MASS OF THANKSGIVING FOR THE BEATIFICATION OF
BLESSED TERESA OF CALCUTTA
ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
SATURDAY 25 OCTOBER 2003 AT 7.30 PM
Seven years ago, Mother Teresa came here to this City of Armagh and to this Cathedral. Cardinal Daly had given her permission to open a house of the Missionaries of Charity. Although Mother was then eighty-six (86) years of age, and had already suffered several heart attacks and was confined to a wheelchair for part of the visit, she was determined to share the joy of that happy occasion with her beloved Sisters and with you, the people of this City.
Of course the joy of giving was one of the great lessons which she has left us. The joy of giving, giving simple things like a smile, was something upon which she insisted. But we now know from documents, which have emerged since her death, that, in fact, she herself did not always feel like smiling. One of the great crosses of her life, which she carried with great patience, was that of feeling that she was far away from God and rejected by God. Precisely because she talked so much of giving with a smile, a professor from the United States once asked her: “Are you married”? “Yes”, Mother Teresa replied, “and I find it sometimes very difficult to smile at my spouse, Jesus, because he can be very demanding”.
Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997, in the same week as Princess Diana died. I had the privilege of attending her funeral in Calcutta, which was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The Indian Government gave her a State funeral – something unheard of for a person who was not an Indian but especially for a woman.
People lined the streets in their tens of thousands. I remember the young ones especially, poor and barefoot and raggedly clad, racing alongside the cortege as fast as they could, to pay their last respects to Mother who really cared for and really loved them.
And now, six years later, Mother Teresa is Blessed Teresa. Beatified by her great friend, Pope John Paul II, in a wonderful ceremony in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday last. The rite began with a simple request from the Archbishop of Calcutta to the Holy Father:
“Most Holy Father, the Archbishop of Calcutta, humbly asks, Your Holiness, to include the venerable servant of God, Teresa of Calcutta, among the number of the Blessed”.
There followed a short account of her life. She was born in Macedonia of Albanian parents; her father was a successful and well-known contractor, her mother a housewife. She herself was the youngest of three (3) children. Mother Teresa was fond of repeating:
“The family that prays together, stays together.
Love begins in the family.
Peace begins in the family”.
Clearly her own devoted Catholic family, that prayed everyday and went to Church often, had a huge influence on her life. From them she learned generosity and care for the poor and less fortunate.
The second great influence on Mother Teresa was the Church. As a teenager she joined a Society of Our Lady in her local parish. There she deepened her prayer and her faith.
Early on she decided that God wanted her to spend her life on the missions in India, helping the poor – not just physically – but spiritually too. She told her Parish Priest, who was a Jesuit, about this desire. He directed her to the Loretto Nuns, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Rathfarnham in Dublin, because the Irish Loretto Sisters had Sisters on the missions in India. Obviously they welcomed this young Albanian girl and a few months later helped her on her way to Calcutta to join the Irish Sisters of Loretto who were teaching there. That was January 1929. For the next seventeen (17) years of her life, she lived and prayed and taught in the Loretto Convent school at Entally in Calcutta, called St. Mary Bengali. The school was attached to the Convent where they took in orphans and sick children.
I stayed with those Irish Loretto Sisters in 1997 when I went to Calcutta. I met some of those who had been Mother Teresa’s companions in the early days. I found them to be some of the most remarkable women I have ever met – women who had given all their lives to the service of Christ in the person of those Indian pupils and those Indian poor and who were then, in 1997, in the autumn years of life. They had stepped aside to let the native born Indian Sisters take over the running of the school while they stayed on to support the Apostolate with their prayers and their sacrifices.
Then on 10 September 1946 something happened which changed Mother Teresa’s life forever. She was travelling by train to the mountain town of Darjeeling to rest and recover from suspected tuberculosis when she heard the voice of Jesus speaking to her interiorly. Over the next few months Jesus spoke to her again, granting her inner visions and asking her to found a religious order which would be dedicated to the service of the poorest of the poor.
Once Mother Teresa had received the permission, which she required to leave her Order, she did so and moved out to the slums of Calcutta. Soon the permission of the Holy Father was given to create a religious order of nuns called the Missionaries of Charity. Their mission is, as she said when she accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, to care for the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the leper, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society, people who have become a burden to society and are shunned by everybody.
Today the Missionaries of Charity number more than 5,000 in 700 houses in 130 nations. They are made up of five branches –
Active and contemplative Sisters;
Active and Contemplative Brothers; and
twenty-five missionary priests.
All of Mother Teresa’s life and labour bore witness to the greatness and dignity of every human person. She had immense respect for everyone. Her closest friend was an Indian Hindu woman, to whom she never once mentioned the question of conversion to the Catholic faith. She used to say,
“We should help
a Hindu become a better Hindu,
a Muslim become a better Muslim,
a Catholic become a better Catholic.
Quoting the words of Jesus she was fond of saying: “As long as you did it to one of these little ones” she would say, “You did it to me”, tapping out the words on the fingers of her left hand, ‘You did it to me’.
Mother Teresa was famous for arriving into a convent late at night and setting about rearranging the furniture and the layout of the rooms. Once, when this had gone on late into the night, all the other Sisters were wrecked the next morning but Mother Teresa was up bright as a button and ready for action at the usual time. When asked where she got her energy from she said, “from the Eucharist”.
Of course she would never allow her Sisters to set up a convent in a place where they could not have daily Mass and adoration of the Eucharist. That was the food and contemplation from which she, and they, got their energy. This point was brought out very powerfully in the programme, which the Missionaries of Charity organised in preparation for the beatification. On Friday night last there was solemn adoration with, and for priests in Rome. All present were invited to thank God for the gift of the priesthood. They were urged to pray for the holiness of priests and to ask the Lord for new vocations. Mother Teresa never tired of reminding her hearers that without priests, who make Jesus present and alive in the Eucharist, the world cannot live and neither we, nor our families, can grow into holiness. She would also insist that holiness is not the luxury of the few but the simple duty of all.
A journalist once asked Mother Teresa if she agreed with Time magazine’s description of her as a ‘living saint’. “Oh no”, she said, “you mustn’t say that. Everyone is created to be a saint. The world is full of living saints”. When the interviewer objected by saying it wasn’t that simple, Mother Teresa insisted, “Yes it is simple. Your work is to write? Now then, if you don’t print lies and you don’t write things that depress people, you can become a saint. Because every job can be transformed into a prayer. Holiness is not the luxury of the few but the calling, the vocation of the world”.
In addition to the joy of giving and her recognition of the dignity of every human person, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta teaches us the value of little acts of kindness done faithfully and with love, even to the point of loving until it hurts. This she had learned from her mother who had told her, “if you don’t do an act of charity with love, I ask you not to do it at all. For you must be the hand of the Providence of God – when nobody is looking – so that those who are helped will be thankful not to you but to God”.
Yet Mother Teresa must not be reduced solely to her work for the poorest of the poor. Her service to the poor came only at the end of a long process, a process which begins with silence, a silence that makes space for prayer. Her prayer deepened her faith which bears fruit in love and out of that love came her service and her care and her respect for the poor and for the deprived.
An Indian Government minister for Social Affairs summed it up well. She said, “We are doing the same work but with a difference. We do it for something, the Missionaries of Charity do it for someone”.
Mother Teresa made herself one of the poorest of the poor, not just to share their lifestyle but in order to identify herself with Jesus who died to show his love for each one of us. She said, “I heard the call to give up all and follow Christ into the slums to serve Him among the poorest of the poor”.
Mother Teresa was called by God to respond to the love of Christ thirsting on the Cross. Her response took the form of serving the needs of the poor but her example challenges each one of us to consider what our response is going to be to that same thirst. Her lifestyle challenges each one of us to examine our own lifestyle and our attitude towards the goods of this earth.
Poverty is not confined to Calcutta nor to the developing world. Black spots of deprivation and poverty can still be found in our own backyard. Earlier this month in the Republic, the Combat Poverty agency published its Report for last year. It found that in the Republic 71,000 households or 5% of the total, were living in consistent poverty, lacking basic necessities such as food, clothing and heat. So much for the myth of the Celtic Tiger and the rising tide lifting all boats. I am aware that there are certain quarters where it is no longer acceptable to draw attention to such poverty. Some people even speak rather disparagingly of the “poverty industry”. In the eyes of such commentators, wealth-creating entrepreneurs might be more welcome candidates for beatification than Mother Teresa. Of course there is a place for people of enterprise who are prepared to take risks simply to produce wealth and create jobs. What is not acceptable is the monumental greed of the kind of people from whom the Revenue Commissioners estimate that they will reclaim up to one billion Euro from their tax evasion.
If she were here tonight, Blessed Teresa might ask us to do very simple things. For example, to call to visit the neighbour living alone; to smile more often at others; to call people by name; to speak words of praise and encouragement and love; to talk to our children and grandchildren; parents and grandparents; brothers and sisters. She would certainly remind us to take time to pray and to remember that we are all brothers and sisters because we are all children of a loving God.
Mother Teresa is now Blessed Teresa. That means she is now enjoying the blessed life to which we all aspire. The response to her beatification was one of immense joy and praise to God, especially at that magical moment when the curtain was pulled back and her face was revealed, full of gentleness and kindness. Yes, creased and wrinkled with compassion and care, shining with the glory that reflects the glory of the face of the Risen Christ.
I heard of Lithuanians who walked for three months to be there for that moment. I sat beside a Missionary of Charity who asked me to pray that he may be able to give his life to Jesus.
Obviously, the message of Blessed Teresa continues to evoke a response in generous hearts. The reason is that she is a living and tangible sign of the merciful love of God, revealed in the mystery of the Cross and in the resurrection of Christ.
Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.