St. Teresa of Calcutta

The canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta by Pope Francis was a momentous occasion for Catholics. For one, any time a man or woman is added to the pantheon of the saints, the Church rejoices in yet another inspiring example of a human life lived in the heroic pursuit of goodness. For another, this small spare woman in the iconic white sari serves as a symbol of the indispensability of the Church. The people of the world benefit greatly from the immense good that the Church does in its quiet humble way. We need those that recklessly persecute her to realize that in doing so they hurt the millions that depend on her for succor.
In 1946, the little Albanian nun had been leading a pleasant existence as a teacher in India when she received her “call within a call”. She heard a quiet interior suggestion to kick over the traces of her life and go help the poorest of the poor while living among them. So she did, and made her way (with 5 rupees in her pocket) to what was probably the direst, rankest slum in the world to serve the destitute and abandoned. This was in 1948, and today the religious congregation she founded consists of over 4,500 sisters and is active in 133 countries. What do they do? They run hospices for people with leprosy, AIDS, and tuberculosis. They run soup kitchens, mobile clinics, dispensaries, and orphanages, all for free, of course, while living their vows of poverty and chastity.

While the Sisters of Charity seem to shine with holiness as they go cheerfully about their heavy work, instantly recognizable the world over, the truth is that they are only one small part of the vast enterprise that is the Catholic Church’s charitable mission. Wherever there is war, famine, disease, ignorance, homelessness, there the Church goes to work, helping more effectively and with more tenderness than secular NGO’s and government programs ever could. In sheer numbers of people fed, elderly/dying housed, lepers attended, AIDS-sufferers succored, children educated, and sick cared for, the Church is, hands-down, the largest charitable organization in the world.

This is not a coincidence. The Church boasts luminaries like Mother Teresa because the Church for 2000 years has believed and taught that Jesus meant it when he said: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.” To alleviate the suffering of others, no matter how marginalized or how far removed from our own cares and concerns, is a duty of each and every member of the Church. Some of her daughters—like Mother Teresa—take this duty and rise to dizzying heights with it. Others are inspired to volunteer for the St. Vincent De Paul society, or lend a hand at the parish nursery school where the migrant workers leave their babies as they head off to a hot day in the field.

Willfully and recklessly the critics and persecutors of the Church go about their business with little thought for the many who depend on her. The ACLU gnaws constantly at her sides, demanding that she get out of the Hospital and Clinic business, and give up helping the unaccompanied children at the border. The Obama administration will not give up harassing the Little Sisters of the Poor, another congregation of women who care for the elderly destitute.

The crime of the Church? Disagreeing with current liberal orthodoxy on issues of sexual freedom. The ACLU, Obama’s HHS, and international pro-abortion activists believe that access to sterilization, contraception, and abortion are fundamental rights. If the Church won’t remove its opposition, if it won’t get with the program, then it must stop helping people. Those that attack the Church do not propose going out into the world to help the millions of sufferers themselves. They propose to leave them to the tender mercy of governments and social work bureaucracies.

We Catholics believe that saints in heaven take a lively interest in the doings of those that continue to labor in what the Bible justly described as this vallis lacrimarum, or valley of tears. We even believe that they can intercede for us, and help us in our struggles. If this is true, I’m sure that St. Teresa of Calcutta is loving the poor and wretched even more ardently than she did when she was able to touch them with her hands. And that she is working hard at softening the hearts of those that oppose the Church and seek to shut her down. St. Teresa will not cease to help those that need her, and if her image of perfect-goodness-in-action can give the Church’s attackers a single moment of compunction, she will have achieved another miracle.

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