Editorial: St. Teresa of Calcutta

The Church rejoices this month with the canonization of St. Teresa of Calcutta, the diminutive nun who died in 1997 after a life of serving the poorest of the poor on the streets of Calcutta, India.

During the canonization Mass Sept. 4, Pope Francis held up St. Teresa — Mother Teresa — as a “model of holiness” and “generous dispenser of divine mercy.” And indeed it was so.

She made “herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded,” Pope Francis said. “She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that ‘the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.’ She bowed down before those who were spent, left to die on the side of the road, seeing in them their God-given dignity; she made her voice heard before the powers of this world, so that they might recognize their guilt for the crime of poverty they created.”

For her unwavering service to the poor and defense of human life, Mother Teresa indeed is a model of sanctity for each one of us. But it was not just her actions that led to her holiness, as Pope Francis reminded us.

“The Christian life … is not merely extending a hand in times of need,” the pontiff said. “If it is just this, it can be, certainly, a lovely expression of human solidarity which offers immediate benefits, but it is sterile because it lacks roots. The task which the Lord gives us, on the contrary, is the vocation to charity in which each of Christ’s disciples puts his or her entire life at his service, so to grow each day in love.” This “vocation to charity” that stemmed from a heart rooted in and committed to Christ is what made Mother Teresa such a compelling model of sanctity. The lesson for us is evident: Only when we choose to actively follow the will of God in our lives will we find ourselves on the path toward heaven outlined by Christ in the Scriptures. But, as Pope Francis said, in order to do his will, “we must ask ourselves, ‘What is God’s will in my life?’”

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For each of us that answer is different. God may will us to service as a priest or man or woman religious; it may be that we dedicate one’s life to the poor or to service; it may be that we build a domestic church through peaceful and obedient marriage and family life; it may be through the single life. This is the very message and blessing of the universal call to holiness — that it is attainable for each of us.

As the fathers of the Second Vatican Council outlined in Lumen Gentium, “The classes and duties of life are many, but holiness is one — that sanctity which is cultivated by all who are moved by the Spirit of God, and who obey the voice of the Father and worship God the Father in spirit and in truth. These people follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross-bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in His glory. Every person must walk unhesitatingly according to his own personal gifts and duties in the path of living faith, which arouses hope and works through charity.”

As Pope Francis said, “May this tireless worker of mercy help us to increasingly understand that our only criterion for action is gratuitous love, free from every ideology and all obligations, offered freely to everyone without distinction of language, culture, race or religion.” 

May the canonization of Mother Teresa inspire each of us to answer our own call to holiness, whatever that may be.

Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Greg Willits, editorial director; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor