September 5th, 2016 was a brutally hot day. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and absolutely no wind. There were hundreds of thousands of people crammed into a little space and some had been awake since 3:30 that morning. Songs in languages from all over the world could be heard floating among the tops of the buildings. Paraded around was a colorful array of flags and memorabilia. The excitement and joy was reverberating off the stone columns. Something important was happening this day. An announcement was made over the loud speakers that the Rosary was beginning and mass would follow. The Canonization Mass of Mother Teresa at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy was underway and I was there!
When I was an 18-year-old Catholic serving as a missionary with NET Ministries, I really struggled to hear God’s voice in my prayer life until a fellow missionary pointed me to the spirituality of Mother Teresa. I am drawn to her spirit of compassion and love for the underdog and I relate completely to her commitment to love Jesus in the poor, even when she didn’t feel his presence. I want to live my life in the same way— completely confident in the Lord’s mercy and incredibly bold in pursuit of holiness. She dedicated her entire life to loving the poorest of the world, even unto death. I desire to see and love people in the way she did. To me, she was an amazing example of what mercy lived out looked like in this crazy world — it just starts by loving one person, and that usually is the person right in front of you.
In his homily for the Canonization, Pope Francis dubbed Mother Teresa as a “dispenser of divine mercy” (full homily). It was fitting that he canonized her during the Year of Mercy as she lived out that virtue daily; whether it was meeting important dignitaries and royalty, or literally picking up dying people on the street, taking them to her home, and caring for them. Pope Francis said he wanted the Holy Year of Mercy to “be a new step on the Church’s journey in her mission to bring the Gospel of Mercy to each person,” and, “once a person experiences just how loving and merciful God has been, the obligation is to reach out to others with that same love and mercy.”
Once you recognize for yourself that you have been forgiven; that God has made you for a purpose, and that you have incredible dignity, you begin to see not only yourself through the eyes of God, but also your neighbor — the people right next to you.
One of my favorite stories that was told to me about Mother Teresa is about a priest who was doing a retreat for the Missionaries of Charity in India. It was a particularly hot day and after speaking to the sisters, he had a bit of time to rest. He opened the window to let a breeze come through and ended up smelling something awful. Outside of his window was a homeless man who was the source of the foul smell. Not two minutes later, he heard a woman’s voice saying, “Oh Jesus, I love you… Oh, my Jesus, I love you…” Then there was a knock on his door and lo and behold, it was Mother Teresa looking straight into the priest’s eyes saying, “Jesus needs you to help him,” referring to the homeless man. Mother Teresa saw the inherent dignity and goodness in each person because she saw Jesus in them.
She chose to love; she chose to show mercy and forgiveness to those around her; and she chose to go out of her way to remind those people around her how much they were loved.
It was a choice that she made daily.
Sometimes we think that the canonized Saints we have in the Church were superhuman who just excelled at everything, leaving us peasants to feel miserable about our life choices, (or is that just me? hah!). Every day she made a decision to love radically and be a missionary disciple despite not “feeling” the love of God. When we think of the Saints, sometimes we think we must walk around with a halo around our heads, our hands clasped in prayer, always looking to the heavens — an image very often found on Saints’ holy cards. But that’s not what Jesus is saying when he says, “pick up your cross and follow me…” It’s in the daily decision to love Jesus, to choose to say YES to His will, even when we don’t fully know what we’re saying yes to; that’s how we become saints.
Yes, the incredible Year of Mercy has ended, but that doesn’t mean our daily acts of mercy are finished. We have the power to create a culture of mercy and forgiveness and love by doing those things with intentionality — ON PURPOSE!
The Canonization Mass of Mother Teresa was incredibly moving to me. Because of her daily yes, the life of a young adult woman living in Texas was forever changed. However, it was also a challenge because Saint Mother Teresa is no longer on this earth, and the baton has been passed to me. The Lord is raising up new saints for this generation. It’s our turn to fall so in love with Jesus that the world is radically changed by our “yes.”
Will you say yes to Jesus?
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, please, please pray for us…