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Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Patron Saint of Doubters - Mother Theresa of Calcutta

Sometimes I get ahead of myself, I think we all do at times, projecting what we to see, over and against the reality of what is, as in the title of this piece.

Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta; the patron saint of doubters.

In truth, the Church has named Mother Theresa the Patron Saint of World Catholic Youth Day, and that is fair: in her time the good mother inspired many young people, she inspired them through her life of austerity and selflessness. She inspired many of us to good things, to want to be good people.

In the most significant ways Mother Theresa;s life was emblematic of what we see reflected in the first reading for today (Colassians 1:9 – 14)[1].

She was a tiny woman, but she was strong. She inspires through her strength and her commitment to her ideals, despite the painful realities that she experienced, despite her understanding that the suffering she sought to ease would never cease, that the suffering of the world has no end.

We must be like the wise mother and pray for strength, for wisdom and understanding, for perseverance. Mother Theresa did not expect that by praying for these things God would transform her, or that God would give her supernatural powers, but that the act of praying would fortifies her, that it would give her the strength she needed to get through her day.

Mother Theresa was sainted for her life-long commitment to the good, to serving the poor, for setting an example of patience and endurance; for setting such a strong example that if each of the rest of us were able to approximate a small degree of her fundamental stance toward justice and compassion, to give a small part of ourselves over to the healing of the world, the world might stop spinning in its spiral of violence. In that moment we might see something of the glory that is sung in the psalm we are given for today’s meditation (Psalm 97[98])[2].

It is right and good to praise God, the creator of the universe, because creation is miraculous and mysterious, and beyond the scope of human comprehension.

And while it is right and good to praise God, to doubt God’s purpose in the world is not a sin, but rather it is the natural movement the heart, beating within the breast of a person who loves, of someone who confronts the pain and suffering of the world, and falls into despair.

It is not sinful to doubt God, or God’s purpose in the world or what the tradition of the Church has said about God so fulsomely.

Let us be clear about a few things:

God is not a giver of victories. God has no enemies. In God, within whom all things exist and have their being…in God there is no conflict.

It is not God’s justice that is shown in the work of human beings, it is human justice, and when human justice approximates the justice of God, it is expressed in mercy and compassion and that is good.

Pope Francis, canonized Mother Theresa on September the 4th, 2016, on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time of that year, her feast was celebrated for the first time and from that day forward, on the 5th of September, which is today.

Christians of every stripe, and non-Christian alike, remember her for her desire to embrace all people, no matter how flawed or marginalized they might be, and all people will remember this brilliant woman, servant and sister, this theologian; they will remember her for a brilliance that grows even greater in her afterlife.

Consider the acclamation from today’s reading (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)[3].

God chose her, as God chooses all of; God chose her from the beginning, to receive the sanctifying spirit, he created her in the divine image, placing within her a seed of the eternal Word to enliven her. God made her this way, in the same way that God makes everyone, but what made the sainted mother different from most of the rest of us was that she saw clearly the truth of it, she saw the divine image in the people she bent down to serve, she saw it in the poor and the sick, in the blind and the leper, she saw God suffering in them and she responded with the love God had instructed her in.

Mother Theresa is famous for her service and her impressive life, and the inspiration she gave to millions of people. She heard the call and followed (Matthew 4:19)[4].

When I reflect on the life of Saint Theresa of Calcutta, it is her memoirs, which were published after her death, which had the greatest impact on me.

Saint Theresa struggled, like all of us do, with the sense that God had abandoned her, and that God had abandoned the world. She managed to do the good works she did, to serve the Church and all of its members, to fulfill her commitment to her order, to lead them; to make of her life a daily sacrifice even in the midst of her own profound doubt, great personal suffering, as she experienced the suffering of other’s (which she shared), and in consideration of her deep-felt sense of alienation from God.

To persevere in goodness, in the face of her doubts, to admit to the pain that she brought to others, even as she tried to serve them, to confess and ask forgiveness, and to lead them. To bear witness to the suffering of the world, even to hold God accountable for it in her heart, and still follow the calling of the Spirit despite her indictment of the even, that is why she will be known as the Patron Saint of Doubters.

Mother Theresa was different from the disciples who followed Jesus and witnessed his miraculous life, as we read about in today’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11)[5].

Her example of how to fulfill the Christian life in the face of the deepest doubts is what makes her life exemplary, a life that will continue to shine on us long after the sun has collapsed and human beings are scattered throughout the galaxy.

We will carry the memory of Saint Theresa of Calcutta with us, a shining light for us in the darkness.

Let us take a moment to reflect on this in consideration of the gospel reading for the day.

This is not a story about fishing, and there is no such thing as magic, it is right to doubt a literal reading of the gospel.

This is a story about moving beyond boundaries, reshaping context, exceeding expectations, and organizing the work of one’s partners.

These are the things Mother Theresa exemplified most.

Jesus led his closest followers into a new way of life, and a new mode of teaching, he showed them how to go beyond the boundaries, so that they were able to provide their ministry to greater numbers of people. Mother Theresa did this and followed the example to the end, go to the poorest places, to serve the most downtrodden, the people who were being crushed by the wheel of life. She lifted them up and cared for them, to show them for a moment something of God’s love that they may not have felt before.

In the Gospel reading we see that Saint Peter goes to Jesus to ask for forgiveness on account of him being a sinful man. Peter had doubted Jesus’ method, and when he came to understand his misjudgment he felt a deep sense of shame and guilt.

Peter’s doubts were not sinful.

Doubt is not a sin.

Mother Theresa taught us this in her final words to us.

There is something historically significant about her relationship to her doubts that we would all do well to be mindful of.

The history of Christianity in India has always been connected to the missionary work of the Apostle Thomas, of Saint Thomas the doubter who did not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he placed his own fingers into the wounds Christ bore, the wounds which still marred his body even after he was reborn.

Never mind the historical realities of the origin of the Church in India, set aside the legends held closely by the faithful in India, the accuracy of that history is unimportant, what matters is their faith.

It is not important that Saint Thomas the disciple of Jesus never travelled there; a myth that Christians in India have believed this for centuries, what is important is that the beliefs of the Church in India are themselves a historical reality, a reality that cannot be ignored one that has shaped their communities for as long as those communities have existed.

There is no doubting that, or how the character of Saint Thomas the doubter has shaped the character of their faith, to be free doubt, as Thomas did, as Theresa did, as Peter did not.

Thomas is the patron saint of doubt, Theresa is the patron saint of doubters. Saint Thomas tells us that doubt is an integral part of faith. Saint Theresa comes to aid us in the midst of it.

Be mindful of this as you struggle to persevere.


Given First 09.03.2016

[1] Colossians 1:9-14 © (NJB) Through perfect wisdom and spiritual understanding, may you reach the fullest knowledge of God’s will. So you will be able to lead the kind of life which the Lord expects of you, a life acceptable to him in all its aspects; showing the results in all the good actions you do and increasing your knowledge of God. You will have in you the strength, based on his own glorious power, never to give in, but to bear anything joyfully.

We thank the Father who has made it possible for us to share in the saints’ inheritance of light. He has taken us out of the power of darkness and created a place for us in the kingdom of the Son that he loves. In him, we gain our freedom and the forgiveness of our sins.
[2] Psalm 97 (98) (NJB) The Lord has brought salvation. Acclaim the King, the Lord. Sing a new song to the Lord, for he has worked wonders. His right hand, his holy arm, have brought him victory. The Lord has shown his saving power, and before all nations he has shown his justice. He has remembered to show his kindness and his faithfulness to the house of Israel. The farthest ends of the earth have seen the saving power of our God. Rejoice in God, all the earth. Break forth in triumph and song! Sing to the Lord on the lyre, with the lyre and with music. With trumpets and the sound of the horn, sound jubilation to the Lord, our king. Let the sea resound in its fullness, all the earth and all its inhabitants. The rivers will clap their hands, and the mountains will exult at the presence of the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge all the world in justice, and the peoples with fairness
[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 © (NJB) We feel that we must be continually thanking God for you, brothers whom the Lord loves, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved by the sanctifying Spirit and by faith in the truth. Through the Good News that we brought he called you to this so that you should share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
[4] Matthew 4:19 (NJB) Follow me, says the Lord, and I will make you into fishers of men.
[5] Luke 5:1-11 © (NJB) Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.

When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

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