Mother Teresa's Church
Beatifications have a way of changing our perspective from earth's to heaven's. That's the whole point, really. The Church officially declares the sanctity of people in order to remind us that life should be lived according to standards that are not our own.
In Mother Teresa, God gave us the perfect saint for our age.
It's an age that detests hypocrisy — and Mother Teresa lived her love for the poor to the point of personal exhaustion. Our age is skeptical about faith — but Mother Teresa kept her faith despite unimaginable spiritual and physical hardships. Our age exaggerates physical beauty. But Mother Teresa's is at the same time one of the most attractive and unattractive faces in popular memory.
The more we learn about Mother Teresa, the more we discover that, even among the saints, she stands out.
Intellectually, she was impressive. She spoke simply, but as a native Albanian, she spoke English flawlessly. She was equally at ease with world leaders and with dying lepers as she managed an enormous worldwide network of apostolates. “People saw her holiness,” the pos-tulator of her cause told us in a ground-breaking interview last January, “but now we realize that her simplicity hid a real profundity.”
In terms of her spiritual life, her story rivals her namesakes, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
In 1946, Mother Teresa wrote down how Christ called her to go to India. She didn't go gladly. “How could I?” she said. “I have been and am very happy as a Loreto Nun. To leave that what I love and expose myself to new labors and suffering, which will be great, to be the laughing stock of so many, especially religious, to cling and choose deliberately the hard things of an Indian life, to loneliness and ignominy, to uncertainty — and all because Jesus wants it, because something is calling me to leave all and gather the few to live his life, to do his work in India.”
And yet she went.
Her postulator said that her Yes was rewarded with a “real, close, intense union with Jesus in 1946 and 1947.” But then, once the Missionaries of Charity were started, she received the dark night of the soul that Teresa and Thérèse had experienced: the agonizing feeling of the absence of God.
“This was for us a new way of understanding the ‘I thirst;’ of Jesus — and often Mother would speak of a ‘painful thirst,’” said the postulator of her cause. “Mother was sharing in the longing and sufferings of her beloved.”
The dark night lasted as long as a year or two for the great mystics. For Mother Teresa, it lasted for five decades.
“This seems to me the most heroic thing of her spiritual life,” said her postulator. “Mother was not only sharing in the physical poverty of the poor but also the sufferings of Jesus — his longing for union, as expressed in Gethsemane and on the cross.”
And at the same time as all this was going on, she used to say that she wanted to be an “apostle of joy.”
It's hard for us to imagine such a thing. But this is precisely why Mother Teresa has become such a powerful intercessor for the Church of the 21st century.
“You are afraid,” Jesus told her, Mother reported to a bishop in 1946. “How your fear hurts me. Fear not. It is I who am asking you to do this for me. Fear not. Even if the whole world is against you, laughs at you, your companions and superiors look down on you, fear not. It is I in you, with you, for you.”
These words were kept by the bishop and are only becoming public now. It's as if Jesus' message, which was once just for Mother Teresa, is now meant for the whole Church: “You will suffer, suffer very much, but remember I am with you. Even if the whole world rejects you, remember you are my own and I am yours only. Fear not, it is I. Only obey — obey very cheerfully and promptly and without any questions. Just only obey. I shall never leave you if you obey.”