This past week marked 21 years since Mother Teresa died. She’s known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta now, and Wednesday was her feast day. I can’t get her off my mind. And none of us should.
“She wanted to be ‘God’s love, His compassion, His presence’ wherever she went, so that people looking at her might come to know the God whom she wished to reflect,” Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, writes in Mother Teresa: A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve. He was the postulator of her cause for sainthood, and is a priest of the order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity.
He writes: “‘People are hungry for God,’ she used to say. This reality of ‘spiritual hunger’ . . . she experienced deeply and encountered wherever she went.”
He quotes her:
Before [Jesus] taught the people, He had pity on the multitude, and He fed them. He made a miracle. He blessed the bread, and He fed five thousand people. It’s because He loved the people. He had pity on them. He saw the hunger in their faces and He fed them. And only then He taught them.
In recent decades, the world hasn’t always heard the Church — or it has misheard. Some of that is the Church’s doing, some of it is the reality of the world we’re in. In this time of ongoing scrutiny, can pastors’ hearts be revived? Can priests who have been called and ordained to serve with love only to become administrators be made freer to do the better part?
Mother Teresa continued:
More than ever people want to see love in action through our humble works — how necessary it is for us to be in love with Jesus — to be able to feed Him in the hungry and the lonely. How pure our eyes and hearts must be to see Him in the poor. How clean our hands must be to touch Him in the poor with love and compassion. How clean our words must be to be able to proclaim the Good News to the poor.
That hunger — and the urgency of discovering the depths of our own poverty and need for grace — is apparent throughout her talks and writings.
More from Mother Teresa in Call to Mercy:
In Ethiopia and in India, hundreds of people are coming and dying just there for [lack of] a piece of bread. In Rome and London and places like that people die of loneliness and bitterness.
You see, we have a wrong idea that only hunger for bread is hunger. There is much greater hunger and much more painful hunger: hunger for love, for the feeling of being wanted, to be somebody to somebody. A feeling of being unwanted, unloved, rejected. I think that’s a very great hunger and a very great poverty.
In Works of Love Are Works of Peace, by Michael Collopy, she is quoted:
There is much suffering in the world — very much. And the material suffering is suffering from hunger, suffering from homelessness, from all kinds of disease, but I still think that the greatest suffering is being lonely, feeling unloved, just having no one. I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can ever experience.
In 1995, at a home for the dying, she said:
Seeking the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere, all the time and seeing His hand in every happening is contemplation. No contemplation is possible without asceticism and self abnegation.
Love to be real, it must cost — it must hurt — it must empty us of self.
So many of her words help to lay bare how deep this season of scandal in the Church runs. People need the Church. People want the Church. But there are obstacles. Our own institutions have become obstacles — even with the good that they do. People look and see icons of hypocrisy.
And it should be impossible to get the suffering of people who were hurt by the Church off our hearts and out of our prayers. The Church should be the last place where evil is done. Some of this — especially the allegations about Theodore McCarrick involving abuse of seminarians — has been described as a “Catholic #MeToo moment.” And the scandals no doubt pour salt into the wounds of those who have suffered at the hands of representatives of the Church. They also hurt those who are away from the Church and may have begun to reconsider the Church because her teachings about men and women and love and marriage and healthy human interactions make some sense. Just when they might have been ready to take a second look, Satan stands at the door sending people away.
And yet . . . on Friday in Manhattan, I noticed Cardinal Dolan quietly, after the 7 a.m. Mass, hearing a half hour of confessions. It’s as if the light being shown on the sins of the Church helps us to see our own more clearly, and makes us seek to live our vocations more fully. This clinging to the sacramental life — to the knowledge that Christ himself is present in it now more than ever — is crucial to the rebuilding of the Church.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral is the place where McCarrick allegedly preyed on a child. Because the man who had been that child came forward with his story after Cardinal Dolan asked people who had been abused by priests in the Archdiocese to come forward, we now know what we know about McCarrick. There is a need for independent investigations, resignations, laicizations, reforms, and criminal prosecutions, but spiritually this summer of scandal falls into a long extra-liturgical Lenten journey. And the faithful seem to understand. Even in the midst of the feelings of anger and sadness and betrayal, there is a desire to be part of the solution. And that begins first with total reliance on God, which requires a pure heart. Since we are sinners, that keeps us with the sacraments — thus the confession line. That keeps us at Mass. That draws us into acts of penance and reparation as members of the pierced Body of Christ, the Church. That keeps us singing about the mighty power of God because there is no way out of this filth without Him.
Mother Teresa talked a lot, too, about smiling. (“Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”) I haven’t always wanted to smile in recent weeks. But that look of love to another cannot be forgotten. Even amid the onslaught of nauseating, infuriating, humiliating headlines, you may be the instrument, with a little gesture of welcome, by which God opens the Church door back to someone who could conceivably walk in. He may use you to remove obstacles to the Sacramental life — to transformative encounters with Him.
One more Mother Teresa quote: “Pride speaks boldly, and it destroys on its way everything that is lovely and beautiful.” This current penitential journey requires humility. Courage, yes. Justice, yes. Faith, hope, and love — yes, to a revival of all the virtues. But it’s humility that keeps us centered on Christ and keeps away pride where the Devil thrives. Pray for humility for all of us — for Church leaders, priests, laity offering to step up to the plate, tweeters, everyone.