One day a young mom was walking with her daughter who was peppering her with questions. The mom tried to come up with answers that would make sense to an eight-year-old. Then came the question that floored her: “Mom, who is a saint?” A little taken aback, the young mother said, “A saint is a holy person, someone who is God’s special friend.” The little girl was not satisfied. Just then they walked into the church. All the windows displayed images of the saints. It was a sunny day and the sunlight was rushing through the stained-glass windows. Pointing to the various windows, the mother said to the little girl: “Look, here are the saints. That is St Joseph; then there are St Anthony, St Teresa, St Agatha…” For a brief while the girl was quiet. Then her face flashed a huge smile of recognition as she spoke, “Now I know what a saint is. A saint is someone who allows God’s light to shine through.”
Indeed, that is what a saint is. In our recent memory there has been someone who has allowed God’s light shine through her better than anyone else. She did it with unassuming gentleness through relentless, self-effacing service to the poorest of the poor. No one has made the light of the Gospel shine brighter than Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She has made Christianity credible. On September 4th, Sunday, Pope Francis will officially declare her a saint, worthy of veneration and imitation by all Catholics. Let us give thanks to God for her holiness and her example.
An Albanian by birth, Mother Teresa came to India as a young Loreto nun via Ireland where she learned the English language. She was assigned to teach rich girls at the Loreto Convent in Calcutta. The convent overlooked one of the biggest slums in the city and every morning the young Sr Teresa would wistfully gaze on her poor neighbors wondering whether God was calling her to serve them. Even as her vow of obedience held her prisoner to teaching math, her heart longed to be with the poor. Finally on September 10, 1946 she heard what she described as “a call within the call.” After a two-year struggle with her religious superiors, she started caring for the poor and destitute of Calcutta. Even though a few young women, including some of her own students, followed her, the first years were difficult. She wrote in her diary:
Our Lord wants me to be a free nun covered with the poverty of the cross. Today, I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then, the comfort of Loreto [her former congregation] came to tempt me. 'You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again,' the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
More than a decade passed before she received international attention. In 1964 the International Eucharistic Congress was held in Bombay, India, and Pope Paul VI participated in the event. An American benefactor donated a Lincoln Continental to the Pope to use during his travels in India. At the end of his visit, Pope Paul VI announced that he was donating the car to a poor nun who was serving the poor and the dying in Calcutta. Mother Teresa raised money for her work by raffling off the car. This is how the little nun slowly started to become an international figure.
A few people have asked me – since I grew up in India – whether I met Mother Teresa. Yes, I did once. She came to our seminary in 1981 and spoke to us for about an hour. During her speech she said emphatically: “Dear seminarians, you are preparing yourselves to be priests. We don’t want you to become social workers, doctors, professors or therapists. We want you to be priests. Please give us Jesus!” Her focus was razor sharp. She lived for Jesus. She did everything for Jesus. Once she said: "By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."
In her early years she was visited by Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who claimed to be an agnostic. He marveled at her work. He wondered how she could do such difficult service to the poor. He asked her, “Why do you all this? For whom?” At that point, Mother Teresa grabbed him by the hand, led him into the chapel, and pointing to the tabernacle, said: “Inside that tabernacle is Jesus. I do it all for Him. But for Him, I will not do any of this.”
Her love for Jesus never waned. He was her motivation. He was her life. Even when she experienced “the dark night of the soul,” she held on to Him tightly. Her spiritual director revealed that in her later years she did not feel the warm response of God for whom she sacrificed everything. She continued to rely on Him, trust Him and lay down her life for Him. Like a modern day Paul, she could say with the apostle: “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Because she was in love with Jesus, she could see His face in the poor, the destitute and the dying.
May we too fall in love with Jesus and thus become capable of seeing His face in everyone we encounter! St Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...