By Fr. George Welzbacher
September 5, 2010
My Pastor's Page this week will be an unabashed "ad" for a remarkable booklet, 96 pages long, published by Time magazine to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Blessed Mother Teresa, born on August 26th, 1910 in Skopje, Macedonia. Magnificently illustrated and provided with a first-rate-text, the product of several writers, it's available at Barnes and Noble booksellers and at some of the Walgreen's drug stores. Entitled Mother Teresa at 100, its price tag is an eminently reasonable $12.99. It deserves to be read not only by every Catholic but by everyone who feels stirrings of admiration for a long and uniquely heroic life of selfless service to the most abandoned people on the face of the earth. The fascinating text is enhanced by an abundance of unforgettable photographs, including one taken of the future Mother Teresa as a beautiful and thoughtful young woman, eighteen years old, on the eve of setting out for distant India to teach in a Calcutta school for girls as a nun in the community of the Sisters of Loreto. Her service, first in the classroom and subsequently as the school's headmistress, would extend from 1928 to shortly after World War II. Nervous exhaustion, exacerbated by the difficulties she encountered scrounging for food for her students and her nuns under the chaotic conditions that attended India's gaining independence from the British Empire, prompted her mother superior to send her by train from Calcutta to Dajeeling in India's mountainous north for a long retreat and a rehabilitative rest. It was during that train ride in the summer of 1946 that she experienced the supernatural vision that would transform her life-a vision of Christ crucified during which He spoke to her and she spoke to Him. In response to an earlier vow that she had taken, inspired by her namesake, St. Thérése of Lisieux, "never to refuse Him anything", in this encounter Christ asked her undertake a totally new mission: to leave the Sisters of Loreto in order to found a new congregation of nuns who would go out into the teeming streets of Calcutta, clogged and choked now with multitudes of desperate Hindu refugees fleeing from Muslim mobs back in the areas that would soon become Pakistan, and to bring love and care, Christ's love and care, to the very poorest of the poor. She was then 36 years old, and this would become her life's work.
Time magazine which , sad to say, in recent years has become pretty much a tabloid, has returned with this special publication to the high standard of journalism that was the magazine's glory back in the days of its founding editor Henry Luce. Time publications should be thanked and congratulated for a superb production.
One of the most important topics covered in Mother Teresa at 100 is the immensely prolonged "dark night of the soul' that she endured for nearly half a century, almost from the very moment in 1948 when she received authorization from Pope Pius XII to institute her new religious congregation, right up until her death in 1997, with the exception of the blessed few weeks of spiritual consolation and emotional reward that she experienced in 1958 shortly after the death of Pope Pius. Far more vexing than the hard and tedious work of bathing the sick, washing clothes by hand and tending to wounds and infections, far more trying than the continuing challenge of finding food for the orphans and the sick for whom she and her Sisters cared, was the decades-long absence of any sense of God's presence within her soul. This was her greatest and most enduring trial. What she perceived in the poorest of the poor TO BE THEIR GREATEST SUFFERING - THE SENSE of being totally abandoned, totally alone, totally unloved, totally uncared for-was something that she was uniquely able to understand, to identify with, because she was experiencing that same loneliness in a different form within the secret depths of her soul. As her voluminous letters to various spiritual directors attest, letters published after her death under the title Come, Be My Light, she also saw that while this total withdrawal of spiritual consolation was putting her faith to the test, it was also purifying and strengthening that faith. She perservered in her mission not because it made her feel good or because it made her popular and acclaimed but because this is what her faith demanded. "Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do. to. Me." [Her punctuation].
Throughout her decades-long spiritual trial the motive that sustained Mother Teresa in her sacred mission of bringing love to the loveless was thus a totally disinterested, totally selfless desire to serve her Lord for his sake alone and not for any personal gain even of the most subtle and immaterial kind. To such a "dark night" mystics like St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were also by no means strangers, but Mother Teresa's nearly fifty years of intense inner loneliness seem to be unparalleled in terms of their duration. If indeed the purpose of this prolonged deprivation was to equip her for success in her unique mission to the desolate, then all the more heroic was the endless kindness that she transmitted through her loving hands and her radiant smile, bringing comfort and courage to the desperate.
This unrelenting kindness. inspired by a faith that saw Christ even in the face and limbs of the hideously, deformed was miraculously shown, not long after her death in September of 1997, to be a force still very much at work.
In the final chapter of Mother Teresa at 100 Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, appointed by the Holy See in March of 1999 to be the official "postulator" or chief investigator of the grounds for Mother Teresa's potential beatification, and as such the critical reader of some 35,000 pages of pertinent documentation and testimony, describes the miracle that has been confirmed as God's response to Mother Teresa's intercession. "In June 1999 we received in Calcutta a report from the Sisters' community in West Bengal. In September of the previous year [one year after Mother Teresa's death] a woman named Monica Besra, who had a large and very visible tumor, had stayed with them. After she and the Sisters had prayed for Mother's intercession, the growth, of six to seven inches in length, had disappeared within several hours....We gathered medical documentation - from 11 doctors in Calcutta alone - and testimonies, studied them, and submitted them for consideration by the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The doctors, theologians, and bishops who consult for the Congregation unanimously believed that there was no medical explanation for the sudden cure and that therefore Mother Teresa's intercession was responsible. On December 21, 2002, the cure was judged to be a miracle. That paved the way for Mother Teresa's beatification the next year on October 19."
Be sure to read this wonderful little book: Mother Teresa at 100. It would make a great Christmas present.
And if, after reading it, you should feel moved to pray to this great servant of God, as well you may, let me suggest at this moment a very timely intention: namely, the grace of conversion of mind and heart for the man who for years on end has mocked her, who wrote a book disparaging her and her work that bears a title so obscene that I could not possibly cite it, and who during the ABC television coverage of her funeral Mass scoffed at her achievement. I am referring of course to Christopher Hitchens, the militant atheist whose recent book entitled God Is Not Great (with a lower case "g" for God) is selling quite well in the bookstores. Perhaps the magnanimous intercession of Mother Teresa will win from Christ the shattering of the carapace, that hardened shell of arrogance, anger and lust in which Mr. Hitchens has been encasing himself over the course of many years, so that the healing love of Christ may at the very last break through.
Christopher Hitchens is dying at this moment of cancer of the esophagus. The cancer has spread to his lymph nodes and lungs.
Mother Teresa, pray for him!
Mother Teresa, pray for us!
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