Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta

Missionaries of Charity present a relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Missionaries of Charity present a relic of St. Teresa of Calcutta as Pope Francis celebrates the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Earlier today Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, declaring the sainthood of a woman who in her lifetime never felt comfortable with the world describing her as “a living saint.”

In a certain way, many would say that the name “Mother Teresa” is synonymous with a saintly life and to now call her “Saint Mother Teresa” is redundant.  For many decades now, she has been sign of holiness and a reminder of our own vocation. We are all called to be saints, and we find sanctity by walking with Jesus as his disciples in today’s world and sharing his love and truth with others.

Both Pope Francis and Saint John Paul II, who celebrated her Beatification Mass in 2003, have called Mother Teresa an icon of God’s love, mercy and charity.  As an icon of the Lord’s love, she inspires us to reflect on and continue her work in bringing Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor.  In this way, those who serve and those being served both encounter Jesus.

Mother Teresa often said that her mission, and that of her Missionaries of Charity, was not to serve the poor as much as it was to see the face of Jesus in them, sometimes in “a distressing disguise.” Born in Macedonia to ethnic Albanian parents, she had first become a Sister of Loreto and was teaching at a school for girls in India when on a train ride in 1946 she received her “call within a call” to go to into the streets and bring Christ’s love to the poorest of the poor.  After securing permission to leave the school, she began serving the poor of Calcutta.  Four years later, she left the Sisters of Loreto and officially established her Missionaries of Charity order.

What unfolded next seems inconceivable in the world’s eyes. A diminutive nun who could have lived and died in obscurity serving lepers and the dying on the streets of Calcutta somehow became a world-renowned figure.  Revered by popes and the public, she received the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and other honors.  Amidst all the secular impulses of the age, people were drawn to the goodness in her that the hearts of all of us desire.

Mother Teresa visited Washington many times over the years.  She spoke here at her first-ever high school graduation ceremony in this country in 1988, encouraging the graduates of Gonzaga College High School to “go out and be carriers of God’s love. Never be afraid to do small things with great love.”

In 1981, she came to help settle nine Missionaries of Charity in a house in a poor neighborhood in Southeast D.C., saying that the sisters were there “to bring the joy of loving and being loved so that every person – man, woman, child, born and unborn, knows the love of God.”  Today, they continue to pray as contemplative nuns and serve the poor.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of celebrating Mass for the Missionary of Charity Sisters at their Gift of Peace home in Washington, where since 1986 they have been serving the dying and poor. At the Mass, I thanked the sisters for manifesting the new saint’s presence in the world today, as her spiritual daughters bringing Jesus’ love to those in need, noting that they see in all the people they serve, and those people see in them, the face of Jesus.

Mother Teresa’s vocation was love, and she was not afraid to challenge the world to recognize and protect the God-given dignity of all life from conception to natural death.  Notably, at her 1979 Nobel Prize ceremony and later at the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast, Mother Teresa said abortion was the greatest threat to peace because if people can destroy life in the womb, then all life is at risk.

This little woman of God who spoke to the conscience of the world also taught the greatest poverty is not lack of money – it is the lack of love.  She encouraged people to bring Christ’s love not only to the homeless on the streets, but to the lonely, the forgotten, the unwanted and unloved in our communities and in our own families.

When Mother Teresa died 19 years ago tomorrow at the age of 87, her Missionaries of Charity were serving the poor and suffering around the world.  Today, 5,300 active and contemplative sisters continue her work of prayer and service, as do Missionary of Charity priests and brothers.

Both the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception have statues of Mother Teresa serving the poor, and her Missionaries of Charity here are a living memorial to her. But our new Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta should inspire all of us to become icons of Jesus’s love to the poor and forgotten. As she famously said, “Together, let us do something beautiful for God.”


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