Today, the Church canonizes Blessed Teresa of Calcutta a saint! We rejoice with the Missionaries of Charity that their founder is, in fact, in Heaven. This is what a canonization is: a statement of fact that the person is in Heaven and that he or she lived a life of heroic virtue. To get a brief glimpse into the life of this extraordinary woman, here is a beautiful depiction from Lisa Lickona in this month’s Magnificat.
May you know the peace of Christ,
“A New Saint: Teresa of Calcutta”
Teresa was born Agnes Bojaxhiu, of Albanian parents, in the city of Skopje, in present-day Macedonia. Her childhood was marked by the loss of her father, but she was borne up by the love of her devoted mother. At eighteen she entered the Sisters of Loreto. She learned English and went to teach in India. When she had been twenty years in Calcutta, she received a “call within a call.” Jesus told her, I am sending you into the dark holes of the poor. Come, be my light.”
On December 21, 1948, Teresa donned a sari of white trimmed in blue and went to the filthy, stinking slums. That first day, she gave water to a dying man and comforted a starving woman suffering from tuberculosis. Soon, a few volunteers helped her to gather the slum children so that they could be taught and fed. Some of her old students joined her, the first Missionaries of Charity. She founded orphanages, medical centers, and a house for the dying. The work flourished.
She had been laboring in the slums for twenty years when British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge brought her to the attention of the world. He followed her around with a cameraman and later swore that scenes shot in a dark room in the home for the dying were exposed as though bathed in ethereal light.
Other camera crews came. The order grew – priests and brothers were added, and a contemplative branch was started. She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979; spoke to presidents and world leaders. Despite a weak heart, Teresa consented to remain at the head of the order until just before her death in 1997.
In 2007, Mother Teresa’s letters were published, providing a window into her interior life. It turned out that the woman to whom Jesus had said, “Come, be my light,” had found herself, almost as soon as she had begun her work among the poor, in an “inner darkness.” She called it an “agony” and a “torture”, a “continual longing for God” that was never satisfied. At the heart of it was the persistent feeling that “he does not want me.”
In time, she came to see that she was living a continuous “dark night,” an intimate sharing in Christ’s desolation on the cross. She viewed it as a “great gift.” “All for Jesus,” she would repeat. And she began to understand that, being destitute, she was one with the poor she served. “The greatest poverty is to be unwanted,” she said. And this spiritual poverty – that of the homeless person, the drug addict, the aborted child – she saw above all here in the privileged nations of the West.
Mother Teresa died on the evening of September 5, 1997, in literal darkness, as the power went out in the house where she lay. Despite two backup sources of electricity, the doctors could not get her respirator to respond. In that moment, her ultimate mission began. “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness,” she had said. “I will continue to be absent from heaven to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” And so, today we pray: Dear Saint Teresa of Calcutta, come to us who continue to dwell in the dark! Come, be our light!