Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005 and before that a regular correspondent for the paper. His articles have appeared in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Soul, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in major newspapers. He is the author of Fruits of Fatima — Century of Signs and Wonders. He holds a graduate degree and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside on the East Coast.
Cardinal Raymond Burke held a teleconference recently that revolved around Hope for the World (Ignatius), a new book-length interview with him. With Mother Teresa’s canonization right around the corner, he took the opportunity to share a few thoughts about her.
He started by saying he “couldn’t be happier that we’ve come to this point, where Mother Teresa will be canonized a saint, because she’s been an inspiration to me from my years in the seminary, when I first came to know her,” then school as a young priest teaching Catholic moral teaching in high school, he had the students read as a standard, “a book which she wrote in conjunction with Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God.”
Mother’s Basic Goal
Cardinal Burke said that “one thing that always struck me about Mother Teresa was people would say to her, because she was confronting these enormous situations of poverty, for instance, in Calcutta, numerous people left to die in the streets, the abandonment of babies, all of these horrendous difficulties. And people would say to her, you know, these are huge problems that need to be dealt with in some kind of global way, and here you are with this little band of sisters trying to deal with it. And her response always was, ‘We can only love one person at a time,’ and so she went out with her sisters and picked up one dying person at a time and took them to the home for the dying that she was able to find, or she helped one mother at a time to bring her child to term or to feed the children she already had, or people who were living on the street, to help them.”
The good cardinal thinks “the genius of Mother Teresa is that Christ was so much alive in her that in facing the most overwhelming situations of poverty and need, she had the grace to know that what I can do is to address this with the gifts that I have and respecting each individual person…n fact her order has grown immensely and is carrying out this work all over.”
Genuine Love and Dignity
He shared a story from Something Beautiful for God where a man in a home or the dying was so full of joy, and “he said, ‘I was on the street dying like an animal and…now I’m here and I’m treated like I’m an angel.’ He had recovered a whole sense of his dignity and of how much he’s loved by God. So, this is, I believe, what Mother Teresa can teach us best, that no matter what we’re doing for those who are in the greatest need, the most important thing that we bring to them is love, is a genuine selfless, pure love, and then everything else we do beyond that has its ultimate good effect.”
Champion for the Unborn
As Mother Teresa was a champion for the individual poor, so too was she a champion for each unborn child. Cardinal Burke said “this was so fundamental to her…[W]hen someone asked well, why is this teaching about abortion or about euthanasia, what importance does it have for addressing poverty and so forth, she said frequently that the greatest poverty in the world is the fear of life, are those nations which seemingly are very rich which practice freely, for instance, the killing of unborn children in the womb and so forth as a response to social needs.
“And so she is a brilliant teacher to us in addressing, whether it be questions of a difficult pregnancy, or questions of a difficult illness, whatever it may be, she teaches us that the way to address these issues is with respect for the individual human life, and in that way no matter what the suffering is of the person, or no matter what great sacrifices have to be made, the person will find that happiness and fulfillment for which he or she is seeking.”
An Added Thought
Earlier in the conference, Cardinal Burke also spoke on this matter in depth. “We have to give the first priority to the respect for human life and for the family in order to have the right orientation in addressing all of the other questions which are involved with poverty, immigration, the many challenges that any human being faces in life,” he said.
“But it doesn’t make any sense at all to be concerned about immigration or poverty if human life itself is not protected in society, it’s an absolute contradiction. And the first justice accorded to any human being is to respect the gift of life itself which is received from God, and so that the unborn should be protected and at the same time those whose lives are burdened, either by advanced years, or special needs, or some grave illness, their lives also are to be equally protected.”