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Sunday, August 28, 2016

The poorest of the poor

One week before the Canonization of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, here is the reflection that I shared this weekend with those who came to pray with us.

Covered with the poverty of the cross

Next Sunday there will be a wonderful celebration in Rome and throughout the world.  At 10:00am local time, the Holy Father will begin the celebration of the Mass of Canonization for the holy woman who is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.  When the entrance procession for that liturgy has been completed, Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints will read a brief description of Mother Teresa’s life and then he will ask Pope Francis to proclaim her a saint.  Saints are those who have gone before us and who the Church formally recognizes as having lived holy and exemplary lives.  We believe that they are now in heaven where they continue to intercede on our behalf.

What is it about the life of this woman that brought her such renown?  Anjezë Bojaxhiu was raised in a family that was Catholic and that had Kosovar Albanian roots.  As a young child, she was always fascinated by stories of missionaries who had spent time in Bengal (a region of India).  She was only 12 years old when she became convinced that she should commit herself to a religious life, but she was 18 years old when she accepted the Lord’s invitation and left home to join the Sisters of Loretto, a teaching Order.  She spent time in Ireland where she learned English and then was sent to Darjeeling in 1929, where she learned Bengali and began to teach in a school nearby the convent.  In fact, she taught school with the Loretto Sisters for twenty years both in Darjeeling and in Calcutta.

Sister Teresa enjoyed this work but she was increasingly disturbed by the poverty that she witnessed in Calcutta.  In a sense you might say that although she had already found her place at the banquet, there was a secondary call – an invitation to move up higher (Lk 7:10).  On September 10, 1946, she experienced what she later described as the call within the call: an order - not a request, but an order - to leave the convent and to help the poor while living among them.  In that moment, she understood the words that we heard proclaimed in today’s second reading: you have come to … the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem … to innumerable angels in festal gathering … and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant (Heb 12:22, 24).

Two years after she heard this call within a call, Sister Teresa replaced her traditional Loretto habit with a simple white cotton sari decorated with a blue border and began to work among the poor in the streets of Calcutta.  Responding to this new call was not easy: she had no income, she had to resort to begging for food and supplies, she experienced doubt, loneliness and the temptation to return to the comforts of convent life, but through all this, she also heard the wisdom of Sirach the Sage: My child, perform your tasks with humility … the greater you are, the more you must humble yourself (Sir 3:17-18).

On October 7, 1950, Sister Teresa received official Vatican permission to start a diocesan Congregation which would eventually become the Missionaries of Charity.  To this day, these missionaries care for the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people that have become a burden to society and who are shunned by everyone (Teresa of Calcutta).

In this final week, as we prepare for the Canonization of this woman of deep faith, let us join our voices in prayer to give thanks and praise to God for her example, for her teachings and for her willingness to be a joyful witness of Christ’s closeness to those who have been forgotten, lost and even orphaned.  Let us ask her to intercede on our behalf so that we too might have the courage to see Christ in everyone we meet, and strive every day to invite the poor, the lame, the crippled and the blind (Lk 14:13) to sit at our tables.  Jesus promises us that we will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (Lk 14:14).
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