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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Mother Teresa

Watching the canonization mass for Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I realize there are many who do not think well of her. She took money from dictators.. She did not provide adequate medical care. She traveled the world fostering her own cult of personality and left the destitute behind her. I've heard these things said about her, and worse. In particular there are medical personnel who have been appalled at the conditions at the House of the Dying in Calcutta. The Church in desperate need of positive PR has glommed on to her.

I've never been to Calcutta and what I know about Mother Teresa I've heard from sympathetic reports. It has never been my understanding that Mother Teresa intended to take the dying destitute off the streets and cure them. In 1949, there were no cures. Except the need of a cure for poverty and loneliness, and we are still not there. Instead, I always thought Mother Teresa's goal was to insist that all persons when they come to die do so in love.

I have worked in hospitals and I have worked among the dying. It is often sad, exhausting, messy, gross and disgusting work. How many doing this work have been repelled, even as they work so hard toward compassion?

Mother Teresa got the most unloved people in India off the streets, into shelter and in surroundings far better than they would ever had had. Far worse than most of us can imagine, but far better than the streets to which they had been abandoned. People were washed and fed and cared for. Was this revolutionary in India, anywhere in 1949?

Her point was not medical cure but spiritual comfort. That's hard to understand but I believe this to be at the center of her mission.

It's a comfort to know that Mother Teresa herself struggled for years with doubt an loneliness. Acknowledging these doubts may have allowed this tiny woman to persevere. I'm not sure I believe in saints, or heaven, or sometimes even in God. Maybe I have that in common with Mother Teresa. I can't imagine what she'd make of being called a saint.

But somehow she was energized to do what no one had done before in taking in that first dying man .
She found mission where others found abhorrence. She channelled despair of her own crises of faith into service. And she kept doing it until she died, and she got others to do it, and continue doing it. Call it sainthood or call it charity or call it nuts. I watched the canonization of Mother Teresa with a full heart.

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