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St. Teresa of Calcutta; Mass at Gift of Hope

Gift of Hope

I. Introduction

A. It is a joy for me to come today to Gift of Hope to continue our celebration of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s canonization by our beloved Pope Francis, last Sunday, in St. Peter’s Square. It was an event that captured the attention of the whole world but in a particular way it captured our attention here in Baltimore as we recalled Mother Teresa’s visits in 1975, 1992, and 1996 – and her lasting impact of her presence on our beloved city.

B. At the front door of the convent is a photo of Mother Teresa and Cardinal Keeler standing together on the day that Gift of Hope opened its doors. I have seen many photos of a smiling Cardinal Keeler but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happier. And, I have to say, Mother looked wonderfully happy as well. We share in joy of praying where a saint prayed and of walking where a saint walked. We share the joy of being with you, sisters, who share in that special gift, that charism, which the Holy Spirit raised up in her great and loving soul.

II. Mother Teresa’s Gift

A. What was the special gift that she brought to Baltimore and indeed, the whole world? Pope Francis, in his homily of canonization, called her “a dispenser of mercy”. In the darkness of poverty, both spiritual and material, the light of God’s mercy shone through Mother Teresa – through her words and through her deeds – and through the Gift of Hope – the work of the Sisters and Volunteers – the light of God’s mercy continues to shine brightly in Baltimore. I came this morning to express not only my personal thanks but that gratitude of the entire Archdiocese of Baltimore!

B. I can also speak from a bit of personal experience… for I was privileged to meet Mother Teresa many times when I served as Secretary to Cardinal Hickey in Washington and later when I served as his Auxiliary Bishop. We would see her often, sometimes twice in a single year, and every one of those encounters made a deep impression on me, for she was indeed ‘a dispenser of God’s mercy.’

III. Spiritual Poverty and Mercy

A. I first saw Mother Teresa as a seminarian at Mt. St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg. She came in 1974 to speak to the seminary community and was warmly greeted by our Rector, Father Harry J. Flynn, later the Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. My classmates and I were all looking forward to all kinds of stories about Mother’s heroic service to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and many other places where the Missionaries of Charity were ministering. Instead, Mother Teresa mostly talked about the vine and the branches. She told those of us who were preparing to become priests that we should be closely connected to Jesus – that Jesus was the source of our charity, that Jesus would keep us faithful, that Jesus would give us the ability to give of ourselves. She had our rapt attention; to this day I remember sitting in St. Bernard’s Chapel, my eyes glued on the diminutive sister who spoke so wisely. It’s not that she was a brilliant theologian or an exegete – even as callow seminarians we sensed the wisdom of her holiness.

B. The next time I would see her was a secretary to Cardinal Hickey. A new home for women was opened on Wheeler Road in S.E. Washington and so I brought Cardinal Hickey to say Mass for Mother Teresa and the sisters. We entered the darkened chapel, early in the morning, and if memory serves we were running a little late (due to traffic). There she was, sitting on the floor in an old dark blue sweater, in the back of chapel, and she was looking intently at the crucifix under which were the words, “I thirst”. I thought to myself, “Wow! What must her life of prayer be like?” I imagined that she was experiencing the consolation of his love – the love that she dispensed to generously in her service of the poor. I imagined that she first experienced in prayer the joy she radiated in the world. Only later did we all find out about her interior struggles … her experience of spiritual darkness, her sense of the absence of God, her perseverance in prayer in spite of a lack of consolation.

C. Many people say they have dryness in prayer when in fact they are simply distracted, bored, or absent from God. But Mother’s experience, as we all know, was different. It was the dark night that so many saints have undergone … and in her struggles she spoke often about her own need for God’s mercy. I’ve often wondered why Mother was allowed to experience this – and I think it’s because that was God’s way of making her a source of mercy for those in developed countries who suffer, not from physical poverty, but indeed from a spiritual poverty. She understood how real and how pervasive this kind of poverty truly is. Mother Teresa had not silver or gold but as the result of her interior struggles she was God’s instrument in enriching the spiritual lives of countless people.

IV. Material Poverty and Mercy

A. Mother Teresa addressed our spiritual poverty by making evident the link between the Body of Christ offered on the altar and the physical suffering of the poor who had no one to care for them in their hunger, homelessness, and illness. It is so easy to read today’s Gospel, Matthew 25, about the necessity of seeing Christ in the hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned – but Mother Teresa lived that Gospel and convinced you her sisters to do the same – and she convinced many others to join her in this work in one way or another.

B. We live in a world that Pope Francis describes as a “throwaway culture” – but Mother Teresa taught us to cherish and love the poorest of the poor and to find Christ and his Passion in their sufferings. By being instruments of God’s mercy to them in their need, it may just be that we will open the door to God’s mercy in our own lives. Or, to put it another way, having received God’s mercy, we are called to become, as she was, the instruments of God’s mercy who serve the needs of others without counting the cost. After all, as St. John teaches us, “Love consists in this – not that we have loved God but that God has loved us first, and sent his Son as an offering for our sins.”

C. Mother Teresa brought to her work all the gentle strength of the Gospel. When she opened up a hospice, for example, she was impatient with local zoning laws that limited what she could do for the poor. When she wanted to bring her sisters into places like Cuba or China where there was great resistance – she was relentless. Mother Teresa never raised her voice or used her fame to bully others – on the contrary, she spoke with persuasive force of love – and love that was at once passionate and merciful! And she shows us how all of us can live the Gospel of mercy – not by opening up great institutions or by heroic feats of mercy – but by small acts of love done with love for those in need.

V. Conclusion

A. So with you I rejoice and give thanks that Mother Teresa is a saint and pray that the light of her love will shine throughout the world, and especially here in Baltimore and above all in the hearts of each one of us here present.

B. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!