September 2016 Four County Catholic
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
You and I were among the millions worldwide who earlier this month witnessed the elevation to sainthood of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as bestowed by the Holy Father, Pope Francis.
By liturgical tradition, it was a formal ceremony in the magnificent setting of St. Peter’s Square before tens of thousands of pilgrims and leaders of state. Yet, it was unmistakably humble as was so appropriate for a saint whose life was devoted to caring for the poor. It struck me that this contrast was uniquely reflective of Mother Teresa’s life. She was ever the humble servant who loved and cared for the poorest of the poor; while at the same time, the world granted her celebrity status she was characteristically reluctant to embrace. Even in her reluctance, she became the most admired person of the 20th century. Here was an authentic living saint who held sick and abandoned children in her arms much of the time, and yet, in contrast, also held a Noble Peace Prize and held the respect of world leaders. Just as Pope Francis is known as the “People’s Pope,” Mother Teresa, during her life and now in eternal sainthood, is very much the “People’s Saint” of our time. Her legacy of love, outreach and service to others is a legacy still active inside us as Christians committed to lifting up our brothers and sisters most in need.
Personally, I am also drawn to her deep understanding of the true spiritual essence of charity. By naming her ministry the Missionaries of Charity, she conveyed early-on how charity is at the heart of the Christian mission. It must be in our heart to serve God’s will. Having chosen “Above All Charity” as my Bishop’s motto, I feel especially close to Mother Teresa. Above All Charity was adapted from 1Peter 4:8-9, a passage that contains the message to all believers that “above all things have fervent charity among yourselves.” In a biblical context, the word charity refers to the special love we should have for others. It is not about ourselves. It is all about others. When we realize that charity in its purest sense is the love in our hearts for others, then we can express that love and behave as truly charitable Christians. It starts in the heart. Mother Teresa knew this. She lived charity.
What better example of charity as love for one another could there be among us than Mother Teresa. She understood the power of love. She understood those suffering from hunger and those suffering from spiritual hunger and loneliness. She understood the hunger for God, especially among the young. She understood all these conditions without ever considering herself above it all. We know that she, herself, experienced some dark moments and internal trials. She knew first-hand the need we all have for kindness, compassion, mercy, love and a warm sincere smile. “We must love until it hurts” is how she often expressed it.
As the years pass, now nineteen years since she has departed this world, many I’m sure recall her in the familiar white and blue striped sari usually against the backdrop of the streets of Calcutta. To some, it may evoke a far away missionary image -- far from our world, our time, our struggles. This would, of course, be far from the truth of the powerful relevance of Mother Teresa in our lives here and now.
She universally made the connection between a charitable loving heart and peace in the world. It was through prayer that she believed we would break through to peace. As a caregiver and a teacher, she promoted the practice of families praying together. She believed in the power of prayer and that where there is prayer, there is love. And peace will follow.
In this Year of Mercy and at a time when the world is hungering for peace and charitable caring in our hearts, Mother Teresa has a message for us. We need to listen.
“We have been created to love and to be loved; not created to be just a number in the world. We have been created for some purpose, and that purpose is to be love, to be compassion, to be goodness, to be joy, to serve."
Saint Teresa of Calcutta lived this message. We need to take it to heart.
Sincerely yours in Christ’s love,
Bishop Michael R. Cote