Mother Teresa’s journey to sainthood
“We often cannot do great things…but we do small things in a great way”- Mother Teresa
CHRISTIANITY in India, the world’s largest democracy, has over the years presented us with exemplary lives of iconic personages who championed the faith to an heroic degree. Right from the first Century of the Christian era, when St. Thomas, the Apostle of Our Lord Jesus Christ and Patron Saint of India left Jerusalem and planted the religion in that great country in 52AD; to the 15th Century when St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit Missionary watered it in the evangelistic way of St. Paul; and to our own time when Mother Teresa nurtured and animated it with Christian charity for it to blossom to the greater glory of God, Christianity has continued to grow in leaps and bounds in that sub-Continent.
And who is Mother Teresa of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) that is now being celebrated on earth and in heaven? Hear her: “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.”
She was born on August 26, 1910 and died on September 5, 1997 at age of 87 as a Missionary who dedicated her life to helping the poorest of the poor, the sick, the dying and unloved and received numerous international awards. In response to Jesus’ call in her dream “to give me a drink” similar to that made to the Samaritan woman in the Bible, she founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic Religious Congregation. This Congregation runs Hospices and Homes for peoples with HIV/AIDS, Leprosy and Tuberculosis; Soup Kitchens; Dispensaries and Mobile Clinics; Children and Family Counseling Programmes; Orphanages; and Schools throughout the world.
After her earthly life, God elevated her to the dignity of a celestial pantheon to dwell with such a “great cloud of witnesses”(Hebrews 12:1) “from every nation, tribe, people and language standing before the throne”(Revelation7:9) in the heavenly realm and fittingly became a member of the Church Triumphant. And having spiritually discerned through its Divine Office that Mother Teresa has experienced the eternal beatific vision, the Universal Church guided by the Holy Spirit canonized her on September 4, 2016, a pointer that she has made heaven—having lived a saintly life and inspired two miracles – one allows beatification and the second clears the way to sainthood. The first cured an Indian woman of a stomach tumor; the second a Brazilian of a brain tumor: both medically certified as ailments beyond medical science.
With the canonization of Mother Teresa [the name means wonderful in Greek] at the Eternal City (Vatican) in a crowded but solemn ceremony as a Saint of the Universal Church, how do we explain the interior and exterior life of someone who lived out the beatitudes in her daily life with beautiful attitudes that mirrored the exemplary life of Christ? Like the Saints before her, she was “good, full of the Holy Spirit and faith”(Acts 11:24) and “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrew 13:2).
She put her faith into action which manifested in her acts of love to all and sundry including Hindus, Buddhists, Moslems, Atheists and even to naxalites. This was a woman who took to poverty and ended up rich in all things by reaping all the glorious dividends of blessedness and winning every humanitarian prize on earth and in heaven, and equally won all the roses and garlands of Christian charity. Her war against abortion was legendary. At the United Nations she told the world body: “The greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by a mother herself. And if we can accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another.”
Her life on earth was one of miracle after another. In her words, “We often cannot do great things… but we do small things in a great way.” Mother Teresa lived to her true maxim: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier;” “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world;” “It is not how much you give but how much love you put into giving.” But “if you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito” (Betty Resse). It was Leo Tolstoy who said: “My piece of bread only belongs to me when I know that everyone else has a share, and that no one starves while I eat.”
In her deeds of mercy, Mother Teresa by the selfless way and manner she gave healing, succour and hope to the sick, the destitute, orphans and unwanted babies drew the attention of heaven. In imitation of Jesus “who went about doing good,” she exemplified his pristine words: “Your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven” (Mt.5:16). She became the Bible people read as “salt of the earth” and “light of the world” which are the twin pylons of Christian spirituality, a theme St. Charles Borromeo paraphrased as follows: “Be sure that you first preach by the way you live. If you do not, people will notice that you say one thing, but live otherwise, and your words will bring only cynical laughter and a derisive shake of the head.”
During her lifetime, Mother Teresa was named 18 times in the yearly Gallup’s poll as one of the 10 women around the world that Americans admired most, finishing first several times in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1999, Americans ranked her first in Gallup’s List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century.
In 1982, at the height of the Siege of Beirut, Mother Teresa rescued 37 children trapped in a front line hospital by brokering a temporary cease-fire between the Israeli army and Palestinian guerrillas. Accompanied by Red Cross workers, she travelled through the war zone to the devastated hospital to evacuate the young patients.
When Eastern Europe experienced increased openness in the late 1980s, she expanded her efforts to Communist countries that had previously rejected the Missionaries of Charity, embarking on dozens of projects.
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and disease, which also constitutes a threat to peace.” She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given to the poor in India, stating that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world’s needy.
Following Christ is never without a cost as she rightly admitted: “A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. …the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace.”
Through the centuries, saints have been the spiritual doorway through which humanity is directed toward God. Saintliness is part of the church’s DNA and that is why the Catholic Church recognises Saints as role models because we “will be rewarded for doing good”(Ezekiel 18 v.20) and living godly lives by imitating Jesus “who went about doing good”(Acts 10:37) so that we can become potential candidates for heaven. Mother Teresa as a true “born again” Christian “heard the word of God and obeyed it” and ran a good race as “something beautiful for God”(Malcolm Muggeridge) and finishing well and constantly bore the words of Jesus in mind: “He who endures to the end will be saved.”
• Isu, a chartered accountant, writes from Abuja.
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