Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Saints for us

Teresa of Calcutta, virgin,
Wednesday, 5 September 2007
Feast for the Missionaries of Charity

I’ve gotten myself involved in some rather interesting and important conversations with people these days over the stir in the press about the publication of letters Mother Teresa wrote to spiritual advisors concerning her longing for the Lord. That she would suffer being away from the Lord in this valley of tears people could understand. The problem seemed to be with the publication of those letters.

I hope my explanation of why such letters were published helped people. Namely, when someone is raised to the altars, presented to us officially by the Church for our veneration and edification, then that blessed or that saint belongs to us entirely. Their wishes concerning their private lives or their writings no longer hold.

The anguish of Teresa of Calcutta or of Therese of Lisieux becomes an aid to us as we seek to understand what it means to share in the sufferings of Christ. It’s not easy, just as it was not easy for the saint when he or she was going through it, but it is important for our own journey of faith and appreciation of what it means to follow Christ. This is part of the doctrine of the Communion of Saints and of the reason for the Church’s veneration for those who have gone before us in faith.

In the case of Mother, in a very special way we might say, in her letters recounting how much she suffered being away from the Lord, Jesus’ cry from Calvary, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabbactani,” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” takes on new meaning for us who seek to understand her suffering. We learn more about Christ as experienced in exemplary fashion in the life of one of God’s chosen, one of His holy ones.

In this same vein, the readings and prayers for today’s liturgical feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta sum up exceptionally well her insight into what it means to follow Jesus, how we go about imitating Christ and thereby doing our part for the salvation of the world.

Permit me to mention some key words or ideas from the readings for the Mass of today.

“Love is strong as death” The Song of Solomon can be very pretty, but very puzzling unless you happen to be a Mother Teresa or someone else who understands Christ as the Bridegroom. For most of us older folks here, death might be terrifying, but I suspect what really blocks us, may terrify us, certainly burdens us, are death’s calling cards: illness, infirmity, suffering, the pains associated with these and with age. Memory loss, hearing loss, loss of sight, loss of mobility, these and other burdens, mental and physical, take us out of the loop and bring us face to face with what really matters and how we ought to live. There is no real consolation in this life; our consolation is with the Lord who first loved us and gave Himself up for us: “Love is strong as death”.

Today’s Response to the Psalm was: “O Lord, we thirst for the light of your Kingdom.” O Lord, we thirst, hopefully, as Jesus thirsted upon the Cross, not so much for water, but for the salvation of each and every one of us down through the ages. This thirst is that which plays such an important role in the life and spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity: “O Lord, we thirst…”

I am sure Mother Teresa lived her own longing for the Lord, that sense of emptiness which Christ alone could fill in her heart, as St. Paul expressed it to the Corinthians: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face… Then I shall understand fully…” We live by faith and not by sight. Our focus must be on the world to come. Our dwelling place is not here and as such while not being indifferent about our surroundings and the people who are part of our lives according to the old axiom, here today and gone tomorrow, we must nevertheless know that heaven comes later. Life in its fullness will be ours beyond the grave when we are caught up to be with the Lord, when we share in His Resurrection.

Mother lived with conviction the Beatitudes; she conformed her will, and so must we, to Christ’s, so as to live as Jesus exhorts us in today’s Gospel: “Let your light so shine… that they may see… and give glory to your Father…” The newspapers everywhere are full of stories about personalities, from politics as well as from the world of entertainment, about their crises and nonsense. We kind of take their ups and downs in stride: that they go off for rehab or are picked up for some sort of substance abuse or other failure doesn’t really surprise us. The word “Fame” has more of a dark side than light. The way of the saints is another way: it is the path of light which leads to Light Eternal. In this sense, a sharing in the Cross of Christ is not an impediment or drag on the highway to heaven. Suffering is not an accident, a sidetrack or a detour. Oneness with Jesus in His suffering and death is the way. “Let your light so shine… that they may see… and give glory to your Father…”

My prayer for the sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, and for all of you here today is best summed up in the words of the Prayer after Communion:
“Lord God,
May this Eucharist renew our courage and strength.
May we remain close to you, like Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, by accepting in our lives a share in the suffering of Jesus Christ,
Who lives and reigns with you for ever and ever. Amen.”

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