pupils. By 1950 the order was formally established, and in another ten years, there were enough sisters to expand past Calcutta into other areas of India and soon to every continent in the world. The order expanded to include brothers, contemplative sisters and priests.
As Mother Teresa was a conduit of Christ's Light to the world, she felt a great spiritual darkness. This is often referred to in the spiritual life as the "dark night of the soul.” During this time, Mother Teresa experienced years of feeling separated from God. This continued until she died. Despite being given this bitter cup to drink, she did not lose her love for God. It was as if she was in a mystical participation in the Passion of Our Lord, experiencing in part the desolation he did while on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Psalm 22:2)
As the years progressed, Mother Teresa was able to see her order grow to 4,000 members.
She remained hard working even as she was plagued with health problems, but eventually it came time to bless a new superior general to take her place. Not long after this, she passed away, and went on to experience the union with God she longed for.
Due to her great holiness and the miracles reported at her tomb, Pope St. John Paul II - who had been her dear friend and confidant - opened the cause for her canonization immediately. She was officially canonized September 2016.