Pope Francis announced last week a date for the canonization of Mother Teresa. She will be ‘raised to the altars’, as the expression goes, on September 4, 2016. Canonization is a formal declaration by the Church of the holiness of a Christian, who may be mentioned thereafter among the saints in the Eucharistic prayer and the litanies of public worship, and be invoked by the faithful, both publicly and privately, for her prayers in heaven on our behalf. This is a great joy for all who venerate the memory of Mother Teresa.
Eastertide is a good time to receive this news from the Vatican. This week Catholics remember in prayer and worship the events of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem. The significance of His death lay in two important facts, that Jesus was true God and truly human and that His death was real. John Dwyer, the late professor of theology at Saint Mary’s College, taught that in taking on our death, God opened the way through it to life. “When God takes death into himself, it means not the end of God but the end of death” (John C. Dwyer, Son of Man & Son of God: A New Language for Faith, p. 183). Christian teaching has always held that because we die with Christ, we shall be raised with Christ. The early patristic writer, Gregory of Nazianzus, perhaps put it best.
“That which [Christ] has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved” (Epistle 101).
Pope Benedict XVI echoed Saint Gregory’s words.
“To redeem man in the totality of his body, soul, and spirit, Christ assumed all the elements of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved” (General Audience, August 22, 2007).
The death of Jesus on the cross was the culmination of his suffering that began after the Last Supper the evening before. While praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, as the Gospels of Matthew and Mark report, Jesus cried out in sorrow and distress, “My soul is sorrowful even to death” (Mt. 26:38; Mk. 14:34). The Gospel of Luke adds the physical image of Jesus sweating “like drops of blood falling on the ground” (Lk. 22:44). These reports reveal Jesus suffering soul’s torment. “That which He has not assumed He has not healed.” The words of Saint Gregory become most meaningful here in another way for the life of Mother Teresa, whom we now know suffered a similar torment of soul. In all the formative years of her new work in Kolkata, Mother Teresa was devoid of any sense of connectedness to God, as many of passages of her diary and her letters to her confessors reveal.
“I can’t lift my soul to God—no light or inspiration enters my soul.—I speak of love for souls—of tender love for God—words mass through my words [sic, lips]—and I long with a deep longing to believe them.—What do I labor for? If there be no God—there can be no soul.—If there be no soul then Jesus—You also are not true.—Heaven, what emptiness” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The Private Writings of the ‘Saint of Calcutta’, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, p. 193)
“Unloved. I call, I cling, I want.—and there is no One to answer—no One on Whom I can cling—no, No One.—Alone. The darkness is so dark—I am alone.—Unwanted, forsaken.—The loneliness of the heart that wants is unbearable.—Where is my faith?—Even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness & darkness” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p. 187).
Eventually with the help of a confessor, Mother Teresa was able to understand her own inner trials as part of the suffering experienced by Jesus.
“Dear Father, I can’t express in words—the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me.—for the first time in this 11 years—I have come to love the darkness.—for I believe now that it is a part, a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness & pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a ‘spiritual side of your work’ as you wrote.—Today really I felt a deep joy—that Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony—but that He wants to go through it in me.—More than ever I surrender myself to Him.—Yes—more than ever I will be at His disposal” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p. 214).
The Church gives us the formal veneration of the saints as a guiding light for our own lives of discipleship. Let us take note of Mother Teresa’s journey to sainthood and the saving grace of Jesus’ suffering this week as we bring any inner turmoil with us when we gather in communities of worship and remembrance of the great events of our salvation.
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