On Sunday, September 4th, Pope Francis will canonize Mother Teresa of Calcutta following her beatification by John Paul II in 2003, the shortest time frame in the church’s history to acknowledge a person’s holiness. In centuries past she could have been canonized on the date of her death, but the church sometimes takes the long view, years, not days or weeks.
She began life in Skopje, Macedonia (then part of Kosovo Vilayet), as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu one of three surviving children of an Albanian family, having one sister and a brother. Their father was a contractor who was politically active in their community and experienced an early death, possibly the result of foul play because of his political activism. Agnes was 8 years old when her father died and her mother, a devout catholic, was left to support the family.
In a village in the eastern part of Kosovo is a church with a statue of the Black Madonna highly revered by the local population. People who grew up in that town come back every May for the feast day of the Black Madonna, with grand festivities, a procession, Mass, prayer and of course food. It was in the church of the Black Madonna that some believe Mother Teresa first received her vocational call, where she discovered her initial call.
She began discerning her vocation in her late teens, eventually becoming a Loreto Sister of Dublin, an order founded in Ireland. She was admitted as a postulant on Oct. 12, 1928 and received the name of Teresa, after her patroness, St. Therese of Lisieux. She was sent by the order to teach at St. Mary’s Bengali Medium School, a girl’s high school in Calcutta. She made her final profession as a Loreto nun on May 24, 1937 and hereafter was called Mother Teresa. After seventeen years of teaching, she experienced a “call within a call.” She felt called to work among the poor in the streets, which gave rise to the Missionaries of Charity family of sisters, Brothers, Fathers and Co-Workers.
She began that mission, first teaching the illiterate children without many resources, sometimes writing the lessons in the dirt, teaching the children to read and write. Gaining the trust of the poor children and their parents allowed her to reach out to those who were sick, those who were in great need, offering them the presence of the loving Jesus. On Oct. 7, 1950, the new congregation of the Missionaries of Charity was officially erected as a religious institute for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.
On the Franciscan website, American Catholic, you can read so much more about Mother Teresa, her life, her faith development, the work and mission of the Missionaries of Charity and a letter that she wrote to the community in 1993.
She invited them and invites us to personally discover the love of Jesus. Listening to Jesus speak to us in our hearts, in the silence of our prayer, not just meditating on his love, but directly experiencing that each of us is truly loved. Having that experience shaped and formed Mother Teresa throughout her life time even in the dark night of the soul that she experienced for fifty years.
As Pope Francis declares Mother Teresa, Saint, let us listen to her words, listen to her invitation to find the gift she offered to the sisters, brothers and priests of her order that is available to anyone willing to pray, be quiet, be silent and available to the Lord’s service wherever that may take us.
Blessings – Fr. Larry Hendel, Pastor