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‘Find your own Calcutta’: Homily for September 4, 2016, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mother Teresa

© Antoine Mekary / ALETEIA

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 09/03/16

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If you’re looking for something to jolt you awake this morning, this Gospel should do it.

Jesus is blunt. After offering a litany of people we are supposed to hate—including everyone in your family—he puts it all on the line:

“Anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

You can picture jaws dropping and disciples stopping in their tracks. But scholars tell us Christ was using hyperbole to shock his listeners. He wanted to convey a larger message: Don’t cling to the things of this world. Take the full measure, count the cost, of what it means to be his disciple. Know what you’re getting into. It’s all or nothing.

Jesus knew what he was talking about. He was on a journey, after all, that would take him to Calvary.

His point: We need to think beyond what is before us—and look to what is above us.

Someone who understood that, and lived it, was Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, the five-foot tall Albanian woman whom we know better as Mother Teresa—today, officially, St. Teresa of Calcutta.

This Gospel, falling on this particular day—when Mother Teresa has just been canonized—offers us an opportunity to reflect on her life.

It is a life that was profoundly radical.

Make no mistake: She was, in her way, a radical, in the same way that Francis of Assisi was. Like him, she founded a religious order and captured the attention and imagination of the world.

I think she was the first saint who understood the power of celebrity, and used it brilliantly.

When she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she insisted she would only accept it if all the money for the banquet was given, instead, to the poor. And it was. She herself lived as a pauper. She rarely traveled with anything more than her breviary and her rosary. And she demanded the same austerity from her sisters. All their possessions had to fit in just one box, and they could only visit their family members once every 10 years. It made it easier for a sister to just pick up her things and go wherever she was needed.

The great value of serving the poor, Mother Teresa understood, is not what you have, but what you have to offer.

It’s all about how you love.

Many have hailed her as the “Saint of the Gutters,” a beacon of hope among the poor, the sick, the dying. She was also a great advocate for life and for protecting the unborn. But that is just the beginning.

She speaks, in fact, to the world. She has something to say to each of us.

If you want to make her a patron saint, I have three suggestions.

First, she is a saint for all who doubt. She once said: “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness.” For over 50 years she dwelled in spiritual darkness, feeling abandoned by God, utterly forgotten. People who knew her well were shocked to discover her journals after her death and learn that she felt unloved by the Lord to whom she devoted her life. It was agony for her. She addressed God in her journal: “I am willing to go through this for all eternity even if this is for your pleasure or if others can benefit from this, if it were possible.”

She persevered—loving God in spite of feeling that he didn’t love her.

Today, she can be a voice for all those who feel God isn’t listening—an advocate for anyone who doubts or despairs or who believes, perhaps, that their prayers are going unheard.

She says to a desperate world: “God heard me. He also hears you.”

Secondly—and this might surprise you—she could be considered a patron for managers and business leaders. Jim Towey was her lawyer for a number of years. He recently described for The Wall Street Journal her extraordinary leadership skills.  “Coca-Cola pays millions and millions of dollars to figure out how to operate in all the countries of the world,” Towey explained, “and yet Mother did it and invested nothing.”

And she knew how to get things done. Visiting Beirut in 1982, she volunteered to take in mentally and physically handicapped children whose hospital had been bombed. Red Cross workers were stunned by her energy and efficiency.

“She saw the problem,” a worker said, “then fell to her knees and prayed for a few seconds, and then she was rattling off a list of supplies she needed —diapers, plastic pants, chamber pots. We didn’t expect a saint to be so efficient.”

If anyone is seeking guidance in how to be more efficient, or how to run a business, pray to St. Teresa of Calcutta. She knows how to do more with less—and she might even work miracles.

Finally, she is a patron for all who feel unwanted or forgotten. 

In the 1960s and 70s, young people flocked to Calcutta from around the world— knocking on the door of her humble headquarters, wanting to volunteer. And she would look at them with love, and exasperation, and say, “You don’t need to be here. Find your own Calcutta.”

She once put it another way: Calcutta is everywhere.

Because poverty is everywhere—and not just physical poverty, or hunger, or sickness.

“The biggest disease today,” she once said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody.”

The victims of that disease could live down the block.

They could even live in your own house.

When she won the Nobel Peace Prize, a reporter asked her, “What can ordinary people do to bring peace to the world?”

And she replied very simply: “Go home and love your families.”

If you want to find your own Calcutta, that is where it begins.

We live an age when families are wounded and broken—from alcoholism, infidelity, indifference, abuse. I see it again and again in couples who meet with me about annulments.
So many came from broken homes themselves, and bring that brokenness into their own marriage, and the cycle continues.

If you want to heal the world, begin by working to heal the family, the “domestic church.” Strive to help the members of that church become saints.

And: Remember those who are forgotten. In our families. And in our culture.

Mother Teresa understood that. She taught that. She lived that. And it’s one reason, among many, why today she herself is a saint.

In the Gospel today, Christ calls on his followers to count the cost—and surrender everything.

We can do no better than to learn from someone who did that again and again. St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Let us ask her to intercede on our behalf — for those of us who doubt, who fear, who seek direction or clarity or hope. Let us ask her to remember the forgotten, uplift the downtrodden.

That could be any of us, at any time.

Mother Teresa reaches into the gutters of our lives, wherever that may be, whenever it may be, and says—as she said to so many—“You are loved.”

That is her benediction to a weary and lonely world—a world full of hurt, but also full of hope.

So we pray for the first time—but not the last:

St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

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