Fond Memories on this Day of Her Canonization
I met Mother Teresa of Calcutta twice in Rome in the early 1980’s. That’s me in the goofy ski sweater. I was a seminarian in Rome for a short time, studying with the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, when she paid us a visit and spoke to us.
I still remember lining up with the other seminarians to ask for her signature. She signed my Liturgy of the Hours book. I treasure it now more than ever.
Another young man and I volunteered occasionally at San Gregorio, the Missionaries of Charity house in Rome, and that was the context of my other encounter. We were out front when we saw two of the sisters coming up the sidewalk about 100 yards away. The sidewalk was steeply inclined so they came gradually into view as they ascended, but we saw a gap between them. At last the gap was filled by the emerging figure of Mother Teresa, who was barely 5’ tall. We got excited, to say the least, and when the sisters reached us we had the privilege of visiting with her before she had to go inside the convent to meet with the members of her community. We basked in the warmth and kindness of her presence, the radiance of that wrinkled, smiling face.
The thing that always struck me about Mother Teresa was her simplicity of speech. She didn’t need to be clever and sophisticated – the world listened to what she said because it saw what she did as an angel of mercy. She lived daily the words she spoke to her sisters, indeed to us all: “Carry Jesus and his light into the homes of the poor, especially to the souls most in need. Spread the charity of his Heart wherever you go. Love cannot remain still. It has to get into action, and that action is service.”
And so I overflow with joy on this glorious day as Pope Francis canonizes Mother Teresa, solemnly declaring that she practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, is with God in heaven, and is to be venerated throughout the whole Church. In the calendar of saints, tomorrow, September 5, is her feast day.
Today – Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy
But there’s more. Pope Francis intentionally chose to canonize Mother Teresa in this Jubilee Year, making her a kind of patroness of the Year of Mercy. And he also declared today, September 4, the Jubilee for Workers and Volunteers of Mercy.
So if you seek to live out Jesus’ mandate in Matthew 25 – “Whatever you do for the least of my brethren, you do for me” – this is your day.
Do you volunteer at a food pantry, community meal, homeless shelter, pregnancy care center, nursing home? Do you work with people with disabilities, visit the homebound, bring Holy Communion to the sick, serve as a Leader of Prayer? Do you visit the incarcerated? Do you go on mission trips to the diocesan orphanage Casa Hogar in Peru or to Africa to bring clean water or schools to those in need? Do you participate in clothing or food drives, contribute worthy items to St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill, Salvation Army? Are you on the staff of Catholic Charities or another service organization? Or perhaps you quietly care for someone in need in your own family or next door, in ways the world doesn’t even notice.
The list could go on and on, but the important thing to say to all of you is that this is your day. This is a day to give thanks to God for His Mercy and his call to you to share in that Mercy, to be his hands, his feet and his heart in a world in need. This is your day to join your prayers and your actions to those of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity around the world, rejoicing, giving thanks, and asking God to continue to pour out his grace upon you and the brothers and sisters you serve.
May God bless and reward you – as He surely will – for serving him in the little, the poor and the forgotten. As Saint Mother Teresa would often say, you are touching Jesus “in his distressing disguise.”
Director of the Office for Ministries and Social Concerns