As you know, on September 4, the person many have come to know as Mother Teresa of Kolkata was canonized and now stands with us as St. Teresa of Kolkata. Pope Francis remarked, “For Mother Teresa, mercy was the ‘salt’ which gave flavour to her work, it was the ‘light’ which shone in the darkness of the many who no longer had tears to shed for their poverty and suffering.” Mother Teresa stood before the world as a living example of Christ with us, ministering to the poorest of the poor who had been cast aside by a system that often caters to injustice and disregard.
We can easily become complacent and ignore the cries of those who are poor. In fact, the prophet Amos tells us exactly that! “Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” The continuation of this reading next weekend will show us how this attitude has led to self-destruction. Amos sees the destruction experienced in northern Israel as the direct result of complacency and indifference to the poor, outcast, and needy. Regardless of the scope of our sinfulness, I do not believe for one minute that God causes our demise or inflicts this type of “repayment” upon people for their misdeeds. However, what is to be considered is whether a habit of self-focused self-indulgence can and will eventually lead to the demise of an individual or to an entire nation. Trampling upon or ignoring anyone will always come back with negative results.
Mother Teresa saw a clear link between personal well-being, holiness, and service to the poor. As a woman who believed in Jesus Christ, even in her darkness she felt compelled to live this life of total service, bringing to fulfillment the vision God places before us. Our psalmist lays this out before us: “He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.” As Christians, it is important to consider the systemic causes of poverty and injustice. We need to continually challenge contemporary systems to see the light and truth of the Gospel. However, it is even more important to put our questions and even our doubts aside for a bit, being consumed less with dealing with why a person is hungry, and using our energy to simply feed them. We need to help God’s vision become a reality.
Jesus often spoke of the intimate linkage that exists between love of God and love of neighbor. It stands to reason then that if we are in a covenant, loving relationship with God then we are also in a covenant, loving relationship with each other. We cannot turn our backs on the needs of humanity, especially those that are so obvious and grave—the poor and the powerless.
This weekend Luke’s Gospel is a lesson in stewardship. We are blatantly told, “No servant can serve two masters.” The Christian has to be prudent and efficient in the matters of God and in care of others. In short, less energy must be spent on self-interest and more on the interest of others. We are called to be stewards who serve, not stewards who squander. What will convince us to make God’s vision our own? This is a matter of conversion, of allowing God to change the way we see.
Many often believe that true conversion comes only when the truly miraculous is witnessed—the parting of a sea, the rolling thunder of the sky, a phenomenal healing, or an actual theophany. Actually true conversion is more often experienced in subtle, human ways. Conversion, brought about by repentance, occurs when I finally humbly admit to being the lovingly created child of a God who delights in every fiber of my being, even if that God may seem distant at times or even nonexistent.
True faith happens when I persevere in spite of my doubt and live out this covenant relationship of love. If the unmistakably miraculous occurs, it may cause me to stand up and take notice a bit, restore a certain measure of faith but may also position me to expect more of the same in the future. Then, the sustenance of my faith will be linked to the extraordinary and I will continue to miss God opportunities in the ordinary stuff of life. And I will continue to lapse into the pursuit of self-interest.
If a heart is hardened, even actual testimony may not penetrate it. St. Teresa did what her heart told her to do. She knew that even when she was unable to feel God’s presence or even be certain of his existence, the road to love would inevitably lead back to him. And so, she persevered. Riches were of no consequence to her.
So what happens when we persevere on our often dimly lit path on the road of faith and love? We find ourselves stumbling upon other virtues that can assist with deepening our covenant relationships: righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness, and a deepening desire for eternal life. Look at the life of Mother Teresa, the humble saint, and you will find all these things. Look at the life of any person who takes the command to love one’s neighbor seriously and you will find them as well.
How do we love our neighbor and honor their dignity? Not all of us can work in soup kitchens or find our way to Kolkata. Interestingly, Mother Teresa once told some folks that they can always find their own Kolkata. In other words, there is always need around us. Perhaps the biggest challenge is getting over the idea that my needs are more important than my neighbors’ and beginning to understand the intimate connection God’s love creates with all of my brothers and sisters and even creation. We need to become good and effective stewards. Once we change the lens through which we see life, then the way we live life will change as well and we give God more occasions to use us.
Mother Teresa did not start out seeking to be a saint. She just learned early on how to get herself out of the way.
Rev. Mark S. Suslenko
Dear Jesus, help us to spread your fragrance
everywhere we go.
Flood our souls with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly
that our lives may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through us and be so in us
that every soul we come in contact with
may feel your presence in our soul.
Let them look up and see no longer us, but only Jesus.
Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine as you shine,
so to shine as to be light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you.
None of it will be ours.
It will be you shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise you in the way you love best
by shining on those around us.
Let us preach you without preaching,
not by words, but by our example;
by the catching force –
the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to you.
—Prayer of Mother Teresa.