Early this morning in Rome, Mother Teresa was formally canonized as St. Teresa of Calcutta.
I've spoken about her in many homilies because she stands out for me as someone completely devoted to being a disciple of Jesus.
When she was 18, she left her home in Yugoslavia to join the Loreto Sisters in Ireland - a comunity of missionary sisters who educated young girls. She was later sent to India where she made her first vows and began the work of teaching which she did for 15 years.
But then, while riding on a train to go on a retreat, she heard the voice of Jesus calling her to a new vocation. This call was summed up in one of the last things Jesus said on the cross before He died: "I thirst." For Mother Teresa, this wasn't just a physical thirst; He the thirsted for love, He thirsted for our souls. She was being called to go out into the streets of Calcutta and satisfy Jesus' thirst by loving the poor people she found there.
She spent her life in that service, gathering around her other men and women who were called by God to give themselves to loving the poor. Her new community, the Missionaries of Charity with their distinctive blue and white robes, spread around the world and in every place, carried out Mother's calling of loving service.
As I've said before, you might assume that someone who is working so hard for the Lord and doing it with such joyful energy would have been feeling especially close to Him, but that was not the inner life of Mother Teresa. Soon after she began her work, she experienced a darkness and spiritual dryness that would last to the end of her life. She felt unloved and abandoned by Jesus, all the while desiring to love Him "as He's never been loved before" and not being able to.
Why didn't she quit? If Jesus had called her to this life - and then abandoned her - why didn't she just give up?
The answer is found in today's reading from the Gospel of Luke. Once again, Jesus gives us some extremely challenging and even frightening commands:
"If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple."
Why does He say this? It doesn't seem right.
First, we must understand how Jesus is speaking. He's using hyperbole - exaggerated language - to get our attention and make His point. What's the 4th commandment? "Honor your father and mother." Jesus wouldn't contradict the Law - something He says that He has come to fulfill. So what does He mean?
Jesus is telling us that we must love Him first - before our family and even our own life. He is making a claim that would have shocked the crowds listening to Him, because this is something only God can command. He must come first.
Then He goes further:
"Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple."
In loving Him above everything else, we are then called to follow after Him - even in His suffering.
This is where we begin to understand the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta. She understood that following Jesus wasn't about worldly success or pleasure.
Suffering exists in this world and we will all face it.
As Christians, our response must be to join ourselves and our suffering to that of Jesus. Because we are members of the Church - supernaturally joined together as the Body of Christ - every suffering that we experience is connected to Jesus' sacrifice. It is given meaning through His suffering and He uses it for our salvation and the salvation of the world.
This is why Mother Teresa could say of her own darkness: "If my darkness and dryness can be a light to some soul let me be the first one to do that. If my life, if my suffering, is going to help souls to be saved, then I will prefer from the creation of the world to the end of time to suffer and die."
Mother Teresa took up her cross and followed Jesus - even when she felt alone and abandoned. We each have our own crosses. Let us follow our Lord, trusting that even the worst of our sufferings, even our darkest days, will help others and lead us to new life.
I'd like to close by reading you something St. Teresa wrote to her community a few years before she died:
My Dearest Children—Sisters, Brothers, and Fathers,
This letter being very personal, I wanted to write in my own hand—by there are so many things to say. Even if not in Mother’s hand, still it comes from Mother’s heart. Jesus wants me to tell you again, especially in this Holy Week, how much love He has for each one of you—beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus—one to one—you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel—but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus—not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person—not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you”—impossible.
Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead—meditation-only thinking. Jesus wants you each to hear Him—speaking in the silence of your heart. Be careful of all that can block that personal contact with the living Jesus. The devil may try to use the hurts of life, and sometimes our own mistakes—to make you feel it is impossible that Jesus really loves you, is really cleaving to you. This is a danger for all of us. And so sad, because it is completely opposite of what Jesus is really wanting, waiting to tell you. Not only that He loves you, but even more—He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close.
He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes—He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you.
Only believe—You are precious to Him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet—only open your heart to be loved by Him as your are. He will do the rest.