With the possibility of Mother Teresa’s canonisation later this year, journalists and commentators throughout the world are poised “objectively” to assess the rights and wrongs of her life, of the process of canonisation in the Roman Catholic Church, and of her being made officially a saint. I know because a number of them have made contact with me.
Personally, I subscribe to the view expressed by Brother Andrew, co-founder with Mother Teresa of the Missionary Brothers of Charity, that: “Unless my life comes anywhere near hers in its effective concern for the poor and suffering, then I can only look very stupid in making my relatively petty negative points.” Moreover it is the effectiveness of that concern which is for me the real miracle of her life, which truly bespeaks her sanctity. I will not go into the statistics here but the scope of what was achieved through one extraordinary only for her faith is breath taking. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” was a biblical text Mother Teresa regularly quoted and one on which I believe ultimately her case rests.
There are no doubt valid criticisms to be raised from the relative comfort of an office chair, but at the heart of many of them is the failure to comprehend the miracle that can occur when one human being touches, really touches another.
Mother Teresa believed in forgiving endlessly; she believed in the presence of the divine life in every human being; she believed that everyone should be given the opportunity to do good; and a lifetime of “living and diving into” poverty (as she used to advocate that those who really sought to comprehend should) had shown her that it was not something that could be fully understood by intellect alone. Only holding the hand of a dying destitute or the ravaged face of a leper teaches the unlimited, grace-filled value of that tiny, sometimes momentary gesture. Only entering into the life of the poor person teaches us our own inadequacy, our own brand of poverty, and so brings about communion and a very different, but somehow more hopeful and more joyous perspective.
There is a way that seeks to judge and to condemn, to diminish others in order to inflate our own sense of superiority, to resolve “issues”, a way that demands a return on every investment and results at the end of every effort. And then there is another way…