September 9, 2016

Mass honoring canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta recalls her ‘shining example’

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin talks with Missionaries of Charity Sister M. Marleen while two other sisters wait their turn to talk with the archbishop in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 5 after the Mass of Thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin talks with Missionaries of Charity Sister M. Marleen while two other sisters wait their turn to talk with the archbishop in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 5 after the Mass of Thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By Natalie Hoefer

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin knew the archdiocese wanted to do something for the local Missionaries of Charity sisters to honor the Sept. 4 canonization of their founder, St. Teresa of Calcutta.

But when the sisters asked for a Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 5, St. Teresa’s feast day, he was hesitant. (Related: See a photo gallery from the Mass)

“I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s a holiday,’ ” the archbishop stated. “And they just simply said, ‘They will come.’ ”

And come they did. Father Patrick Beidelman, archdiocesan executive director of the secretariat for spiritual life and worship, said the sisters invited about 150 guests. He planned for a total of 350. In the end, he estimates that 400-450 people came to the Mass of Thanksgiving for the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta at the cathedral in Indianapolis on the evening of Sept. 5. Archbishop Tobin served as the principal celebrant, with 17 priests concelebrating.

In attendance at the Mass were six Missionaries of Charity sisters, four of whom minister on the poverty-ridden near east side of Indianapolis near St. Philip Neri Parish.

The sisters sat in the front row, closest to a reliquary encasing a first-class relic of St. Teresa—a drop of her blood.

Behind the reliquary was a familiar image of a warmly smiling Mother Teresa, with the addition of a halo in honor of her canonization the day prior.

“I’m not sure how many of you had the honor of meeting her,” said Archbishop Tobin in his homily. “I think most of you feel like you know her, that it is practically a member of our family who was canonized yesterday in St. Peter’s Square by the declaration of Pope Francis. …

“Canonization really does nothing for Mother Teresa, but it should do something for us. After all, she does not need a declaration in St. Peter’s Square to be enjoying for all eternity the light, love and peace of our heavenly homeland. It is we who need an invitation to learn from her life.”

Archbishop Tobin suggested three lessons that can be taken from the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta.

“The first is that mercy begins with vision,” he said. “It begins with eyesight, but it must end in concrete action.”

The archbishop recalled a documentary in which a reporter followed Mother Teresa through the streets of Calcutta.

“She was picking up dying children and bringing them to her sisters’ home so they could die in dignity and peace,” he said. “And the reporter, being very pragmatic, said, ‘Why do you waste your time with these? Why not help those who have a chance to survive?’

“Mother looked at the camera and said, ‘I believe my mission is to ensure that this little one doesn’t leave the world without having at least one person love her.’ That makes little sense in a pragmatic world. But in the world of love, which has God as its origin, it not only makes sense, it is an imperative.”

The second lesson the archbishop suggested learning from St. Teresa of Calcutta is the reason behind all that she did: love for Jesus.

“She freely and unapologetically invoked her love for Jesus Christ as the reason behind everything she did,” he said. He quoted Mother Teresa as saying, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, ‘This is hungry Jesus. I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene. I must wash him and tend to him.’ I serve because I love Jesus.”

The third point, “and perhaps her greatest gift to us,” said the archbishop, “is that holiness is not a spectator sport.

“At the conclusion of that [documentary], she was asked, ‘How do you feel when people call you a living saint?’ And her little temper flared up. She said, ‘I resent it, because they’re pushing on to me what is the call to everyone. All of us are called to be holy, because our Father in heaven is holy.’ ”

Archbishop Tobin noted that “the examples of St. Teresa invite us to look again and see the poor that surround us, as well as the possibilities we have to help. In doing so, we recognize the face of Jesus, the face of our merciful Father, as well as the one who emptied himself, becoming poor so that we might become rich.”

He concluded his homily with a quote from the French poet, Leon Bloy, whose words reflect the thinking of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “ ‘The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint. Why? Because to be anything else, to be anything less, is to remain incomplete.’ It is finally a failure of love. It is finally, and so terribly sadly, a failure to know God.”

Missionaries of Charity Sister M. Salvinette, superior of the sisters’ home in Indianapolis, said it was a privilege to participate in the Mass of Thanksgiving.

“Since we were not able to go to Rome, it was a grace-filled privilege for us to have that holy Mass,” she said.

The sisters were given permission by their regional superior to watch the canonization on Eternal Word Television Network.

“When the Holy Father announced she was canonized, it was like she was my own mother,” said Sister Salvinette with a wide smile. “She was already a saint, but the reality of that [proclamation], you felt goose bumps in your body when he announced it.”

Indianapolis Missionaries of Charity Sister M. Christophine spent much time with St. Teresa in her nearly 40 years with the order.

During one visit back to the motherhouse in India, she recalled telling Mother Teresa, “Mother, I have not seen you in two years! And she said to me, ‘You know I like to keep you all close to me, but I have to make a sacrifice and send you.’ ”

Sister Christophine said their order’s founder would visit her sisters’ homes. One day when Sister Christophine was in Chicago, the doorbell rang.

“I opened the door and Mother was standing there!” she said. “Usually we fast on Friday. Mother brought special fruit for us. I said, ‘Mother, today is fasting.’ She said, ‘Mother is here—eat!’ She made us eat! Ah, so many beautiful memories.”

Like the rest of the world, Sister Christophine was not aware of the struggle in Mother Teresa’s soul with the idea that God had abandoned her.

“I never had any idea,” she said. “Mother always smiled a big smile.”

When asked what her order’s founder would say about the Mass of Thanksgiving, Sister Christophine was quick to answer.

“She would say, ‘It’s all for the greater glory of God,’ that ‘what we receive, in the name of the poor, all the glory goes to God.’ ”

A reception hosted by lay members of the Missionaries of Charity followed the Mass. The lay order is located at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Carmel, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

According to lay member Lois Evans, the members take vows of chastity, poverty, obedience and serving the poorest of the poor, as well as make weekly holy hours and receive spiritual direction.

But their primary service is to the Missionaries of Charity sisters and their ministries, she said.

“We are the lay people of Mother Teresa,” she explained. “We drive the sisters, we go every Sunday and cook for the shelter ladies [who live in the women’s shelter operated by the sisters in Indianapolis]. There’s usually about 15 women there at a time. If the sisters need to go to the doctor, we take them. We do whatever the sisters want us to do.”

One woman who was touched indirectly by St. Teresa through the sisters in Indianapolis was present for the Mass and reception. Charlett Belisle spent eight months in the sisters’ Indianapolis women’s shelter.

“They really touched my heart,” she said. “They really opened their door to me. They made me feel at home. I was at peace there. The sisters are pretty much a replica of [St. Teresa].”

Her 7-year-old daughter Kassidy sat with the sisters in the front row during the Mass of Thanksgiving at the cathedral. She nestled against one of the sisters during the Mass, the sister’s arm holding the young girl close, recalling scenes of Mother Teresa embracing children. Kassidy said she considers the sisters “her friends.”

Such a comment is no surprise to St. Philip Neri parishioner Virginia Barth, who said the sisters “bring the children and the homeless to Mass every Sunday. The neighborhood loves to see them. I really think they’re doing great work.”

Although from India, Father Francis Joseph Kalapurackal, administrator of St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville, never met the now-saint. But he did assist the sisters as a pastor in India, helping them transform land into terraced rice fields.

Despite not having met her, Father Francis Joseph, who is working toward incardination into the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said Mother Teresa influenced his ministry as a priest.

“When I served as a pastor, I took up a lot of ministries for the poor people, because most people are poor there,” he said. “She has been a shining example for all of us, especially the selfless service she rendered to the most neglected groups of the society. That is outstanding. She leaves a great legacy for all of us.” †


Related story: Mother Teresa remembered for her holiness by local people who met her

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