MOSAIC Fall 2016 - Page 5

ST. TERESA OF CALCUTTA overcome with emotion by the sheer holiness of the tiny, wrinkled 74-year-old woman who stood before them—perched on top of a box so she could reach the microphone—in her simple blue and white sari, the one you’ve seen her wear in pictures a million times before. To this day, the thoughts and feelings I had on seeing her that night are vividly etched in my memory. Recently, I expressed some of these in a short poem. Strikingly, the effect she had seemed to have no boundaries as to whether you were religious or non-religious; it didn’t seem to matter that night, or any other time for that matter. In fact, I saw what I assumed were veteran secular reporters getting choked up simply at the sight of her. The late William F. Buckley Jr. many years ago edited a book, Did You Ever See A Dream Walking? That’s a memorable title. Well, you could title a book about that evening with St. Mother Teresa similarly, Did You Ever See Holiness Walking? I remember asking myself: How can a plain-looking person be so attractive? It was only years later that I could actually say I knew the answer. I believe that this elderly Albanian missionary nun was so beautiful because, as she famously always said, she saw Jesus Christ in the face of every human person that she met and ministered to. And so, the more she saw the image of the Lord in each human being she encountered, the more we saw reflected in her eyes that same poor soul she saw and loved; that is, the beautiful face of our Savior himself (cf. Matthew 25:31-46). ergy on changing the “social structures” that supposedly made and kept people poor. As well, why did she concentrate on a simplistic (in their eyes) person-to-person approach to alleviating poverty? Where were the Big Programs? And why so much emphasis on suffering? That was all too . . . Catholic. Some even charged her with a certain dependency on the poor: she needed them (for her fame) and they needed her (for their soup). Many, too, were opposed to her pro-life stance on abortion and contraception, seeing her position as contrary to what the poor really needed to escape poverty. These critics interpreted her unwavering faithfulness to Church teaching as unfaithfulness to the cause of the needy. And on it went. Of course, St. Teresa would say that she wasn’t focused on poverty so much as focused on the poor. She wasn’t in love with poverty, as one well known critic of her had it, but with the poor. Many others had the vocation to do the Big Stuff with the Big Dollars and the Big Publicity. Her calling— her mission, as she saw it—was to faithfully serve the poor of Calcutta, India, and other places with unconditional Christian love. So for Mother Teresa it wasn’t just about material goods, however important and necessary they are. And she and the Missionaries of Charity, the order of nuns that she founded, didn’t neglect them. Yet her work wasn’t simply to eradicate poverty, wonderful though that would be. Her order was (and is) also about the “spiritual poverty,” as she put it, that she encountered in the secular and successful West. Her speech in Washington, D.C., that June evening didn’t neglect to mention this kind of poverty, so much more difficult to eliminate because it is rooted in the heart. If Christians wouldn’t address spiritual poverty, who would? Catholic News Agency “I saw what I assumed were veteran secular reporters getting choked up simply at the sight of her.” person, but the effect her mere presence had on those in attendance, myself included. When she first appeared on stage—along with the late Dr. Jack Wilkie, who was then president of the NRLC Committee, his wife Barbara, the late Jack Kemp, and other former and current politicians—you could literally hear a pin drop in the large ballroom. Then, looking around me, I observed many in the audience crying and shaking (including my future wife, Christine). It was as if the Holy Spirit had blown through the room unannounced. And, in a sense, he had. People were What About the Critics? Hard as it may be to believe, especially for Catholics and others with a real devotion to her, not everyone was a fan of St. Teresa. Her critics would accuse her of ignoring the “root causes” of poverty. They would ask her why she didn’t focus her en- shms.edu 3