Thursday, September 08, 2016

St Teresa of Calcutta: the Light is Shining Now!

I'm still reflecting on the great event that the Church celebrated on Sunday. The canonization of Mother Teresa has made it clear once again that we are living in an age of saints, great saints who depict the Gospel for us. No one enlightened the 20th century to the degree that this one stooped and wrinkled woman did, not even the brilliant and equally saintly John Paul II.  Mother Teresa's light shone brightest for those who find John Paul's writings (and even premises) impenetrable.  Seeing these saints in their variety helps us perceive "what the Spirit is saying to the Churches" of our day. I've been especially taken by a connection between two great Teresas of the modern era. Mother Teresa and St Therese are both saints of darkness, and they offer a gentle, nonthreatening light to the darkness in our time.

The Absinthe Drinkers
by Edgar Degas - Google Art Project
We don't usually associate the "Little Flower" with spiritual darkness, but the transcript of her Last Conversations shows that she underwent a torturous dark night of the soul that apparently lasted up to the moment of her death. Considering how short Therese's life was compared with that of Mother Teresa, it may even be that Therese's darkness lasted proportionately as long as the saint of Calcutta's. So in a way, the 20th century was bracketed by saints who walked in the darkness of sheer faith; two women who may be able to speak to our own faithless generation (growing more faithless by the day as younger and younger people turn away from religious teachings as if from magic and make-believe). These women did not experience a God of sweet fairy tales, but a consuming fire that burned away all natural light and left his presence completely imperceptible. Like Abraham, they had to "hope against hope" that God was really God, and that God was really there despite all evidence to the contrary.

In a way, Therese is the saint of urbane (or at least urban) darkness of the kind illustrated by Degas, while Teresa was called by Jesus to "be My light" in the dark hovels of material poverty and destitution.

That invitation of Jesus to the then-Loretto sister Teresa has an interesting quality. He called to her, "Come, be My light." Not "Go to the poor and be My light for them," but "Come" as if to say, "Come to Me where I am, in the dark hovels of the poor and you be My light." It is very similar to the invitation Blessed James Alberione received in "a time of particular darkness": "From here [the Tabernacle] I want to enlighten" in the sense that "I am your light, and I want to use you to enlighten others."
From our new comic book on St Teresa.

There is something very profound in this call to "be light." To "be light" is to be Jesus for the people we are with. I think this gives an answer to those pitiful critics who accuse Mother Teresa of betraying souls by not seeking the deathbed conversions of those she and her sisters cared for. (Yes, there really are people who think that Mother Teresa was effectively dispatching people to hell.) This is mistaking words for deeds, like the fundamentalists who buttonhole strangers to ask "Are you saved?" and are satisfied if their targets recite the sinner's prayer. Maybe Mother Teresa and her sisters know something that the anxious soul-savers do not know: that "whatever you do for the least, you do for Me" (Mt 25:40) is real, and that just as the Missionary of Charity serves Jesus in the poor, the poor are able to see Jesus in them: Jesus who is "in your midst as one who serves" (Lk 22:27). (If the poor are "meeting Jesus" are they not being evangelized?)

Mother Teresa is becoming for me a sign of what God can do with a single person who places herself fully at God's disposition. God can do the same amount of good in us, even if it is hidden from us and everyone else. Don't know how to place yourself at God's disposition? The Morning Offering is one place to start, and then there's always Offer it up!: practically a secret code for this mysterious grace that can expand and transform the world when just one person gives God free access to their life. 

Are you ready to be His light in the world?


1 comment:

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Dear person who...tried to comment, I fumbled my phone and deleted your kind words instead of posting them. Fortunately, though the comment itself can't be posted, your message can be (don't you love cut-and-paste?):
"Beautiful. Thank you. God Bless you!"

Thank you and Good bless you, too!