My Yahoo home page headlines anti-Christian articles almost as often as it does accounts of scantily clad women attending entertainment award ceremonies. The latest was from a scientist who in addition to the usual atheist diatribe against God saw fit to slam Mother Teresa on the occasion of her canonization as a saint by the Catholic Church.
Not only did the scientist claim that the two miracles credited to Mother Teresa were bogus, but he also believed that her whole life’s work in serving the poor and the helpless was bogus. He claimed that she was a religious fanatic and suspected that she misused the millions of dollars donated to her and her order by religious dupes.
I am not one of those who believe that miraculous healings are necessary to establish the saintliness of someone’s life. I also know that the Catholic Church today is very careful when it comes to evaluating claims of miracles. I do believe that many people, even though they will never be canonized, could be called saints because of the life they led, the work they did, and the way in which they did it.
As far as I can tell, Mother Teresa not only talked the talk but she walked the walk. Just one incident from her life was enough for me. At the very outset of her work in Calcutta, she happened upon an elderly man left for dead in the street. His body was covered with maggots that she removed herself. She continued to care for the man although he did not live long. Before he died, he said that for the first time in his life someone had treated him like a human being.
The religious order she founded carries on her work of ministering to the poor. Strangely, some of her critics blame her and her sisters for their volunteer work. They believe that such private, volunteer work detracts from the work that should be done by the state. They also claim that states can do it better and that their facilities are superior.
Some critics actually complain that the hostels run by the sisters are sub-par. They even went so far as to hire a doctor to conduct an investigation, but must have been disappointed with his evaluation.
So the most important features of the regimen are cleanliness, the tending of wounds and sores, and loving kindness.
Such complaints remind me of the remarks made by a Roman Emperor way back in the fourth century. He complained that Christians were more active in helping the victims of the plagues that repeatedly struck the Empire.
• The impious Galileans support not only their poor, but ours as well, everyone can see that our people lack aid from us….
• I think that when the poor happened to be neglected and overlooked by the priests, the impious Galileans observed this and devoted themselves to benevolence.
For the Emperor, the word Galilean meant Christian. Despite the fact that the Christians were doing the work that government officials (pagan priests) were supposed to do, the Emperor still felt it necessary to persecute the Christians. This same fate is being shared by Christians throughout the world today.
Perhaps the most scandalous charge against Mother Teresa came from the posthumous public disclosure of thoughts she confided in her own diary or journal. She claimed that early in her career she ceased to have a personal relationship with Jesus.
A few years ago I attended an exhibition of the materials that had been brought together by those promoting her canonization. The exhibition did not try to hide Mother Teresa’s frank admission. Some have claimed that she had experienced a “dark night of the soul” that is not uncommon with mystics. Others believe that her feeling of abandonment by Jesus mirrored the abandonment felt by those she ministered to.
However, at the exhibition I came to see that Mother Teresa’s door to Jesus seemed to close when she first began to care for the sick and hopeless on the streets of Calcutta. It seemed to me that she came to see Jesus in those she helped. After all, He had said in the famous passage in Matthew’s gospel, “When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me drink, and when I was naked you clothed me.”
For most of her life Mother Teresa felt that she did not have a personal relationship with Jesus. I can understand her feeling and believe it is shared by most people today. In fact, I tend to be suspicious of those who claim they do, but won’t give you the time of day.
But she did the work and found Jesus among the poorest and most helpless. In that sense, I believe that she is truly a modern saint. Most of us will not be able to attain her heroic saintliness but whether we consider ourselves religious or not, we should be able to heal the wounds and lessen the burdens of those we know. We can work to make our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors, our friends, and our workplace associates feel like human beings.