Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The "Mother" of Anniversaries? My Memories of Mother Teresa

Mother Teresa of CalcuttaIt was ten years ago today that Mother Teresa passed away. Although she is now officially listed as "Blessed Teresa" due to her intercessory cure of an Indian woman's incurable tumor, it is hard to not call her Mother, or to not think of her as already a Saint.

Despite her small stature and distaste for public speeches and the press, Mother Teresa left an impression like few others in the history of the world. In 1929, the Albanian nun came to India to teach in a school established for (rich) Christian girls but as she began to walk the streets and see the abject poverty just blocks away, she knew she had a calling for something greater. In the late forties, she left the school, and with the help of a few of her students and the aid of millions of Memorares, said not only by her but everyone, Catholic or not, she came in contact with (indeed she was not an easy person to say "no" to), her vision gradually became clear, and in 1950 together they founded the Missionaries of Charity, dedicated to serve the poorest of Calcutta's poor. By the time she passed to her eternal reward, the group had nearly 4,000 nuns and ran roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters and clinics, and to prove that she's still doing her work in heaven, in the last decade her Order has not contracted but expanded, as today the figures have grown to over 4,800 sisters and 750 homes worldwide.

Despite these mesmerizing numbers, the magic of Mother Teresa was not in organizing great armies behind the scenes, but in being on the front lines and treating every individual (especially those no one had time for) as a soul created and loved by God. During the day she brought hope to the sick and dying, and by night, she personally handled hundreds of correspondences, including those from would-be Catholic journalists like myself. And, of course, in the early morning she prayed, first for several hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and then, at Mass, receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, for she knew if "I did not receive Jesus daily in the disguise of bread and wine, I could not recognize Jesus in the disguise of the poor and the dying."

Not only was Mother's constant smile in the midst of the poorest of the poor infectious, her tongue-lashings (such as her criticizing President Clinton's abortion stance at a ceremony he had arranged to honor her!) of the rich and powerful were legendary. The media (with the exception of those like the late Malcolm Muggeridge who because of Mother converted), never knew quite what to make of her, on the one hand honoring her with the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the poor, but also roundly criticizing her for her opposition to contraception—failing to grasp that her love for the poor and their love for each other went hand in hand. They condemned her for accepting money from undesirables like Haitian dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier and dishonest American financier Charles Keating, not realizing that unlike politicians who took such money for their own benefit, Mother, who never owned even an extra habit for herself, made sure that money went right back into the pockets of those that had been cheated.

While the lives of the saints have always been a key component in my belief in the one holy Catholic apostolic Church, as the only saint (or "Blessed"—for now anyway) I've had personal contact with, Mother Teresa will always have a special place in my heart. And, while I know that, like you Mother, I grow more when I have fewer consolations rather than many, if you want to make your final necessary-for-sainthood miracle one of my requests, and you closed down (or kept abortions out of) Aurora's would-be "health" clinic, or turned Notre Dame's season around, I surely wouldn't object.

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