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Learning from St. Teresa of Calcutta

Members of the Missionaries of Charity attend a service marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata in this Aug. 26, 2010, file photo. Pope Francis has approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Blessed Teresa, paving the way for her canonization in 2016. (CNS photo/Deshakalayan Chowdhur, Reuters pool)

When she was declared a saint, did Mother Teresa strut around heaven and rub it in that she has been officially recognized whereas most of the other souls there have not? Unlikely. We formally recognize saints not for their benefit, but for ours. The saints’ holiness should encourage ours—not substitute for it. So what should we be learning from her?

God Is Not Finished with Us Yet

After joining the Sisters of Loreto in Dublin in 1928, Gonxha (Agnes) Bojaxhiu received the name Teresa and made her novitiate in Darjeeling, India. After 18 years as a very successful teacher and administrator in a

school for wealthy girls in Calcutta, she felt a “call within a call” to leave that commendable work in order to live and serve women and men whom she described as “the poorest of the poor.”

She once described a dying man in her care. “I have lived like an animal, but I am going to die like an angel,” he said. Her new community, the Missionaries of Charity, soon attracted young women to offer similar service and donors to support their work. In time, she founded three male religious communities and a group of lay associates.

Mother Teresa heard this initial “call within a call” while riding a very crowded train on the way to her annual retreat. At times, have we ever been on the cusp of some deeper conversion to God’s ways, but instead may have drawn back, arguing that the timing was not right, that needed resources were not available, or for some other reason?

St. Teresa might have refused that call in 1946, remained where she was, and still have become a saint, but she would probably not be officially recognized as such now.

When I heard her speak in Cincinnati in1981, she encouraged all of us to see Christ in hungry, homeless, and very needy people made in the image and likeness of God. Her quiet life and energetic ministry prompted people around the world to reconsider their priorities. We are constantly tempted to say “enough” long before God says that. We often need to borrow courage and energy from holy people such as St. Teresa.

Still Benefiting Others

Although it may seem rude to mention money in connection with her canonization, once the expenses have been paid, money raised for her cause may help the Church officially recognize other holy women and men who have lived out the Gospel with great courage and generosity.

Last March, Pope Francis established new regulations about accountability for money collected to help recognize new saints. That money is now to be given to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints for causes that are very worthy, but not well funded. Perhaps some of the money collected for St. Teresa, for example, will benefit the cause of Servant of God Dorothy Day, a laywoman and cofounder of the Catholic Worker, or other people assisting women, men, and children suffering on the margins of every society.

Mother Teresa’s canonization will certainly help the religious groups she founded to sustain and expand their corporal and spiritual works of mercy on all continents. She was open to the greater sacrifice that God asked of her during that train ride. Are we similarly open and generous?

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