Saint Teresa of Calcutta: Ordinariness and Suffering

On Sunday September the 4th, Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized a saint in Rome by Pope Francis. There are many wonderful things that can be said of Mother Teresa. We all know of her iconic work with the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of the defenseless. Last Sunday in my homily, I also used Mother Teresa as an example of courageousness and fidelity to the truth, especially seen in her speech during the National Prayer Breakfast of 1994. But today let us see very briefly two other characteristics of Saint Teresa that I think make her a saint for our times: ordinariness, and suffering.

First, despite being a woman of extraordinary and already very famous accomplishments, Mother Teresa was, paradoxically, also very ordinary herself. Those who knew her said she was very practical and clever, but not extraordinarily intelligent. She did not have the advantage of an impressive social background or education or family or early life experience. And though possessed of a strong and decided character, she had no extraordinary personal magnetic power. In fact, nothing shows her ordinariness in these matters more clearly than the twenty years she lived with the Sisters of Loreto before receiving the vocation to found the Missionaries of Charity. She was a good sister, hardworking, pious, good with children and administrative tasks, but no one would have said she had the marks of greatness about her. The only thing in which she was truly extraordinary was that she was extraordinarily ambitious in love. She gave herself away to Jesus with an abandonment and a completeness of the rarest kind. 

A second quality that Mother Teresa possessed was her capacity and acceptance of suffering. Though she was known to be almost always cheerful and smiling, thanks to her letters that were published after her death, we now know that at the center of her heart was an understanding and experience of suffering. She understood that to be a true follower of Christ meant to accept His suffering and whatever suffering our love and service to our neighbor may imply. She came to call suffering the kiss of Jesus Christ…

I think both of these are signs especially for our world today. Our contemporary society today is so dazzled by money and fame (the apotheosis of our rock stars and sports celebrities is a clear example of this), we can think that the ordinariness of 99% of our lives makes them useless or insignificant. Our world today also dreams of fashioning a world where suffering no longer exists, but we have found that to be impossible. On the contrary, today we are more confused by suffering than ever before precisely because we no longer understand it; we don’t know what it is for. This Sunday Mother Teresa will be given to us to show us that ordinariness, lived with love and faith, is the most extraordinary thing of all, that light and darkness are, in this still-fallen world, inextricably linked, that joy is found in the midst of hardship, and that cheerful love is rooted in the soil of suffering offered to God and joined to Christ, the Suffering One. She is indeed a saint for our times.

May God bless you and your families,
Fr. Bruce Wren, L.C.



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