St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A homily for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Tomother-teresa-02day’s Gospel tells us something of the commitment and work that it takes to follow Christ.  The Scripture says we’re kind of like buildings: we have a foundation, and brick by brick by brick we are built up.  We hope one day to be skyscrapers, to touch the clouds, to reach up to heaven, to become saints.  It’s hard work, though, the building up of a skyscraper.  Tomorrow is Labor Day, a day we celebrate labor and how we are wired for it.  We are not meant to live our lives in armchairs. We are meant to labor–for our families, for our church, for the kingdom.  We are wired to lay bricks.

This takes radical commitment!  But it is possible.  We have the witness of the saints to tell us so, saints who had the same number of hours in their days as we have in ours.  Today I want to talk about our newest canonized saint, St. Teresa of Calcutta, canonized a saint just a few hours ago by His Holiness Pope Francis.  St. Teresa of Calcutta!

We know her story. She was born in Macedonia in 1910. From the earliest days she wanted to be a nun, she wanted to make the radical sacrifice our Gospel talks about today. She built up the kingdom in remarkable ways in her years.  Our world and our church are better and stronger for all her labor!  I think she was able to do all that she did because she saw and reverenced Jesus in three places.

First, she saw and reverenced Jesus in herself. I lived in Nebraska for a short spell and met an old Monsignor there. He was one of Mother Teresa’s spiritual directors. He told about how, one day, after Mother had gone to Mass, she had an epiphany.  She came out and said, “I am Jesus.”  The monsignor scratched his head. She said, “No–you don’t get it! I just received the Body of Jesus at Mass!  My hands are his!  My feet are his! My heart is his!”  Wow!  Mother Teresa spoke in a new way Catholic theology 101 here–that God became man in order to divinize us and that he does that through the Eucharist!  Because of the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus lives his life in us! He lives his life in us.  Passion and resurrection.  That’s how Mother was able to do all that she did; she knew it was her doing anything! It was Jesus.

Second, Mother saw and reverenced Jesus in the poor. There was one time when she was working with a leper, a guy in the slums. He was skin and bones, wounds all over. Mother was caring for him, embracing him. A reporter was there asking her questions. He said, “With all due respect, I wouldn’t do what you’re doing for a million dollars.” She replied, “Neither would I.”  She did all she did–not for money, not for glory, not for praise. She did it for Jesus!  It was because she knew Jesus called her to it, but also because she saw and loved Jesus inside the poorest of the poor.  She saw Jesus in the unfed, the unhealthy, the unhealthy, the unborn, the unhoused, the unclothed, the unwell, the unhappy, the unloved. And she loved him there.

Third, Mother saw and reverenced Jesus in her church, our church. Mother loved her church with all she had. For her, it wasn’t an institution at all. It is the living and breathing body of Jesus on earth. All that He did in the flesh 2000 years ago, his body the church does now: feeds, teaches, heals, loves, suffers for, shelters, etc. And we are a part of it.

See a pattern?  For mother–it was all about Jesus!  She lived for him, breathed for him, bled for him.  We pray in thanksgiving for her example.  And we pray that we, too, will come to labor for the kingdom, labor for Jesus–by reverencing Jesus in ourselves, the poor, and the Holy Church.