Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Happy Feast Day of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

Celebrated: Worldwide by Catholics since 2003

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Albania and left home for good at the age of 18. She spent the next 69 years as a missionary, first with the Sisters of Loreto but eventually founding her own community, the Missionaries of Charity, in 1950.

By the time she died at 87, the Missionaries of Charity had grown into a worldwide network of thousands that included both active and contemplative communities of nuns and monks, a community of priests, an affiliate program for diocesan priests, and communities of co-workers and lay missionaries. All of them devote themselves to the service of the poorest of the poor, in both body and spirit.

Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and drew harsh criticism in the last years of her life for what some saw as inappropriate attention to celebrities and shady or even wicked donors. Christopher Hitchens, in particular, seemed personally offended by what he saw as Mother Teresa's hypocrisy and susceptibility to flattery by the rich and famous. Others criticized the order's administration, financial management, and philosophy about acceptable levels of suffering. Mother Teresa's beatification process revealed that she had spent most of her life wrestling with a terrible feeling of isolation from God, which some argued was evidence that her whole life had been a lie.

The whole point of recognizing sainthood is to remind us that our essentially flawed human nature doesn't, or shouldn't, keep us from trying to love each other as God loves us. How does God love us? That's a mystery, frankly. In the slums and hospitals where the Missionaries of Charity work, God's love must often seem very far away — and so these flawed human beings have taken it on themselves to be God's love in the world.

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one," Mother Teresa said. Smile at one person. Press one person's hand. Send one person an email, call one person on the phone. I need this reminder every day, and I suspect that most of us do.

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