Following is the prepared text from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted’s homily in honor of the canonization of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta:
September 4, 2016
When Jesus called her to leave behind the convent and school of the Sisters of Loreto in Calcutta and care for the poorest of the poor lying in the dirty streets of the city, she did not ask the Lord, “What will happen to me?”
But instead, she found the grace to say each day, “If I don’t go, what will happen to this orphaned child? What will happen to this starving woman? What will happen to this dying man?” Forgetting about herself, she loved like a mother loves. I don’t know when people began to call her Mother Teresa, but whenever it was, it was certainly inspired by God.
Just as we continue today, years after his canonization, to call “Padre Pio” Saint Padre Pio; and just as even atheists called St. Pope John Paul II “Holy Father”, so it will be with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Christ knew the world needed a mother, who was on fire with love for God and for whomever He gave her to love, especially the poorest of the poor. That is why Mother Teresa said an energetic “yes” to His call. Her “Yes” came from the fire of love in her maternal heart.
Who is the poorest of the poor?
Mother Teresa spent long hours each day, serving Christ in “the hungry, the naked, the lonely, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the prostitute, the street beggars.” The first house that she opened in Calcutta was Nirmal Hriday, a place to care for the dying. One of her first houses in America was a hospice for those suffering from AIDS. She saw the face of Christ in those that many despise or just choose to ignore. However, when asked “Who are the poorest of the poor?” here was Mother Teresa’s response: “There are many kinds of poverty. Even in countries where the economic situation seems to be a good one, there are expressions of poverty hidden in a deep place, such as the tremendous loneliness of people who have been abandoned…As far as I am concerned, the greatest suffering is to feel alone, unwanted, unloved.”
What Mother Teresa taught us is that love is what matters, love is what people long for and need, the love that comes from Jesus and that is present in us to the degree that Jesus lives us and that Jesus Himself acts in us and through us.
In order for the poorest of the poor to feel loved, those caring for them need to be cheerful. In a message to families, Mother Teresa said, “…make it a special point to become God’s sign of happiness. Joy shows from the eyes; it appears when one speaks and walks. It cannot be kept closed inside us…Joy is very infectious. We shall never know all the good that a smile can do.”
From this humble yet great saint who was canonized by Pope Francis earlier today in Rome, we learn the connection between a mother’s love of the poor and the promotion of peace. Many were surprised in AD 1979 when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to a little Catholic nun named Mother Teresa serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Far more were surprised by the speech that she gave to those gathered in Oslo for the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize: “I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing—direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child—I will not forget you—I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand.” Words spoken with bold sincerity, words spoken by a mother who, unafraid of what the mighty and powerful might think of her, never asked, “What will happen to me if I say this?” but “What will happen to unborn children if I don’t use this opportunity to speak for those who have no way to make their voices known.
What Jesus says in today’s Gospel throws light on the reason that Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor. To the great crowd that were following Him, Jesus said, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
What mattered most in the life of Mother Teresa was Jesus Christ, who though rich became poor, who on the Cross became the poorest of the poor. Jesus was the reason she got up early in the morning and stayed awake late into the night. Jesus is the reason she saw His face in the poorest of the poor in the most filthy and dangerous of places. He was the reason she continued to pray even when, for 48 years, she received no consolation in her prayer. She valued the Lord Himself more than anyone or anything else, more than His consolations. As she wrote: “To me, Jesus is the Life I want to live, the Light I want to reflect, the Way to the Father, the Love I want to express, the Joy I want to share, the Peace I want to sow around me. Jesus is everything to me.”
To be a mother, you first must be a bride. You must say to your beloved, “You are everything to me,” and then you must repeat these words every day of your life.
Are these words of Mother Teresa not an authentic reflection of the Bible’s SONG OF SONGS (8:6-7)? The Bride says to the Bridegroom, “Set me as a seal on your heart. As a seal on your arm; for stern as death is love… Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away.”
Thanks be to God for the love of Mother Teresa for Jesus.