Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
I’m sure we’re all familiar with Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She was canonized a saint in 2016. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, with the charism of caring for the world’s poorest of the poor.
When I was a young priest, my first pastor wanted to invite Missionaries of Charity to work with him in his city, but he was turned down; because even the poorest in our city at that time, and in many cities in the United States, were far wealthier than the poorest of the poor in many other countries; India being one of them.
Mother Teresa was a woman who lived and died caring for the poor. She cared for people who were literally dying in the streets of Calcutta; those who were as abandoned by the wayside as the man cared for by the good Samaritan. She gave the abandoned an experience of faith and dignity, so that no one in her care left this world without experiencing the unconditional compassion and love of Jesus Christ. To the dying, she was the face of Jesus.
From what we know, Mother Theresa also experienced the dark night of soul for quite some time in her life. For those unfamiliar with that term, it’s a particular sign of holiness, strange as that may seem. It involves a deep spiritual darkness where the soul receives no consolation whatsoever for their good works. It’s characteristic of saints in this fallen world who are steadfast in their resolve do God’s will, simply because it is God’s will, and for no other reason.
Mother Teresa experience little to no joy for many years of her later life. Nevertheless, despite that challenge, she never abandoned her mission, and she continued to carry the cross of her total commitment to serving the poor.
That unwavering focus grabbed the attention of the entire world. Even outside of Church circles, she’s regarded by many as perhaps the 20th century’s greatest humanitarian. She reminds me a lot of Saint Damien of Moloka’i, who also lived and died in service to those who were most exiled in the world. That level of faith confounds the calculating logic of a secular world. It baffles even the average Christian mind.
On one occasion, a priest who was a spiritual advisor to Mother Teresa wanted to know more about the source of her strength, because he witnessed it firsthand for many years. He saw how her ministry could break the resolve of so many would-be followers who tried to emulate her. Everyone had their limit. But she did not, seemingly. While many would eventually leave the ministry, she remained steadfast to the very end.
And so, one day, while in deep conversation with her, he asked her: “How do you do it? How can you go so far for them?” It was a sincere question. What was her secret?
In answer to his question, Mother Teresa gently took his hand and touched each of his five fingers, one by one, and said very simply: “You. Did. It. To. Me.”
She was quoting from the gospel which we heard today. “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?”
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.” … You did it to me. Jesus identified himself as the one who is directly received or rejected in the face of the poorest of the poor.
When Mother Teresa fed an infant dying from hunger, by faith, she knew she was feeding Jesus. When she gave water to the woman dying from thirst, by faith, she knew she was giving water to Jesus. When she clothed the elderly man shivering from the cold, by faith, she knew she was clothing Jesus.
That was the answer to the riddle that is Saint Mother Theresa. She was serving Jesus the entire time: not an image of Jesus, a symbol, friend, or beloved of Jesus; but Jesus, himself. That was the secret to her deep conviction. How could she spend her entire life serving strangers? It was very simple. They weren’t strangers. Behind the veil of each and every face was the face of Jesus. If her God chose to live in humility, how could his servant ever seek him elsewhere? How could she ever conceive of claiming a higher station for herself? She didn’t. She stayed in poverty to be with her Master.
Today we celebrate the last week in Ordinary Time. We do so under the solemn title of, “Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe.” Our king wears a very curious crown (gesturing to the crown of thorns). He sits upon a very curious throne (gesturing to the cross). He also hides behind a very curious face.
As faithful servants to the king, let us seek him out where he chooses to be, and care for him, mindful of his revelation: “Whatever you did to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.”