Mother Teresa’s Life Explains Sunday’s Readings

User's Guide to Sunday, Sept. 4


Sunday, Sept. 4, is the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90:3-6, 12-17; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Today’s readings are about changing our perspective from our limited view here on earth to God’s omniscient view. Canonizations are supposed to do the same thing: Look at an earthly life from God’s point of view. So it is helpful to think of this Sunday’s readings in light of this Sunday’s canonization of St. Teresa of Kolkata.

Hate your mother and father?

Today’s Gospel includes Jesus’s startling statement: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

That sounds harsh — but in Mother Teresa’s life, you can see what it means.

Her father died when she was young, but after she became a nun, she never saw her mother and sister again. She wanted to see them, badly, but they were not allowed to leave Albania under the dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, and she wasn’t allowed to come visit them.

She could have renounced her vocation, rejected her faith and visited them, perhaps. But that would be unthinkable: Her love for them paled in comparison to her love for God.

That’s what “hate” means in this context. Not “greatly dislike,” but “prioritize way below God.” When it comes to our families, we should do what Mother Teresa did: Put God first.

Plan your tower.

“Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion?” asks Jesus.

Mother Teresa knew what she needed to do: Give Jesus to the poorest of the poor. And she knew what she needed to make that happen: She needed a relationship with Christ, and she needed certain resources.

So she did what was necessary. She insisted on an hour of Eucharistic adoration daily from her congregation. When their work was especially busy, she said it was time for more prayer, not less. She also fundraised tirelessly. She knew that she could not do what God wanted without funds, so she did what was necessary to get the funds she needed.

How about us? Do we do what needs to be done in the spiritual life? We want to get to heaven — do we talk to Jesus every day to get to know him so that will happen? We want our children to be moral and close to God. Do we have a relationship with them and follow up with them to make it happen? We want to help others. Do we budget our time —and money — so that we can do so?

Accepting ignorance.

“Scarce do we guess the things on earth,” says the first reading, “and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?”

Mother Teresa showed that it is not the intellectual giants in life who know the most: It is those who are humble enough to actually listen to what God says. She was profound not because she was so smart, but because she was so single-minded and pure-hearted.

When we try to second-guess God and the Church and supplant it with our own wisdom, we ironically limit our own capabilities — because we reduce our mental resources, which are infinite in Christ, to the size of our brains.

Finding spiritual parenthood.

Last, we have the example of St. Paul in the second reading, presenting the servant Onesimus as one “whose father I have become in my imprisonment.”

This spiritual parenthood is something that Mother Teresa experienced, too. It is hard to call Mother Teresa “St. Teresa” because we so strongly identify her as a “mother.”

This last example weds together all of the other examples. Mother Teresa put her spiritual relationship with God above her human ties. That left her free to be a mother. She put God’s word above her own words. That left her free to communicate in a way we all understand.

It has been said that, in much the same way that St. Francis was like “another Jesus,” Mother Teresa is like “another Mary.” St. Teresa, pray for us! Help us learn from your example to see our lives from God’s perspective.


Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

His book, What Pope Francis Really Said, is available for preorder at

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