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Loving — and even smiling — with Mother Teresa


Jeffrey Bruno - Aleteia

Kathryn Jean Lopez - published on 09/04/16

An interview with David Scott, the author of "The Love that Made Mother Teresa"
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“The saints embody … the human person most fully alive, living the life that Jesus came to give, a divine life in human skin,” David Scott writes in The Love that Made Mother Teresa. He adds, “If dogmas and doctrines are the theorem, the saints are the proofs of Catholicism.”

And Mother Teresa, who becomes the newest of the canonized saints of the Church this weekend, is one we can still watch on YouTube, who even met one of our current presidential candidates.

Scott talks a bit about her and the practicalities of the news for us.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: She came preaching universal holiness in a universally unholy time. It’s a heroic task, right?

David Scott: Right, but isn’t that the definition of the Christian life —  trying to live a holy life in unholy times? We’re all kind of tempted to think that we’re living in the worst of times not the best of times. In a sense, since Jesus ascended into heaven, Christians have always been living in the “end times,” right? The times between the coming of Jesus and his second coming.

So the importance of Mother Teresa — really all the saints — is to remind us of what we should be “doing” in these end times, which are “unholy” to the extent that we aren’t trying to sanctify the world and make it holy. To the extent that we aren’t trying to be saints and trying to help others become saints.

Really, Mother Teresa reminds us that we should be “doing” the same thing that Christians have been called to do since those first days after the Ascension — loving God through our worship and adoration, and spreading the good news about his love and mercy to the ends of the earth through our works of love, through our witness to God’s love in our own lives. That’s why St. Paul used to say to everyone — “You are called to be saints” and “This is God’s will for you — your sanctification.”

Lopez: Why was St. Therese of Lisieux so important to her? 

Scott: “The Little Way” of Therese was her way — and, as I point out in the book, it’s the way of the 20th-century saints. Therese is the godmother of the great saints of the 20th century. Her “little way” was the one “doctrine” that Mother Teresa proclaimed — and like St. Therese I think Mother Teresa will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. It was a simple but profound doctrine. That the little things in life matter, and we can use the little moments, the ordinary every day, to serve God and to serve our neighbor. Again, this is the doctrine of the saints. Where there is no love, put love and the world will be that much more a place of love.   

Lopez: What is a “gingerbread holy-card idea of sainthood”? Is that a danger with both of the aforementioned women saints?

Scott: I took that line from Cardinal John O’Connor, the saintly former Archbishop of New York. He said that about the Servant of God Dorothy Day when he was getting some grief for promoting her cause for sainthood.

I think we all know that there is a way of thinking about saints’ lives that is kind of like sugar-coating their lives or making them all sound the same like they are all punched out by a cookie-cutter.

But when we do that we miss the point of the saints. There are no saints who don’t struggle, who don’t suffer. Therese never left the cloister, but she was deeply engaged in the world — praying for missionaries, praying for the conversion of a guy who was on death row for a triple murder. We don’t think about how many saints fought against the death penalty — for them it wasn’t political, it was about making sure that a human soul, no matter how stained by sin, was not lost, was given the chance for penance and reparation.

Dorothy Day used to say, “Love in practice is harsh and terrible compared to love in dreams.” Mother Teresa reminded us that it’s easy to love until you meet somebody who is hard to love. And lots of times those people are in your own family, or in the places where we work.

So we don’t want to idealize the saints — they are extraordinary humans. But they are men and women. What makes them extraordinary is their willingness to submit their lives to the will of God and to accept his mercy and grace and to allow him to accomplish his purposes through their lives.

Lopez: Did Mother Teresa help matters when she said things like “Today, be the sunshine of God’s love” and talked about smiling all the time? What if I don’t want to smile? I understand St. Jerome didn’t.  

Scott: That’s that great poem by Phyllis McGinley where she called St. Jerome “God’s angry, crotchety man.” The great rock singer, Dion, put that poem to music a few years ago, song called “The Thunderer.” Great poem, great song. St. Jerome was definitely not a gingerbread saint. But maybe St. Jerome gets away with it back then, but I don’t think I do or you do today.

We live in gloomy times, so Christians should be sunny, if we’re going to pursue that metaphor. To a people who are living in darkness, we have to be a light. Again, this is a consistent teaching of the saints, and I think Pope Francis too is right on board with that.

St. Teresa of Avila used to pray to be delivered from gloomy-faced saints. And the point is that if we really think about what Jesus has done for us, we would never stop smiling. Joy will find a way through every difficulty, if we let it.

So yeah, we don’t want to smile. But we should. And if we do, we can change somebody’s day. A smile might make joy seem more believable.

Lopez: “Mother Teresa called for a revolution of saints, of holiness,” you write. You then define holiness as “love as an all-consuming lifestyle.” What might be her top ten pointers on how to live that?

Scott: Love, love, love and then repeat. How many times? Ten times ten times ten and then again.  It’s all about that Little Way we were just talking about. Holiness is just love — love for God and love for our neighbor. Doing everything — even the littlest things for this motivation, for the motive of love.

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