A friend of mine who had lived with Dorothy Day years ago told me the saying: A martyr is someone who lives with a saint.
Reading the stories in this week's issue about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (see Pages 9-12 and 14-15), I thought about that saying, and I realized that its cynical truth probably tells us more about ourselves than about saints.
For when I read the accounts of Mother Teresa's life and the people she touched, I realized that this is how we are meant to live.
"Holiness is not the luxury of the few," Susan Conroy quotes Mother Teresa as saying on Page 15. "It is simply a duty for you and me."
There is a part of me that shrinks from this simple Christian truth, for the quest for holiness seems so out of place in our busy environment. Holiness is something so big, something so heroic and huge and all consuming, that it must be a task for others. Holiness is for the saints while the rest of us get on with our lives.
Yet Jim Towey reminds us, "the more we know about Mother Teresa and how she embraced life and treated others, the more she, a saint, is placed within our reach."
It is the particular gift of Mother Teresa that she accomplished such big goals with such tiny steps. Doing the small things with great love is perhaps her most quoted message, and that remains a challenge, a gift really, that is within the grasp of all of us.
She is a saint placed within our reach. And her message is both theologically rich and real-world simple. She lived and taught a relationship with God that was mystical and profound. The Church will be mining her insights for generations to come, I am sure.
At the same time, what drew people to her was that she lived her insights in very practical ways. She helped us to see Christ in all of his distressing disguises: She kissed the leper. She helped the dying. She brought hope to jaded Westerners.
She made holiness imaginable for all of us.
But about that martyr business: She did speak some tough truths, if only because we work so hard to avoid them. She challenged us to pray ceaselessly, to trust endlessly, to embrace humility and to stop thinking about ourselves.
It is hard to get more countercultural than that.
Ten years after her death, Mother Teresa is now Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. If it is God's will, soon she will be St. Teresa of Calcutta. But for all of us, for the poor in India and the poor in spirit in America, she will remain first and foremost simply Mother. It is a fitting title, both glorious and humble, like the woman herself.
-- Greg Erlandson