Mother Teresa: ‘We shall then once again touch the beauty before us’
September 1st, 2010
By Bishop William J. Justice
Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice delivered the following homily Aug. 26 at St. Paul Church in San Francisco on the 100th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s birth.
A few days ago, the first day in months that we had no fog in San Francisco, I took a wonderful walk along the Marina and along the shoreline of the Presidio. It was a grand day. One thing that caught my eye was the couples sitting on benches along the trail. They were quiet, gazing out on the bay. I could not discern any verbal communication taking place. They just seemed so content to be there, and to be there with one another. Words were not necessary. Presence was.
In some way, I believe most of us have a similar feeling today as we honor Mother Teresa of Calcutta. We are gathered here with her Community, gathered around the Word of God in the Scriptures, to celebrate the Eucharist – the sacrificial meal of the Lord Jesus. What is to be said about Mother Teresa that has not already been said? How do we express what is in our hearts? What more can be said? Perhaps it is enough to express our quiet gratitude for Mother’s presence in our lives, and in the lives of all she touched. In that way, we are like the couples sitting together on those benches that look out to the bay where the beauty of God’s creation overwhelms them – and us.
Yet we need to speak. We need to praise and give thanks for Mother, born 100 years ago today. And we need to be challenged to sense the beauty of Christ in our lives so we may recognize that beauty, as she did, in the poor and suffering, and be the body of Christ to them.
We need to speak of thanksgiving: for her desiring to be a religious and a missionary from the age of 12, and acting on that desire by joining the Sisters of Loreto at the age of 18 and for her arrival in India in 1929 to begin her lifelong service to the people of that nation. We are in awe that in September of 1946 she experienced what she described as, “the call within the call.” I quote, “I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them. It was an order. To fail would have been to break the faith.” We give thanks that in 1950 she was given permission to start the diocesan congregation that would become the Missionaries of Charity, whose mission was to care for – as she said – “the hungry, the naked, the homeless, the crippled, the blind, the lepers, all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared for throughout society; people who have become a burden to the society and are shunned by everyone.”
We celebrate her receiving recognition of her work through winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and India’s highest civilian award in 1980. And we give thanks to God that by 2007, the religious family Mother Teresa founded and guided numbered approximately 5,000 nuns and 450 brothers worldwide, operating 600 missions, schools and shelters in 120 countries! The power and love of God’s spirit can leave us in quiet awe!
I believe that the spirit of this gathering and the scripture proclaimed to us at this Eucharist moves us to speak of God’s calling of Mother, and in truth, the whole Christian and worldwide community. All the readings speak of God’s love for us in concrete terms. The first reading today from the Prophet Hosea was the experience of a man and woman in love: the desire to be together. God sees Israel as his spouse: “So I will allure her, I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart…I will espouse you to me forever. I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord.” That is our God who loves us so much he sent his only Son that we might have life, eternal life. This is the invitation from God to be so close to him that he fills us with his life: we become the branches, he is the vine. This is the love Mother realized was guiding her life and calling her to share it with the poor and outcast.
Saint Paul in the second reading sees himself, an apostle of Jesus, as a father who wants to betroth us, his converts, to Christ, so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us. He is jealous and protective of anything that would threaten the relationship. This is the love that Mother had for those in need. This is the love that God protected her with during her struggles with self-doubt and feelings of aloneness. This is the jealous God who calls us to trust in him and share his love in service to those who need us.
Finally, the Gospel reminds us to be wise, to be alert. God expects us to use the talents and gifts we have in the service of his jealous alluring love. Mother used her talents and gifts to share God’s love with the poor, those in need. We must do the same. It is our daily calling from God. It is also our continuation of the Charism of Mother Teresa from Calcutta and the Missionaries of Charity.
More than enough words have been said. We need to return to being together, as those couples contemplating the beautiful creation of San Francisco Bay, and in contemplation and awe give thanks for Mother, give thanks for the God who spoke to her heart and speaks to ours and for the people he calls us to serve: the poor, those who are outcasts. We shall then once again touch the beauty before us – the beauty Mother has called us to discover and to share: God loves us, each person on this earth. It may be Mother’s birthday, but she is still giving her deepest gift to us: Jesus Christ.
Let us in a few minutes turn to the altar of the Lord and celebrate Eucharist so that when we say “Amen” today to the Body and Blood of Christ, we will joyfully be able to say “Amen” to his profound call to follow him.
From September 3, 2010 issue of Catholic San Francisco.