Say you want to know someone but know you’ll never meet them, not in this life, at least. But say you get to speak with someone who did know them. They can tell you what that person was like and what made them laugh or cry or get angry or what made them tick. That way you can get to know that person in a certain sense.
Obviously, none of us who never met Bl. Mother Teresa of Kolkata will get to know her this side of heaven.
Along these lines, you may have heard the Vatican announced today that Pope Francis will canonize Mother on September 4 in St. Peter’s Square.
National Catholic Register asked me to write an article on the subject and to interview her American friends.
The following is what they told me about this great woman, verbatim.
We need her example so much today, and so I’m grateful these people gave me their thoughts. They helped me understand Mother better. What they shared help me build upon that which I already knew about her. I hope you get a lot out of this, too.
Jim Towey, president, Ave Maria University
My wife and I give thanks to God for the privilege of knowing her.
And now she is a saint, which will allow us to know her even better. We knew when she was alive, however, that holiness resided in her. She did all for Jesus through Mary, and that love animated every aspect of her life.
[The day of her canonization] will be a wonderful day for the Church universal and it will be a great way to renew our commitment to poor, whom she loved so well, and it will be a jewel in the crown that is this Jubilee Mercy that we are living.
We have permission from the Missionaries of Charity, Mother’s religious order, to a have project in her name. It forms students in her spirituality, and then sends then sends them out to volunteer in her homes throughout the world.
Here at Ave Maria University, we also have the only museum in honor of Mother Teresa in the United States, and we get over 10,000 visitors per year. We have a real connection here at Ave Maria University. We are thrilled on our little campus to be honoring her memory and continuing her work.
[I began to ask him about people idealizing saints, as though they never belched or broke wind and were so saccharine as to make someone get diabetes just reading about them. Before I could even complete the thought, President Towey knew where I was going. He said …]
She was fully human. She loved music, she loved poetry, she loved people. She missed her sisters when they were gone, she grieved when they died. She liked chocolate ice cream and candies, and she had a great sense of humor. A few times she got really mad at me, and I felt it. Anyone turns who turns Mother into plastic statue is making a mistake. She placed all of her human traits and characteristics into the service of God. She was remarkably alive and joyful and focused, even though she was battling that inner desolation that we learned of after her death. She knew the darkness and isolation that so many throughout the world feel
I think she will have an even greater impact in the 21st century than she had in the 20th.
Can you give me an anecdote from personal experience that helps illustrate why she was such an example of holiness?
One of the most stunning and beautiful things about Mother Teresa was her humility. During my first summer in India, in 1986, I knew that Mother was world famous; I knew that she was a celebrity, and yet she was one of the most humble human beings I had ever seen – as humble as the destitute and dying people whom we lifted out of the gutters of Calcutta. She seemed so unaware of her own importance and greatness. I almost felt like asking her if she realized her own significance in the world. While I was personally witnessing this astoundingly beautiful virtue of humility in her during that first summer in Calcutta, it dawned on me, as clear as day, that humility is a sign of true greatness. Humility is one of those rare virtues that make our souls most Christ-like. Our Lord Himself described His own Sacred Heart as being “gentle and humble,” and He commanded us to learn from Him.
Mother Teresa had an intense prayer life as well. It was remarkable to witness and to share in, morning to night. I will always cherish the memories of seeing her pray – radiant with the love of Christ. One day during my first summer volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity in India , I started the day “on the wrong foot,” so to speak; everything was going wrong. I decided to stop what I was doing, go to the Mother House (Mother Teresa’s house), go upstairs to the chapel, and spend time alone with Our Lord Jesus in prayer. I needed to hit the “reset” and “refresh” button in my heart, mind, soul and day. Little did I know that while seeking quiet time alone with Our Savior, I would discover Mother Teresa alone with Our Lord in the chapel, in deep communion with God! I will never forget the sight of her all alone in the chapel that day, kneeling on the floor, with her head bowed, in loving union with God. She was radiant with love of Our Lord! It was so obvious that she had a “direct line” to Heaven that I felt like tapping her on the shoulder and saying: “Will you give Him my love while you have Him on the line!” It was strikingly beautiful to behold. She was a woman in love. In my eyes, throughout the years that I knew her, she appeared to be a bride so in love with her Groom! He was always on her mind, on her lips, and in her heart.
Why do you think God has chosen now – this moment in world history – to allow her canonization to proceed?
The world is so in need of loving kindness, humility, faithfulness, selflessness, prayer, purity, love of God, and everything that Mother Teresa modeled for us so beautifully. When I came home from my first summer in India, some people referred to Mother Teresa as my “mentor.” I was surprised to hear that at first, but as I pondered it, I realized that it is an accurate assessment of our relationship. She was a mentor, model, teacher, and best of all, she was Mother. She was a Mother to us all.
Can you give me an anecdote from personal experience that helps illustrate why she was such an example of holiness?
I have many times observed Mother Teresa pausing from what she was doing to tend to the need that unfolded before her, whether it was speaking to someone in need, righting some wrong, or serving in some way. She wholeheartedly embraced Jesus’ instruction to serve Him in everyone—“Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.”
Mother Teresa took the time to meet with me and to write nearly two dozen letters to me. Everyone mattered to her. Her example of holiness radiated out in the love she showed to everyone around her. She was very clear that she needed a firm foundation of prayer to do her work. She said she needed to partake of the broken Body of Jesus in the Eucharist at Mass every morning to be able to go out and serve the broken bodies of the poor.
Mother Teresa was very close to the Blessed Mother and prayed to her constantly. Many times she prayed Memorare novenas in which she prayed nine in a row for an urgent need and then nine in thanksgiving no matter the outcome. She also prayed the Rosary frequently, relying on the Blessed Mother to guide her.
Why do you think God has chosen now — this moment in world history — to allow her canonization to proceed?
That is a tough question to answer. But, I trust that God knows what He is doing when He chooses this moment in time during the Year of Mercy when we can reflect on the wonderful selfless work of Mother Teresa and perhaps be drawn to being more merciful ourselves. After mercy comes justice—now is the time.
Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, EWTN TV Host and award-winning author of more than twenty books, including Mother Teresa and Me and The Kiss of Jesus: How Mother Teresa and The Saints Helped Me to Discover the Beauty of the Cross.
Fr. George Rutler, pastor, St. Michael Church, Manhattan
[Although he did not give a personal response to my questions as did the others, Fr. Rutler did send this saying I could draw from it. Even though I couldn’t use it for the article, it gives yet another facet of this soon-to-be saint, Bl. Mother Teresa.]
Cloud of Witnesses: Blessed Mother Teresa
In the 1935 film The Crusades, there is a breathless moment when Loretta Young pleads with Henry Wilcoxon, playing Richard the Lion Heart, “You gotta save Christianity, Richard! You gotta!”
Though not a high point in cinematic art, the line reminds me of how so many spoke to Mother Teresa, now Blessed. All who knew her have their stories to tell, but common to most encounters with her was a confidence that she could do something about the fragile circumstance that believers and half-believers found themselves in at the end of the millennium.
Strange to say, I cannot remember our first meeting, which was in 1980 when I was studying in Rome. In the moral constancy of her presence, every conversation seemed the same and the surroundings were totally irrelevant. But she always gave the impression that she had all the time in the world, and the one to whom she was speaking was the only other one in that world.
Once I arrived at the ancient church of St. Gregory [San Gregorio Magno al Celio] with my cassock a bit disheveled, having been chased over a wall by a dog, and Mother gave the impression that it was a normal way to prepare for Mass.
She would kiss the hands of the priest who had given her Communion in thanks for having brought Jesus, but she had no illusions: More than once did I hear her say how people wherever she went felt betrayed by priests. Nonetheless she asked them to remember her as the drop of water mingled with the wine in the preparation of the chalice.
She silenced even a Jesuit who joked that she seemed to be getting smaller: “Yes, and I must get smaller until I am small enough to fit into the heart of Jesus.”
I still have the radiant memory of listening to her talk with my own mother on a visit to New York some years later, and it was like listening to two neighbors chatting over the backyard fence.
Just as picturesque was the time in Rome when she led me by the hand through a large field of poppies on the periphery of the city and then served tea on a rickety table in the garden. Afterward, because there was a public transportation strike, she and another sister and I tried hitchhiking. No one gave us a lift, but Mother barely shrugged her shoulders.
I have a picture of her wearing an insulated coat such as meat packers wear when she arrived in the Bronx one winter night.
When that picture was taken she winced because of the cataracts that had swollen her eyes: “Jesus told me to let the people take pictures, so I told him to please let a soul out of Purgatory each time the light flashes.”
Her eyes could look ineffably sad, as when she heard that during Holy Hour in our hospice, a patient had hanged himself upstairs.
There was no humbug about her. She could give orders like a Marine sergeant, and her counsel was pointed but not piercing. When she told me to correct a reporter who had misquoted her, I said I’d pray about it and then write. “No,” she insisted, “we need this right away. I pray. You write.”
After I had preached one morning, she pushed a book across the kitchen table: “Reading is good but make your meditation before you preach and then just tell the people what Jesus told you.”
I had the sense that she was on a special wavelength. On my way to say Mass for her in New York, I found myself in the subway standing in front of a kiosk featuring magazines with women who were only innocent of the Legion of Decency.
After Mass, although I had said nothing, she said, “On your way through the streets when you are coming to say Mass, don’t look at the magazines with the women on the covers.”
By showing the utter naturalness of supernaturalness, saints are a sacrament of the transfiguration. All through the Christian annals it has seemed perfectly natural and not silly to tell them, “You gotta save Christianity. You gotta.”