Votive Mass, St. Teresa of Calcutta
Opening Mass for a Symposium on St. Teresa of Calcutta
September 10, 2022
Basilica of the National Shrine, Crypt Church
I am amazed that twenty-five years have passed since St. Teresa of Calcutta passed from this earth unto everlasting life. Among the many undeserved blessings God has showered upon me is the opportunity to have been in her presence on many different occasions. For example, she was present at Masses of final profession that I celebrated. On one occasion, she visited Cardinal Hickey’s home where I served her a glass of water. I never took those encounters for granted. I was in awe of her. It wasn’t just that she was famous. Like many others, I felt the impact of her holiness.
The Scripture readings which are set before us to-day shed the light of God’s glory on the particular character of her holiness, a holiness which is one of God’s most beautiful gifts to his Church, a holiness that reflects her unique personality, her personal strength, her life’s journey, and her charism – all so evident in you, her Missionaries of Charity.
The Plans of God’s Heart
Let me begin with the last lines of to-day’s Responsorial Psalm, taken from Ps. 33: “But the plan of the Lord stands forever, the designs of his heart through all generations.” Throughout the course of her amazing life, Mother Teresa was open to the providential designs of God for her life. Growing up in a faith-filled home, she was fascinated by stories about missionaries and had a strong attraction to religious life. At the age of 18, she entered the sisters of Loretto, and took as her namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, the patroness of the missions. She taught in the lower Himalayas and eventually in Calcutta where she witnessed social unrest and heartrending poverty and deprivation.
It was then that God revealed to her the designs of his heart. On September 10, 1946, while traveling by train to her annual retreat in Darjeeling, she received the inspiration be a missionary to the poorest of the poor, to live among the poor and to share in their poverty. She said of that moment: “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.”
The rest, as they say, is history. In 1950, she founded the Missionaries of Charity and now her sisters, number some 4,500, spread throughout the world. They share in her charism, serving the poorest of the poor, “only all for Jesus through Mary”. In her last letter to her Missionaries of Charity, dated September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa spoke of that foundational moment as “Inspiration Day”, and she urged her sisters, to show gratitude for that beautiful moment of grace “by a strong resolution to quench the Thirst of Jesus by lives of real charity.” Like Mary, the Mother of God, St. Teresa of Calcutta embraced God’s plan for her life with “Loving Trust” and “Total Surrender”.
To loving trust and total surrender, I might add “dogged determination” and courage. If, in her life of prayer and discernment, she knew something to be God’s will, very little would stand in her way from getting it done – whether it was opening a hospice here in Washington for the homeless who are coping with HIV and AIDS, or repeatedly trying to open convents in China. Mother Teresa, though small in stature, was powerful yet it was not the self-centered power of the world, but Christ, the wisdom and power of God, acting in and through her.
Sharing in Jesus’ Thirst
In the reading from Isaiah, the prophet shows the way to righteousness: “…sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and homeless into your house, clothing the naked when you see them…” The very things that Jesus himself speaks of in to-day’s Gospel from Matthew, Ch. 25: ‘feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison…” Only now, Jesus identifies himself with the poorest of the poor, leading Mother Teresa to coin the haunting phrase, “Jesus in his distressing disguises.”
Mother Teresa did not fear the poor. Nor disease. Nor the filth of streets. What she did fear was indifference to Jesus and to the plight of the poor. In her life of prayer, she knew Jesus was thirsting for her love, and that she and her sisters were to slake Jesus’ thirst by ministering the poor. In answering that call, Mother Teresa took no shortcuts. Like Mary, she stood prayerfully at the foot of the Cross and listened as Jesus spoke the words, “I thirst.” Even when she did not find consolation in prayer, she united herself to Christ, she shared in his thirst: his thirst for souls, his thirst for our love and holiness, his thirst for a love that expresses itself in the fraternal charity of the sisters, a love that expresses itself in direct, hands-on love and care for the sick and the poor. She did not do this with the grim determination of an overwrought social worker but with charity and simplicity and hope, all reflected in her beautiful smile. As she served the poor, the light of God’s glory dawned upon her, and now in the halls of heaven, the Lord has satisfied her thirst. Now, from her exalted place in God’s Kingdom, she urges us to thirst for Jesus by prayer, mutual love, and love for Jesus in the poor.
In the reading from the First Letter of John, we encounter a beautiful simplicity combined with amazing depth. Who could ever finish meditating on the words, “love is of God” and “God is love”. Or who could not be amazed when John tells us that love consists in this: “Not that we have loved God but that God has loved us and has sent us his Son…” With a simple sentence, John sums up the whole of the Lord’s teaching: No one has ever seen God, yet if we love one another, God remains in us.” We can only speculate how profoundly these words registered in St. Teresa of Calcutta’s heart.
But this much we do know. John’s simplicity and depth were reflected in everything Mother said and did. Mother Teresa’s words were always simple yet profound. She never wasted words, using long sentences or theological jargon. Instead, she spoke simply, clearly, and directly and her words reflected the truth and beauty of the Gospel – and what’s more – she confirmed her words by a life of prayer, self-giving love, and courage. For example, when she spoke of the unborn at a congressional prayer breakfast, she spoke so simply, so beautifully, and with such integrity that she managed to touch the hearts of even the most recalcitrant politicians. Following the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Teresa’s life was always a “yes” to Jesus and a “running in haste to serve Him in the poorest of the poor.” She taught us to say “yes” to Jesus not only in our words but above all in our lives.
On this anniversary of Inspiration Day, let us ask St. Teresa of Calcutta to smile upon us, to deepen our life of prayer, to confirm our resolution to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor, and to practice a charity that bears witness to the Gospel and unifies the Church.
May God bless us and keep us always in his love. St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!