It is a tremendous privilege to be with you this morning to celebrate the feast day of Blessed Teresa during this year when we mark the hundredth anniversary of her birth. Mother left this world thirteen years ago, but her centenary has once again reminded the world of those precious years when she allowed Christ's light to shine so brightly through her.
I am moved to be standing at the altar offering the Mass that recalls her memory in the same convent where I walked and talked with her. More than anything else, this experience reminds me that the saints are not distant figures. While Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul—and perhaps Jean Vanier someday—are modern-day "saints" whom I have met, you and I walk and talk with future saints all the time.
They may never be canonized, but there are people of heroic virtue in every convent, parish, and neighbourhood. Meeting or even knowing someone canonized or beatified should not really be a great surprise to us; on the contrary, that experience should remind us of our own call to holiness, and cause us to rejoice in the holiness we see around us.
When Sister Damascene asked me to be with you today, I was a bit nervous about the homily: what to say on this important day, and what to say about Mother before a congregation that includes a Sister who knew her?
My worry disappeared when Sister sent me the readings for today's Mass.* They barely require a homily, for these beautiful texts preach their message clearly. They relate the life and the legacy of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta in the words of the Word of God.
We can hear the first reading from the Song of Songs on Mother's own lips. It's easy to imagine her kneeling before the Crucified One whom she loved so passionately, making these words her own. Her passion for him was truly as "fierce as the grave;" even the deepest waters of difficulty could not drown her desire for Christ or take away her thirst for Him.
The second reading could be called "Mother's manifesto." We often hear these words of St. Paul read at weddings, and in many cases the bride and groom choose the reading without much thought, loving its poetry and richness. But Blessed Teresa made it her life's work to live three awesome challenges that we find in these verses of Sacred Scripture.
First, she lived the primacy of love—which is another way of saying she put love first. She said that "many people mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus." No acts of charity can replace a heart of charity.
The second challenge of the reading is Paul's call to charity in small things as well as big. History is filled with examples of statesmen and secular prophets who did great things for the humanity while treating their families poorly. True charity begins at home, and must include small things as well as big. This message, so well proclaimed by St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, was central to Mother's life and mission: love for the world without love for those in the room with us is not Christian love. Impatient and unkind love is social work, not Christ-love. Which is why Mother Teresa said more than once that love begins at home, and it is not how much we do... but how much love we put in that action.
It's why she said love begins by taking care of the closest ones—the ones at home.
Finally, and particularly towards the end of her life, Blessed Teresa offered her final earthly service to the Church and the world. By embracing the spiritual and emotional trial of her "dark night," she showed that it is truly possible to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things."
A friend of mine went to Sunday Mass in another city when he was on a trip. I asked him what the homily was like, and he said "Oh, Father retold the parable in his own words, and they weren't nearly as good as Christ's." Sometimes homilists make the mistake of saying the obvious.
I don't want to make that mistake today. The Church gives us a Gospel for Mother's feast that could almost be called her biography. It catalogues her vision, her mission, and her beatitude. We call her "Blessed" Teresa of Calcutta—the beatitudes tell us why. The reward she enjoys in the heaven is directly linked to her living the Sermon on the Mount while on earth.
Dear Sisters, dear friends: it has been easy to see God's Word illustrated and illuminated this morning by the life and death of Mother Teresa. But we're not here only to remember and rejoice; we're not here only to ask her intercession. We celebrate Blessed Teresa's heroic holiness mainly so that we might be urged on by her example. Together with her, we cry to the Beloved: Set me like a seal on your heart. Satisfy my thirst for holiness! Let me live the love that is stronger than death, because it never ends.
*Song of Songs 8:6-7; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Matt 5:1-16.