Mother Teresa’s canonisation and Pope Francis’s mission
The saint of Kolkata is a Jubilee icon, and can help promote corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The pope is praised but not understood. For Mother Teresa, as for Francis, the Church "is not an NGO". The Mother is also an example of how to reconcile contemplation and action, sacrament and mission, witness and commitment in the world, rectifying the discrepancies of those who are traditionalist and inward looking as well those who hold shapeless liberal views.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) – The news of Mother Teresa’s canonisation Teresa was widely expected, as well as the date of the ceremony, 4 September, the day in which she was "born in Heaven" in 1997. However, what might still need to be understood is the meaning of this canonisation for Pope Francis’ ministry.
The pope has cited Mother Teresa several times in his speeches and messages. Although the Mother of Kolkata is not mentioned in the bull of indiction of the Jubilee of Mercy, she may well be taken as an example of a witness to corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
One can almost hear Mother Teresa in Misericordiae vultus when Francis speaks of the little ones in whom “Christ himself is present. His flesh becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled . . . to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us.”
In many interviews, when she spoke as to why she and her sisters took care of the dying and abandoned, she always said, "We do it for Christ. We welcome Christ; we wash Christ; we take care of Christ."
Mother Teresa’s canonisation in the Jubilee year helps to make mercy effective and efficient in society. So far, the pope’s messages and gestures during this year to prisoners, the poor, and refugees have found little fulfilment.
Very often, Christians see the Jubilee as an opportunity for personal spiritual renewal, but one that does not translate immediately ("quickly", Mother Teresa would say) in acts and deeds that also influence society.
Just look at the resistance in Europe to the flow of migrants fleeing wars in the Middle East and hunger and gloom in Africa. All this is happening despite that fact that politicians from all sides continue to "appreciate" the pope’s words and want to have their pictures taken next to this "beacon" of the world's conscience.
Mother Teresa’s canonisation rectifies another flaw. Many people continue to praise the pope for his tenderness, kindness, openings to gays, remarried divorcees, reducing him to an iconic figure of the most sugary do-goodism, without listening deeply and completely to what the pope has to say.
Who, for example, cites Pope Francis for his commitment in favour of life from the womb to death? Who cites him when he defends the family constituted by a man, a woman and their children? Who remembers the accusation he has made several times against the "ideological plot" against the family? Or his social commitment in finding jobs for young and old people?
In a media world that resembles a supermarket, people take from him what helps the "show": hugs, bits of statements, complaints (but only those that appeal to us, and confirm our views), endearing things, greetings . . .
One is reminded of what John Paul II said in front of cheering and cheering crowds, when – faced with his own "success" - noted, "They do not understand. They do not understand!" The crowds did not understand that whatever he did, he did it to raise Jesus Christ’s visibility.
Even Pope Francis, when people shout "Fran-cis! Fran-cis!" sometimes said," You have to shout: Je-sus, Je-sus, Je-sus!"
Mother Teresa had similar problems, when people and officials paid attention to her only for her works. "We are not an NGO,” she said. “NGOs work on projects; we work for somebody." That someone is the person of Jesus Christ and the forlorn poor person whom we look in the eye and receive as a brother or sister.
The canonisation of Mother of Kolkata thus represents another step in Pope Francis’ plans to realise the goals of the Second Vatican Council. Since the end of the Council, the Church's mission has been impoverished by a split between conservatives and progressives, traditionalists and liberals, sacramentalisation in the sacristies and exhibitions in the world.
Mother Teresa and her community have always held together the two extremes: the sacrament and mission in the world; contemplation and action; dedication and efficiency. This way, the mission in the world did not become – as can happen sometimes to religious institutions – a way to drown in the world, but has been a way to bring to it the joy that Christ has won for us.
It is worth mentioning that Pope Francis cites Mother Teresa and Saint Francis of Assisi as "models" of Christian life in Evangelii Gaudium, the apostolic exhortation that lays out the plans of his ministry.
At n. 183, he says, “Consequently, no one can demand that religion should be relegated to the inner sanctum of personal life, without influence on societal and national life, without concern for the soundness of civil institutions, without a right to offer an opinion on events affecting society. Who would claim to lock up in a church and silence the message of Saint Francis of Assisi or Blessed Teresa of Calcutta? They themselves would have found this unacceptable. An authentic faith – which is never comfortable or completely personal – always involves a deep desire to change the world, to transmit values, to leave this earth somehow better that we found it.”
Mother Teresa and Saint Francis, the saint who inspires this pope, are therefore crucial symbols of the joy of the Gospel that is communicated to the world and change it through one’s faith and efforts. This is far from a Christianity that fears the world, entrenched behind the walls of "doctrine", or a carefree Christianity that interacts with the world and forgets the treasure it has to communicate.