This past Sunday, we watched the canonization of a saint of our lifetime, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was a living icon of the love and mercy and peace that is our Lord Jesus Christ.
Brooklyn was well represented at the Mass with Dunwoodie seminarian Henry Torres, North American College seminarian Patrick Dorelus and North American College academic dean Father John Cush all present at the canonization.
In his homily, Pope Francis stated: “As you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
This Gospel passage, so crucial in understanding Mother Teresa’s service to the poor, was the basis of her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor, she was touching the body of Christ. It was to Jesus Himself, hidden under the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, that her service was directed.
Mother Teresa highlights the deepest meaning of service – an act of love done to the hungry, thirsty, strangers, naked, sick, prisoners (cf. Matthew 25:34-36), which is done to Jesus Himself.
Recognizing Him, she ministered to Him with wholehearted devotion, expressing the delicacy of her spousal love. Thus in total gift of herself to God and neighbor, Mother Teresa found her greatest fulfillment and lived the noblest qualities of her femininity. She wanted to be a sign of “God’s love, God’s presence, God’s compassion,” and so reminds all of the value and dignity of each of God’s children, “created to love and be loved.” Thus was Mother Teresa, “bringing souls to God and God to souls” and satiating Christ’s thirst, especially for those most in need, those whose vision of God had been dimmed by suffering and pain.”
St. Teresa was able to see in the poor, the marginalized, the lowest of the low, the radiant face of Christ. Her work is carried out today in her Sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, in the priests of her order, and in the hundreds of thousands of lay people, Christian and non-Christian, Catholic and non-Catholic, who are inspired by her way of mercy.
What is mercy? Nothing less than the concrete application of who God is in Himself, namely love. The correct application of that concrete application is justice. Thus, love, mercy and justice go hand in hand. Mother Teresa knew this. She is not only an icon of mercy, but also one of justice, especially when she challenged the world to respect and defend all people.
The late Cardinal John O’Connor of New York chose as his episcopal motto, “There can be no love without justice.” Justice might be considered by some as an interesting choice for a conference that is supposed to address the concept of mercy in the Sacred Scripture. If mercy is to be understood as the concrete application of love, which is God’s purest name, then the correct application of mercy is justice.
This canonization of St. Teresa offers this harsh world, whose cruelty we were so much more aware of this summer, a shot in the arm of hope. What can we do to honor the memory of this great woman? Perhaps we can just be a little kinder to everyone whom we meet; perhaps we can recognize in them the face of Jesus; perhaps we can see in those who suffer physically, mentally and spirituality, the thirst of Jesus. Perhaps we can stop and assist someone, and not just pass them by. This is the beauty and the challenge of this great saint.