(Homily preached to the Missionaries of Charity at Corpus Christi Parish, Vancouver, on September 5, 2009)
I was a great reader in high school. And one of the blessings of the three years I spent in a Catholic high school was a wonderful library.
I must have been a fairly serious Catholic kid, because many of the books I still remember reading were biographies of Popes. Of course the biographies talked about their families and their friends, which always made me think “Imagine how strange to have your friend become Pope.”
Popes were more interesting than saints at that time in my life, but I also read a few lives of modern saints. Again, and even more strongly, I would wonder “What must it have been like to know a saint during their time on earth?”
The years went by, and I became a priest. I became a friend of a priest of Opus Dei, Father Joseph Soria. Some years later Opus Dei’s founder was canonized—and around that time I learned that St. Jose Maria had literally died in the arms of Father Soria, a medical doctor. And yet again I marveled to think that someone could live to see someone they knew actually canonized by the Church.
In the 1970s, I listened to Mother Teresa speak in Toronto. In 1984 or 85, I met her briefly in Rome. In 1988 I helped to organize her visit to Vancouver, and spent the weekend in her company.
So now, first-hand, I know what it feels like to have walked and talked with a saint—one already raised to the altar through beatification. You Sisters, or at least some of you, know this too.
Now I know the feeling that comes from offering the Mass in honour of someone with whom I spoke and prayed… and even shared a laugh or two.
One of those laughs, by the way, came when I suggested she stop endorsing the huge pile of cheques that had been put in the collection we took up after her talk at the Pacific Coliseum. I said “Mother, we can get a rubber stamp made for that.”
“But Father,” she said with a twinkle in her eye, “People so seem to like the cancelled cheques!”
Now that I know the feeling, what can I say about it?
It’s not what I figured it would be in high school. It’s not like having your uncle elected Pope. It’s not even like being present for the death of a future canonized saint. Because I have now lived long enough to know that I spend a great deal of time with people who are going to be saints. That I walk and talk with them all the time.
It’s just that few if any of them will be canonized or beatified.
Mother Teresa’s holiness was uniquely famous, but it was not unique. If there is one thing I have realized since those precious days in her company, it’s that she wanted to be imitated, not admired. In everything she did, she was inviting each of us to do something beautiful for God—in our circumstances, not hers.
Meeting Blessed Teresa of Calcutta on earth helped me to realize that I see a great deal of saintliness in daily life. I know some people who show the same dedication to the poor that she exemplified—more of that goes on under our noses than you might expect. I know others who accept the cross of suffering with virtually the same faith and trust that she did. And still others serve their families with the selfless care that Blessed Teresa showed to the communities she founded.
Let me stress that I am not talking about ordinary, good people—people who, like Father Benedict Groeschel and I, like to say we’ll be good and happy to wake up in Purgatory, since at least we know where we're going to end up!
I am talking about saints in the sense that these people, if their virtues were but known to the world, would quite readily be canonized by the Church.
The Lord sent Mother Teresa not so much to relieve the material suffering of the poor as to be a beacon of light and love to the world as it limped to the close of the second millennium. No-one, it seems, has taken her place in the hearts and minds of the world community. But the Lord’s love is never lacking, and other beacons of light and love are all around us.
Even as we celebrate the life of this saintly woman who shone in every corner of the world, let us renew our thanks for the holiness that is found in every parish, in every religious congregation, in countless families—in every circle in which we move.
Let’s be no less grateful for the uncanonized saints in our midst than we are for the life and love of Blessed Teresa.
And most of all, let us dedicate or rededicate ourselves to living the Gospel without compromise, doing something beautiful for God with the gifts we have been given.
Mother both loved and obeyed the Church, so she couldn’t be anything but pleased that we are here to celebrate her official feast day. But if she could speak to us today, I think she’d say “look up and see no longer me, but only Jesus!”