On September 4, 2016, nineteen years after her death, Mother Teresa became Saint Teresa. I’m having difficulty adjusting to this change, because I identified with the Mother in Mother Teresa. She seemed almost within reach. When tending to one or all of my four children during the “endless” flu and cold season, exhausted, I would say,
“Phew, I feel like Mother Teresa.” My children would understand, and give a sympathetic smile. Saint Teresa just isn’t the same. Regardless of my concerns, she has gone through the lengthy process of canonization and has been heralded a saint. With her unwavering mission of helping the poorest of the poor, she was an inspiration to many.
Mother Teresa never gave birth to her own children but she had hundreds of children. She saw children and adults ravaged by war, by disease, by disfigurement, by emotional alienation. Rather than being angry with God for their hurt, she became more loving, more focused on her children of “pure light.” She found those close to death to be the pure of heart. Open hearted they yearned to see the face of God. They were deeply grateful for her care and keenly felt the love of Jesus Christ through her. Mother Teresa’s mission was to turn their souls to Christ, so they too could sing His praises. She was Christ’s instrument, and referred to herself as “the little bride of Christ.” At one point, Saint Teresa said,
“By blood, I am Albanian, by citizenship, Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. “
She was born and baptized Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia on August 26, 1910. Being born into a devout Catholic family, meant she learned from a very young age to share what she had to feed the hungry. Drana Bojaxhiu, her mother had a deep commitment to charity. She once told her daughter,
“My child, never eat a single mouthful unless you are sharing it with others.” Quite often their household fed the sick and the homeless since their dinner table was frequented by the less fortunate. Mother Teresa gave her mother credit for her generosity. After the unexpected loss of her father, Agnes became even closer to her mother. At age twelve, while on a school pilgrimage to the church of the Black Madonna, she received a call to religious life. Her journey took her on a circuitous route first to Dublin, Ireland to train with the Loreto Sisters. She took the name of here favorite saint, Saint Therese because it symbolized entering a new phase in her spiritual life. Saint Therese was also known as “the little flower” and was given the title of “the sacred keeper of the garden” by Pope Paul XI. It is easy to understand why she chose the name of this saint. Once that decision was made to take the oath of poverty and the vows of the religious life, she never saw her own mother again.
The next part of her journey was spent in Calcutta, India. Here she taught at Saint Mary’s High School for Girls. She learned to speak Bengali and Hindi and her mission was to alleviate poverty through education. Six years later she took her Final Vows to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience. It was at that time she added the title of Mother to her name. After teaching at St. Mary’s school for girls in India for seventeen years, she received a “call within a call.” This took her life in a new direction. On September 10, 1946, on a train ride from Calcutta to the Himalayan foothills bound for a retreat, Christ spoke to her again. He told her to abandon teaching and care for the poorest and sickest in the slums of Calcutta. Listening to the call of Jesus was the easiest part because convincing those in authority over her was a tall order. Since she had taken the oath of obedience, she could not venture out on her own without permission. She had to lobby the authorities, which she did tirelessly for a year and a half. Finally, in 1948 it was approved and she developed a new order called The Sisters of Charity. She donned a blue and white sari, which became the trademark of her order, and she headed for the streets of Calcutta. Her mission: to care for the unwanted. Her order established a hospice for the dying, new centers for the blind, aged and disabled, as well as, a leper colony. This venture had an enormous worldwide impact. She received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work. The Sisters of Charity continue to carry on her work around the globe today. Mother Teresa was awarded the Jewel of India, the highest honor given to an Indian civilian. The Soviet Union bestowed on her the Gold Medal of the Soviet Peace Committee
The discovery after her death is what made her a saint in my eyes. To those she served, her eyes were filled with light and love. Her delightful sense of humor was playful especially with the children she cherished. At times she doubled over with laughter, and people remarked on the glow of peace on her face. However, after her death, those close to her revealed that she suffered for fifty years with what St John of the Cross described as the “dark night of the soul.” Although she heard Christ’s call on the train to the Himalayas, she felt the misery of being abandoned by God. Some liken this experience to a soldier who leaves his beloved behind to go to war. The warrior is confident that his lover will be faithful, so he continues doing what he must without any contact with the beloved. This describes Mother Teresa as she faithfully and slavishly served Jesus Christ while tending to the needs of the poorest of the poor in Calcutta and around the world. She reported a brief period of relief in 1958 when Jesus touched her heart. He came to her during a Mass celebrated shortly after the death of Pope Pius XII, the person who gave her permission to leave the Loreto sisters to work among the poor.
“Today my soul is filled with love, with joy untold with an unbroken union of love.” But, just four weeks later, she again described the pain of abandonment to her spiritual director. “He is gone again, leaving me alone.” She lived in this darkness until the end of her life, and her secret life was a living hell. Some speculate that this profound sadness helped her empathize with those who were unwanted and alone. Whatever the reason, Saint Teresa soldiered on giving the world her best, which was a full measure of Christ’s love.
Kathryn Den Houter