Final Preparations For Canonization of Mother Teresa

Now only ten days away, the canonization of Mother Teresa has Rome buzzing with activity. While Rome was not severely affected by the earthquake that has devastated central Italy, tremors were felt in the city. Pope Francis “went off scrip” during his Wednesday address, and chose instead to lead those present in a rosary for the victims of that quake. However, this disaster has not slowed the preparations for the September 4 canonization.

Beginning September 1, the Vatican will lead the world in a weeklong celebration of the life and work of Mother Teresa. According to the National Catholic Register, the week will begin

… with the opening of an “Exposition of the Life, Spirit and Message of Mother Teresa” at the LUMSA university in Rome. The exposition will last until Sept. 7.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Missionaries of Charity will provide a “family feast” for the poor under their care at the Santa Cecilia auditorium on the Via della Conciliazione. Part of the evening’s highlights: Mother Teresa: The Musical by the Italian musician, author, singer and actor Michele Paulicelli.

Three consecutive Masses to honor Mother Teresa are scheduled for the following day in three languages — English, Spanish and Italian — at the Basilica of St. Anastasia, close to the Missionaries of Charity motherhouse and Rome’s Circus Maximus, with veneration of the relics of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata after each Mass.

Mother Teresa’s beatification (the  formal step prior to canonization) drew estimated crowds of 300,000. Her canonization will certainly draw even more.

The prayer for Mother Teresa’s canonization refers to her as “carrier of Christ’s mercy and love,” befitting not only the holy woman, but the Year of Mercy as well. The prayer is as follows:

Lord Jesus, merciful Face of the Father, you came to give us the Good News of the Father’s mercy and tenderness.

We thank you for the gift of our dearest Mother, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, who will be canonized in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. You chose her to be your presence, your love and compassion to the brokenhearted, the unwanted, the abandoned and the dying. She responded wholeheartedly to your cry, ‘I Thirst,’ by the holiness of her life and humble works of love to the poorest of the poor.

We pray, through her intercession, for the grace to experience your merciful love and share it in our own families, communities and with all our suffering brothers and sisters. Help us to give our “hearts to love and hands to serve” after the example of Mother Teresa. Lord Jesus, bless every member of our family, our parish, our diocese, our country, especially those most in need, that we all may be transformed by your merciful love. Amen.

Join us as we continue to pray and prepare for this celebration of the Church’s newest saint.


Mother Teresa: A “Saint Of Darkness”

The world came to know Mother Teresa very well during her life. With the possible exception of St. John Paul II, she was likely the most recognizable Catholic on the face of the earth in the 20th century. Her faith and the work she and her Sisters did made her beloved and admired by many.

What no one knew (with the exception of a handful of people, mostly priests) until after her death, was the intense spiritual suffering Mother Teresa underwent for most of her life. Often referred to as “the dark night of the soul” (after a book by the same name written by St. John of the Cross), Mother Teresa had no feeling or consolation of the presence of God in her life.

Most of us have had a time in our life when we’ve cried out, “God, where are you??” It may be a time of illness or tragedy, or a time when our faith is tested by hardship. That feeling is but a tiny glimpse of the suffering of Mother Teresa.

She is not the first saint to endure this nor, undoubtedly, will she be the last. She spoke and wrote to perhaps one friend and also her spiritual advisers about this, but she was adamant that her Sisters and the world not know. She never wanted her experience to impact anyone else’s faith, especially her own Sisters. Upon her death, her diary and letters were released, and the world came to know Mother Teresa in an entirely different manner.

In the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, Director of the Mother Teresa Center in California, presents and explores Mother Teresa’s experience. For the most part, Fr. Kolodiejchuk allows Mother Teresa to speak for herself:

The place of God in my soul is blank. There is no God in me. When the pain of longing is so great I just long & long for God and then it is that I feel He does not want me He is not there.

Fr. Kolodiejchuk goes on to say:

The reality of her relationship with Jesus was truly a paradox. He was living in and through her without her being able to savor the sweetness of His presence … it was only when she was with the poor that she perceived His presence vividly. There she felt Him to be so alive and so real. [emphasis added]

A Jesuit priest, Fr. Joseph Neuner, became a confidante and spiritual adviser to Mother Teresa in 1957, a relationship that lasted for decades. It was his guidance that allowed Mother Teresa to come to some peace with this spiritual condition, “a sharing in Christ’s redemptive suffering.” Fr. Neuner, years later, admitted that while this dark night of the soul was not unusual for the holiest of people, he had never found it so deeply in anyone as it existed for Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa came to see her “darkness” as an identification with the poor she and her Sisters served:

[S]he was drawn mystically into the deep pain they [the poor] experienced as a result of feeling unwanted and rejected and, above all, by living without faith in God.

Mother Teresa, in a letter to Fr. Neuner in 1962, said, “If I ever become a saint I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ Her faith in Christ, and her absolute reliance on the Eucharist, allowed Mother Teresa to come to a point, spiritually, that she said, “I have come to love the darkness,” not because she loved the feeling that God was absent, but that this suffering allowed her to give herself wholly to the men, women and children that she served every day.

It is unfathomable to most of us how a person whose public face was one of joy and peace, could endure such darkness and still have faith. It is that last part, the steadfastness of Mother Teresa’s faith, under these incomprehensible spiritual conditions, that should and will be her most enduring legacy. As she said to Fr. Neuner in one letter, “You are sad for me but we really have no reason to be sad. He is the Master. He can dispose of me as it pleaseth Him alone.”


Mother Teresa: Nobel Peace Prize Recipient

In 1979, Mother Teresa of Kolkata was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. According to the Nobel Prize Committee:

… the Peace Prize is to go to whoever “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. The prize includes a medal, a personal diploma, and a large sum of prize money (currently 8 million Swedish crowns).

It was one of 124 prizes and awards she received over her 69 year religious life. As one might imagine, the tiny nun known for her work among the very poorest of the poor was not always thrilled with the recognition her work brought. She was always firm in telling people that it was not she who did the work, but God – always God.

Nevertheless, she traveled to Norway in 1979 to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. In her lecture upon receiving the prize, she asked those assembled to pray together. Then she reminded those assembled (and the world) that they should be open to the will of God in the same way the Virgin Mary was, and it was Mary’s willingness to serve God that brought the very Prince of Peace into our world.

And as if that was not enough – it was not enough to become a man – he died on the cross to show that greater love, and he died for you and for me and for that leper and for that man dying of hunger and that naked person lying in the street not only of Calcutta, but of Africa, and New York, and London, and Oslo – and insisted that we love one another as he loves each one of us. And we read that in the Gospel very clearly – love as I have loved you – as I love you – as the Father has loved me, I love you – and the harder the Father loved him, he gave him to us, and how much we love one another, we, too, must give each other until it hurts. It is not enough for us to say: I love God, but I do not love my neighbour.

She spoke of the accolades and recognition she and her Sisters had received for their work, but she was stalwart in pointing always to Christ. And then she challenged all those listening to seek out the poor in their lives; not necessarily the monetarily poor, but those who craved love. For this lack of love, she said, was the greatest poverty our world experiences.

Because today there is so much suffering – and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again – are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society – that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each, other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.

This tiny woman from Kolkata was unafraid to speak of Christ and His love for each of us, even in front of the most finely-dressed and most prestigious people on the planet. She was also unafraid to force them to examine their own lives – even in uncomfortable ways – to follow Christ’s example of love for the poor, the unwanted, the outcast. Surely, her words are as true today as they were 37 years ago.


The Canonization Process: How Does The Church Declare A Saint?

The Catholic Church will be declaring its newest saint on September 4, 2016: Mother Teresa of Kolkota. As you might imagine, the Church has a rather rigorous method of formally declaring a person a saint. (Keep in mind, too, that just because a person is not formally declared a saint does not mean they are not in Heaven in the presence of God for all eternity. The Church simply cannot go through this process with every single person.)

The formal process of the Church entails several steps: being declared a Servant of God, then Venerable, Blessed and finally Saint. Usually the process cannot begin until the person has been deceased for at least 5 years, unless the pope waives that time period. St. John Paul II waived the period for Mother Teresa, and Pope Benedict XVI waived it for John Paul II. Once the 5 year waiting period has concluded, the bishop of the diocese where that person lived petitions the Vatican to begin the process. If there are no objections, the process begins.

The road to canonization can seem like a very long one, and it is, for good reason. The Church must invest a great deal of time and research into that person’s life, making sure that the person did indeed lead a holy life in all matters, both public and private.

Once the process begins, the person in question is given the title, “Servant of God.” If you’ve ever wondered why so many priests and nuns are declared saints and not so many lay people, it lays in this step. All the person’s writings must be collected, including private writings such as diaries and letters to friends and family. The person’s entire life must be documented. For a religious, the diocese or the religious order may designate people to do this work. For a lay person, it is much more difficult to have someone devote so much time for this. It is essentially a full-time job for at least one person, and usually more.

Once that step has been completed, the person is declared “Venerable.” At this point, one miracle must be attributed to the intercession of this person. In the case of John Paul II, it came from a French nun, who suffered from Parkinson’s (the same disease that claimed the life of the pontiff.) Her miraculous recovery from the disease in 2011 was the first recorded miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II’s intercession. Such miracles must be investigated and confirmed by two tribunals, one scientific and one theological:

The scientific commission must determine by accepted scientific criteria that there is no natural explanation for the alleged miracle. While miracles could be of any type, those almost exclusively proposed for Causes are medical. These must be well-documented, both as regards the disease and the treatment, and as regard the healing and its persistence.

While the scientific commission rules that the cure is without natural explanation, the theological  commission must rule whether the cure was a miracle in the strict sense, that is, by its nature can only be attributed to God. To avoid any question of remission due to unknown natural causation, or even unrecognized therapeutic causation, theologians prefer cures of diseases judged beyond hope by medicine, and which occur more or less instantaneously. The disappearance of a malignancy from one moment to another, or the instantaneous regeneration of diseased, even destroyed, tissue excludes natural processes, all of which take time. Such cases also exclude the operation of the angelic nature. While the enemy could provoke a disease by his oppression and simulate a cure by withdrawing his action, the cure could not be instantaneous, even one day to the next. Much less can he regenerate tissue from nothing. These are, therefore, the preferred kinds of cases since they unequivocally point to a divine cause.

The theological commission must also determine whether the miracle resulted through the intercession of the Servant of God alone. If the family and friends have been praying without cease to the Servant of God exclusively, then the case is demonstrated.

The next step is “beatification” and the person is given the title “Blessed.” This means that the person may be given private veneration or veneration in their own diocese or home. The Church’s investigation continues, and since the declaration of sainthood is considered infallible, the Vatican withholds the decree until all study of the person’s life is complete. At this point, a second miracle must be established. For John Paul II, this came from a man in Colombia, Marco Fidel Rojas, who also suffered from Parkinson’s:

Fidel remembers experiencing the first symptoms of the disease in December 2005. After a series of examinations, doctors determined he had suffered a stroke, which led to the development of Parkinson’s.

Little by little, the disease began to get worse. “I felt like I could collapse at any moment. Various times I fell down outside on the street,” he recalled, adding that once he was almost run over by a taxi.

As the years went by and his health continued to deteriorate, Fidel suddenly remembered on the evening of Dec. 27, 2010, that during a trip to Rome he had met Pope John Paul II after Mass and spoke with him for a few moments.

I have a friend up there, Fidel thought that night, amid his pain. “And he had Parkinson’s. Why didn’t I pray to him before? Venerable Father John Paul II: Come and heal me; put your hands on my head.”

After praying, Fidel said he slept perfectly that night; the next morning he woke up with no symptoms of the illness.

El Tiempo reported that Dr. Antonio Schlesinger Piedrahita, a renowned neurologist in Colombia, has certified Fidel’s healing and says he is in good health.

The pope must assent to the findings of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Once the Holy Father gives his consent, the person may be canonized.

By the Rite of Canonization the Supreme Pontiff, by an act which is protected from error by the Holy Spirit, elevates a person to the universal veneration of the Church. By canonization the Pope does not make the person a saint. Rather, he declares that the person is with God and is an example of following Christ worthy of imitation by the faithful. A Mass, Divine Office and other acts of veneration, may now be offered throughout the universal Church.

Note the wording: “the Pope does not make the person a saint.”

The Catholic Church doesn’t make saints like Hollywood makes movie stars. Catholics saints are men and women who lived holy lives in obedience to God’s will, and they became saints at the moment they entered heaven. However, the Church does recognize those souls that the Church can confirm are in heaven as saints.

It is always a great celebration when a person is declared a saint for the Universal Church. We look forward to Mother Teresa’s canonization and the celebration of her dedication to the will of God.

career advice

Career Advice For Your Spiritual Life

That’s an odd title, isn’t it? What does “career advice” have to do with one’s relationship with God? Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Carey Nieuwhof is a Protestant pastor who writes on a variety of topics: leadership, strategy and team building, and entrepreneurship, for example. He recently wrote a blog piece entitled, 25 Random Pieces of Advice for Leaders in their 20s, 30s, or 40s. While many of these things pertain to one’s job and career, they can also help us in our spiritual life.

For instance, Nieuwhof suggests: Study and practice faithfulness. Study your faith. You don’t have to get a Ph.D. in theology to be a holy person, but you do need to know your Faith. Read the lives of saints. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church (not all at once.) Earnestly study the Bible. As for faithfulness, if you are married, you must remain faithful to your spouse in both thought and action. For those called to religious life, they have vows and a community to which they must remain faithful. All of us must be faithful to our baptismal promises.

Another bit of advice: Be generous when you have no money. Mother Teresa of Kolkata (who will be canonized on September 4 this year) told this story:

One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days.”
I took some food with me and went. When I came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbors; they are hungry also!” I was not surprised that she gave-poor people are really very generous. I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.

Being generous is more than just giving money to people. It is about being aware of the needs of others.

Next, Nieuwhof says: Wrestle down your pride. Pride is the father of all the mortal sins. St. John Chrysostom said, “[N]othing so alienates men from the loving kindness of God, and gives them over to the fire of the pit, as the tyranny of pride.” God endows all of us with gifts, and we must give Him the glory for those gifts.

Persevere through the dry season. If you have a strong prayer life, it is almost guaranteed that there will be a time when you feel distant from God. In the Catholic tradition, it is often referred to as the “dark night of the soul,” after the class spiritual writing of St. John of the Cross. For whatever reason, God allows this challenge. Be faithful. Hold fast to God’s promise, even if you don’t feel like doing so.

Nieuwhof also says leaders must be bold. Indeed! If we are to be faithful servants of God, we must be bold in our faith. Think of St. Peter, the man who ran away from Christ when he was most needed, denying he even knew him. That same man was transformed by the Holy Spirit to preach and teach boldly to hostile crowds. St. Joan of Arc boldly led an army because she knew that was what God was calling her to, even though the cost was her life. Bl. Miguel Pro led the Church in Mexico at a time when the government had virtually outlawed all Catholic actions, including the celebration of the Mass. Fr. Pro used disguises, escape paths and his wits to stay one step ahead of the law in order to bring the sacraments to the people He died in front of a firing squad, with his last words being: “Viva Christo Rey!” {“Long live Christ the King!) Yes, be bold. Be joyful, and be bold.

While perseverance in one’s career usually brings about financial gain, our faithfulness to God holds a better promise. St. Paul said it like this:  I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance. (2 Timothy 4:4-8)


‘The Religion Of Maximum Hope Born Of Despair’

Andrei Sinyavsky was an interesting man. Not the type of “interesting man” who sells us beer as he sits, surrounded by beautiful women. No, Sinyavsky was interesting in that he spoke the truth in a time and place where doing so could cost one’s life.

Sinyavsky was a writer in Soviet Russia. In 1966, he was sentenced to hard labor for “anti-Soviet activities” and for his “pro-Zionist” opinions (he wrote under a Jewish pseudonym.) He considered himself a Christian, but primarily a writer and promoter of freedom. Yet the imprint of faith was found his work. He once said, “The text of the gospels explodes with meaning. It radiates significance, and if we fail to see something, this is not because it is obscure, but because there is so much …”

He writes of faith like that of a foot soldier: one whose faith has been tested and found true. He has no illusions of Christianity being a faith of false cheerfulness or of gripping drama. It is not a play that once seen, sends the audience home thinking that they’ve seen something entertaining, but not terribly meaningful. No, Sinyavsky knows that to be a Christian is to be embattled in this world. Just as some would judge a soldier rushing into battle to be a fool rather than brave, so to the Christian.

Look at them, the heroes of Christendom. You won’t find many prudent ones among them. Their story is a long succession of martyrdoms and deaths … They are soldiers, displaying their scars and wound to the world as decorations.

And who enlists with them? People of all nations, the scum of the earth, even criminals, but always those who have taken the cross. Anyone can join: the ignorant, the sinful – provided he is ready to throw himself into the battle. If is the religion of maximum hope born of despair.

Is there any better symbol of that “hope born of despair” than Christ on the cross? We Christians stand with one foot in the grief and despair of Good Friday and another foot in the bloom of hope on Easter morn.

And so, we rise again to battle the evil of this world. We join the ranks of Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, Paul, Dorothy Day: fools for Christ, heroes for Christendom. We dare to hope in a world of despair because we know Christ, and trust in His promise of everlasting life.