Emmitsburg Council of Churches


Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God

Father John J. Lombardi

Have you ever known or seen a saint? Many of us now can say we have, as Pope John Paul II (himself a saintly man) beatifies Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

She was a saint but she realized she was a sinner, in need of God's mercy and that she "was just a little pencil in God's hands". If only we could all be the same!

She was little (just over five feet tall) but big in everyone's eyes (receiving a Nobel peace prize, being a friend of the Pope). She moved around a lot: she was born in Albania and then moved to India, and now, well, she's in Heaven. Next to the Pope, she's probably traveled around more than most people in the world. Why? To serve the poor, the sick and dying, and to spread Jesus' good News and challenge. Mother Teresa never changed her message according to spin doctors and PR cadres. No matter who she was talking to, she called all in the same way to holiness, simplicity of lifestyle, prayer and serving the poor, and following Jesus. Everyone can do all these things, with no one excepted. She never condemned but often challenged: When she talked to Americans she intimated we're the richest country in the world yet the most lonely and materialistic, with so many resultant "throwaway children," ensuing abortions, and persons separated from families. 

Mother Teresa visited to so many people she eventually got a business card. It summarizes her spirituality and message perfectly. Study and memorize it, and become saintly, too: "The fruit of silence is prayer.  The fruit of prayer is love.  The Fruit of love is service. And the fruit of service is peace." This is a "spiritual recipe" for holiness.

The saints are our friends God gives us to spur us on to greater holiness. They want to help us and guide us in our ways. The Church is giving us an example in Mother Teresa so let's investigate her life more deeply and how she became holy, so we may become saintly. Here are some Questions and Answers about this little and gigantic lady of Calcutta and Heaven:

Question: Why is Mother Teresa being beatified so quickly? A.: That's easy-everyone knows the obvious-she was holy, she loved Jesus radically, and she helped poor people no one else would help. Her living example of "love in action" was a perfect illustration of Jesus living in her-all lifelong. What you saw was what you got. The Pope himself changed the mandatory time-requirement to investigate her cause because, well, everyone knows the obvious!

Q. What was she like? A. She was a human being, a sinner like all of us, sometimes funny and sometimes intense, but always serious about following Jesus' Ways. One time, a priest visiting Calcutta and working with the Missionaries of Charity (MC's), while walking the streets would get very sweaty and sunburned, especially with little hair on his head. Mother Teresa and the priest conversed on a hot day, and she said: "Father, you have very little hair up there (pointing gingerly to his head) do you want a hat?" The priest said he had a bandanna and respectfully declined. She persisted and said: "Be careful out there, it gets very hot!" (as she kept looking at his balding head).

She then reached up to his head and said: "Do you think holy water would help?" Saints are people too! She once said: "It is not how much we do but how much love we put in the doing." .  Another time a priest asked her Mother Teresa, after seeing her concerned about something, asked what was wrong, and she said one of her sisters was hit by a train and was in the hospital. They went to the hospital and the priest never saw Mother Teresa look so serious (even in chapel). She began to talk to the sister who was all bandaged up. She spoke loudly telling the sister who she was ("It is 'Mother'") and then said a priest was there for help. Then she began placing Miraculous Medals on the I.V. drip bottle, on the bandages of sister's forehead and hands, and elsewhere on her body. She asked the sister if she was sorry for her sins and if she loved Jesus.

The priest and Mother went out of the room before a confession was made. While waiting Mother Teresa was distraught though not despairing-one of her daughters was on the edge of death. At this time she was not beaming smiles but bridled with concern. Her humanness and great love of her daughter shone thru-a saint of compassion and humanness. She once said: "Let kindness be in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Don't only give your care, give your heart as well." .   Another time she went to an orphanage for children. As soon as the truck carrying her pulled up in the gates, the children came running to her, touching her feet and blessing themselves.

After the near bedlam of ecstasy, in an upstairs room, they all sang a song in Bengali, to the Virgin Mary icon on a wall, as Mother held a baby in her arms. They was a joyful bliss to the occasion. Later, in the visit the MC's brought food and other products from the truck. Mother began assertively calling orders to the various sisters; the sisters complied, and Mother continued the mission-pointing, speaking directly and making wishes known: the saint was working her mission. She said: "The work we do is our love for Christ transformed into deeds."... When Mother was sick in New Delhi, she almost died. The MC Sisters prayed, offered Masses and sacrifices for days, and even all of India, prayed for her, wondering if Mother would ever return home. Finally, she got better and returned to Calcutta. What was the first thing she did? She asked for a Mass to be said for her in thanksgiving, frailly attended and received Holy Communion. She said: "If we have faith we take Jesus at His word. We need faith to worship God and have a sprit of sacrifice. We need to spiritually feed on Him constantly."

Q.: What was Mother Teresa's spiritual life like? A.: She got up at 4.40 in the morning and was at chapel by five. She prayed the Liturgy of the Hours (Psalms and Bible readings), followed by meditative silence, and then Mass at 6am. Then she took a break, ate something and visited with her sisters and volunteers (teems of them in Calcutta). Throughout the day she said prayers and aspirations (short, loving prayers), and had many devotions (Angelus, etc). She made many novenas and pilgrimages. Every evening she made a Holy Hour, before Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, prayed the Rosary devoutly, and then spent time in holy silence. On Fridays she meditated on The Stations of the Cross. Oh: she owned two saris (her religious habits), was always clean and ate sparsely.

Q. Why did Mother Teresa follow her radical calling? A. Upon returning from a retreat in the Indian mountains she had a religious experience of Jesus calling her to yet more intimate service to Himself in the poor: "I was sick and you helped me, in prison and your visited me.  " (see Mt. 25). She left her bare, yet comforting environs as a sister and began her quest, to the streets of Calcutta, picking up and tending the bodies of the dying and unwanted children, one person at a time. She relied on sheer Providence to provide-food, shelter, and more sisters to help. She trusted, she followed, and she persevered.

Q.: What was her house like? A. It was beautifully austere (think about that). The main focus was the chapel (unadorned except for a main altar, a large, realistic crucifix--under the arms of Jesus are the words: "I Thirst"-- there was a beautiful statue of Mary (for feast days lovely Indian flowers decorated it). There was a large grotto/garden and plaza with state of Mary and flowers. There was a library and various other rooms with, of course, the MC's private areas. It was a rambling building which was often bustled with activity, was seemingly always being cleaned, and often enlivened by the surrounding street noises and sounds.

Q.: What was Mother Teresa's main characteristic? A.: Tenaciousness. This literally means "to hold onto" something (we may usually think of tenacious football players or the like). Mother Teresa firmly and lovingly held on to three main things: God, suffering for and with Jesus Christ; the poorest of the poor; and her religious life-prayer and spirituality, Mass, holy poverty and joyful service. At a time when so many have compromised a relationship with God, their vows or promises of poverty and service, Mother Teresa never compromised. She had to defend and keep her simple practice of picking up "one body at a time" against bureaucratic programs and moneyed endeavors; she never wavered in her vow of poverty-she and her sisters almost begged for food and trusted in divine Providence to provide; her devotion to Mary was childlike untainted with intellectualism; and her faith in the Lord Jesus was visceral, unencumbered and straight: quench Jesus' thirst.

One of the main things she frequently talked about was "satiating the thirst of Jesus in the poorest of the poor". She would not let patients have televisions and other modernistic entertainments. For this would compromise the silence and focus a sick person should have with other patients and God Himself. MC's often gave away carpets and other luxury items because they simply didn't need them and knew they would compromise their simple lifestyle. They never ate a meal outside their mother-house so not to confuse their free offering of service. She never campaigned for money, and yet received millions thru generous donations because of her radical witness. And so we all were attracted to this, to her.

Q.: O.k., now Mother Teresa is a saintly person, but, Just what exactly is a saint, anyway? A: There are many answers. He or she is a person who let Jesus live in them beautifully, consistently and effectively, over a lifetime; a saint, simply put, is a "Little Christ"; she or he, married, single or religious, is a person who practiced the virtues heroically; a saint is a person who overcame sin and practiced holiness consistently.

Q. What does beatification mean? A.: It is an initial enquiry of a holy person, and the person is found worthy of public veneration. This step may sometimes lead to canonization. Now we can call Mother Teresa Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and perhaps sometime, Saint Teresa.

Q.: How do the saints help us? A. They are our examples of how to become holy-shining inspirations-love God with all your heart and your neighbor as well (Mk. 12:29ff). Though we cannot replicate each saint's unique spiritual disciplines and lifestyle we can imitate their zeal and intense fervor for loving God and serving neighbor. They can all arouse us with holy desire to "seek first the Kingdom of God" (Mt. 6:33).

How to Respond.  Pray more and serve the poor: .  Read St Matthew ch. 25 on the Last Judgment and serving Jesus.  Read about other saints and how they became holy in their unique setting, place and time, and respond yourself. Be tenacious in your holy pursuit!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi