Saint Teresa of Calcutta

Mutter Teresa, lachend, Dezember 1985

Today is an extraordinary day, because today Pope Francis canonizes Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint! This pint-sized woman was a giant of the twentieth century. In her lifetime, she went from total obscurity to one of the most beloved people of our time. Why? Because of all of the virtue that emanated from her soul.

 

  • Her COMPASSION for the poorest of the poor was her hallmark of life. She never passed by someone in need without entering into the suffering of that person.
  • Her demonstration of HUMILITY in her everyday actions taught us all how to act with humility (consider her 15 points of humility).
  • Her never ending DILIGENCE to do God’s will, and God’s will alone, is a testament to living the Greatest Commandment: To love God with your whole heart, soul and mind.
  • Her COURAGE and FAITH in putting all of her trust in God to provide, not only for her own needs, but for the needs of those in her charge, faithfully demonstrates to all of us what it means to truly be a child of God.
  • Her CHARITY, so ever present in all that she did, reminds me of one of her famous quotes: “We can do no great thing – only small things with great love.”
  • Her JOY that emanated while living a life of austerity astounds me; yet I know that she found her JOY in satiating Christ’s thirst for souls by bringing souls to Him.

I could go on listing a litany of additional virtues, but you get the point. How awesome that we have such a glorious saint from our own time to learn from and to model our own behavior after, if we too, wish to satiate Christ’s thirst for souls.

Teresa’s Life

Teresa began her humble life in Macedonia. At the young age of 12, she received a call to dedicate her life to God. At the age of 18, she entered the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (the Loreto Sisters). She wanted to be a missionary. A year after joining the convent, she was sent on her fist mission to Bengal, India. One year after arriving in Bengal, she transferred to the city of Calcutta, where she remained the rest of her life.

On September 10, 1946, while on a retreat, Teresa received a “call with a call” to create a new religious order of sisters dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor; a religious order that we know today as the Missionaries of Charity. After founding this new religious order, Saint Teresa began to experience many years of what Saint John of the Cross would refer to as the “dark night of the soul,” where she could not feel the Lord’s presence in her life. She pressed on though with courage and faith, knowing that even though she could not feel His presence, her faith told her that Jesus was truly present in her life. One day, she had an epiphany of sorts, where she came to realize that the so-called darkness within her soul was an opportunity to share in the thirst for souls with Jesus. After receiving this epiphany, she gladly embraced the darkness. 1

Teresa’s Future

11825473774_b76ba7d331_bWith her canonization to sainthood, Teresa gets to spend all of eternity in the presence of God. After living such an austere and difficult life on earth, giving all that she had to the glory of God, something tells me that Teresa is not finished thirsting for souls with Jesus. She was, and always will be, a missionary! She just has a new mission now – praying for each one of us!

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, please pray for us!

Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. She is the author of children’s book Finding Patience and blogs at www.virginialieto.com.

1 Gaitley, Michael. 33 Days to Morning Glory. Stockbridge: Marian Press. Print. 2012 p. 68

A Stained Cookbook Means Somebody Used It Often

Sometimes the liturgical calendar delivers punches in such succession that we find it difficult to keep up.  Today is the feast of St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Society of Jesus.  And what could be said about the Jesuits that has not already been said? There’s no time to rest, though. Tomorrow is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696-1787), founder of the Redemptorists, an order with its own proud history of apostolic work.  It is, after all, a good thing that the Church thinks in centuries, not minutes, days, weeks, and certainly not tweets!  (Pope Francis is, though, an accomplished Twitter user.)  We need the liturgical cycle to bring before us this unceasing stream of saintly exemplars.  We do our best to emulate them, knowing that next year we hope to glean a little more insight from the saints as they become familiar friends.  For me, it’s St. Ignatius Loyola (and St. Alphonsus), but my colleague Carmina Chapp attends instead to Dorothy Day. Somebody else might appreciate  St. Charles Lwanga or a saint known only to a few people and God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius of Loyola
Source; Marquette University

St. Ignatius ranks among those Catholic greats—St. Augustine of Hippo, Cardinal Newman, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton—who generate such interest that simple internet searches threaten to melt down servers.  Still, Ignatius’ life seems almost operatic, even movie-worthy.  Born to a wealthy family, Ignatius’ military career broke amid cannon fire at Pamplona, Spain.  His wounded leg had to be broken twice in order to set properly.  Bedridden, Ignatius began reading the lives of the saints. St. Ignatius thus understood fully St. Luke’s depiction of Christ’s injunction to treasure God, not earthly things.

But God said to him,
‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you;
and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’
Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves
but are not rich in what matters to God.”

Providentially, that Gospel reading appears today, St. Ignatius’ feast day. Having endured what he had, earthly possession surely seemed frail indeed.  As one blogger, working with Dom Gueranger, puts it: “It dawned on him that the Church also has her army which, under the orders of the representative of Christ, fights to defend here below the sacred interests of the God of hosts.”  An army for God—in the days of the Reformation, that stirred Ignatius to action.  Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits—in 1534, headquartered in Rome.  From there Ignatius sent missionaries all over the work:  China, Japan, India, and both North and South America.  As he did, he charged them: “Go, my brothers, Inflame the world and spread everywhere the fire which Jesus Christ came to kindle on the earth.”

There’s an image: setting the world afire for God!  Yet St. Ignatius’ best-known venue to recognizing that same fire in ourselves came through a most prosaic book:  The Spiritual Exercises. Like much of the Catholic tradition I first met St. Ignatius Loyola while studying at Wabash College, led by a host of devout Presbyterian scholars.  They loved the Church and thus they taught its history, even the Catholics who opposed their beloved reformers Calvin and Luther.  William Placher’s description (p. 176) of the Spiritual Exercises always stuck with me:  “Much of it has all the literary eloquence of a cook-book, and a similarly practical intent, designed as it is for spiritual directors to use in guiding people through a religious retreat.”  Bill liked to cite St. Ignatius’ “Rules for Thinking with the Church,” the thirteenth of which requires: “To keep ourselves right in all things, we ought to hold fast to this principle: What I see as white, I will believe to be black if the hierarchical Church thus determines it.”  For Protestants suspicious of Rome, that’s a great line, but it paints a paltry picture of the saint himself.  E.g., Bill rarely mentioned the other rules which extoll a medieval piety of saint veneration or the preceding “Rules for Distributing Alms” (or, more fundamentally, the thoroughly Scriptural foundation for the entire Exercises).  Loyalty to Rome came as part of that inflaming fire the first Jesuits found God had given them through St. Ignatius.  Jesuit identity certainly involves ecclesiastical fidelity, but not only that.

At one level, of course, Placher is right;  cookbooks are meant to be used.  Which is the better cookbook:  the slick production with recipes requiring several odd, rarely used ingredients or the one that bears clear signs of frequent, sustained use?  After all, if stained with sauces and flour, that cookbook has been used.  The recipes work—cooks can follow and make them and, this is important, those consuming like the offerings.  St. Ignatius’ spiritual direction certainly fits this.    It works and has done so over the centuries.  St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises describe a retreat to be taken over thirty-one days.  Jesuits take the entire retreat at least twice during their lives, and today the laity often seeks St. Ignatius’ retreat-director advice episodically—whether seeking insight on prayerful examination of the day or extra encouragement to lose self in order to gain Christ. The Exercises still generate widespread consideration far beyond the Jesuits’ own members.  The Jesuit cookbook still contains much that satisfies.

Like some diets, though, that draw criticism, not everybody likes it.  In Victorian England both Jesuits and Redemptorists—there’s tomorrow’s saint again—particularly stirred up anti-Catholic sentiment among Protestant elites.  Not content with merely advancing popery, the legacies of both St. Ignatius and St. Alphonsus celebrated suspiciously loose spiritualities.  Both seemed willing to contort the Gospel to fit the apostolic situation.  This adaptability, though, should be seen in the context of St. Ignatius’ charge:  ignite the world.   Sometimes, as any camper knows, you need more than one match to start that fire.  St. Ignatius, having lived quite a life before he came to God, developed a reformed Catholic spirituality that provided that ignition.  Through the Exercises’ simple prose have come a plentitude of paths, all through the Church, back to God.

Jeffrey Marlett teaches theology and Catholic social teaching for Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Programs. He blogs at Spiritual Diabetes.