Every day after Holy Communion, Mother Teresa and her community would say the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis. The foundress of the Missionaries of Charity carried with her a small reproduction of an old painting of Francis in which the weeping saint holds a cloth to his eyes. “He’s wiping his tears,” she said, showing the picture to the Franciscans around her. “I think he’s crying after receiving the Stigmata.”
She treasured this keepsake, remarking that it is different from other items given to her, which her sisters and friends would sometimes “steal.” “I would never give this away,” she said, smiling.
Why did Mother Teresa admire Francis? And why did she think that he has had an impact on her life? “I suppose it’s because Francis of Assisi tried to imitate the poverty of Christ so closely,” she said.
Occasionally, we will hear someone say, “She was a saint,” but we’re more likely to hear, “He was no saint,” or to say with a shrug, “I’m not a saint.” Our concept of saints is that they are extraordinary people who, for the most part, lived long ago and possessed special divine favors that the majority of us neither have nor comprehend.
We admire and venerate them, but their alabaster perfection is beyond us. Becoming a saint is frightening because it seems to demand the impossible. Why would God demand from us what is not attainable?
Or do we not understand what makes a person—a sinner like any of us—a saint?
A very wealthy young man runs to Jesus, kneels at his feet and asks him: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17). After this eager inquirer asserts that he has faithfully kept God’s commands all his life, Jesus lovingly invites him to a deeper level of discipleship—along with a promise that he will find treasure in heaven—after selling his possessions. When the young man hears this, he walks away sad because he refuses to give up his many possessions.
Each year, I’m privileged to visit the Holy Land to promote the nearly 800-year-old mission of the Franciscans there. With each visit, I discover something new. God is always at work, opening up new insights for any pilgrim who visits this ancient land.
Mother Teresa was born into a loving family. Her parents, Nicholas and Rosa, nurtured their children and the young Bojaxhiu family flourished. During the day, their devoted mother cared for the children while their father was at work. When evening approached, Rosa would rush about and prepare to greet Nicholas. No matter what had happened during the day, Rosa was always smiling when Nicholas returned home. Growing up in the midst of this joyful existence was a pleasure for Aga, Lazar, and Agnes.
One of Mother Teresa’s deepest fears after she founded the Missionaries of Charity was that she or one of her sisters and brothers would do or say something to cause scandal or detract from the Order’s mission. In all likelihood this explains, at least in part, her reluctance to speak publicly of the interior locutions she had experienced for seven or eight months after the call within a call came on the train to Darjeeling.
Dorothy Day has been called many things. After her death in 1980, David O’Brien, writing in Commonweal, called her “the most important, interesting, and influential figure in the history of American Catholicism.” At the time, that might have seemed an audacious claim. And yet, it was amazingly prescient. Thirty-six years later it seems not only plausible, but undoubtedly true.
Image: A woman prays during a church service following the multiple police shootings in Dallas. A gunman shot and killed five police officers and wounded seven during a peaceful protest July 7 in downtown Dallas. (CNS photo/Carlo Allegri, Reuters)
Friday, July 8, I was supposed to talk on Relevant Radio’s “Morning Air” program about summer stresses and how to cope with them, a topic related to my new book Don’t Panic!: How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough. But, like many others, I’d been up late the night before, watching the unfolding horror in Dallas as it was reported live via television and social media.