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Mother Teresa could see Jesus in us

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Missionaries of Charity on Mother Teresa's feast day

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily Sept. 5, 2019, at the Missionaries of Charity shelter in Miami. September 5 is the feast day of their foundress, Mother Teresa of Kolkata (Calcutta). Today is also the International Day of Charity, chosen by the United Nations "to commemorate the anniversary of Mother Teresa's death and her legacy of service," according to a Tweet posted by the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See. "On this day, we honor her and other women religious who dedicate their lives to caring for the poor."

Mother Teresa went home to heaven 22 years ago today. And it was just three years ago that Pope Francis canonized her a saint in Rome, and this is why we are having this special Mass on September 5. The day of her “birthday” into heaven is also her feast day — and so, we join with her, and all the angels and saints in heaven, and offer our worship to God by celebrating the Holy Eucharist, the Sacrifice of the Mass. At this Mass, we ask Mother Teresa to pray for us. With the help of her prayers, with the encouragement of her words, and through the example of her life, may we too come to share in the joys of heaven. 

The Holy Mass is a special prayer; but Mother Teresa herself would say, "Try to feel the need for prayer often during the day and take the trouble to pray.” “Prayer” she would tell people, “makes the heart large enough until it can contain God's gift of Himself.” 

Yet prayer — as the life of Mother Teresa shows with great translucency — does not distance oneself from the cares of the world or the needs of one’s neighbor. Prayer is a lifting up of one’s heart and mind to God but doing so doesn’t mean one ignores one’s neighbor — as Pope Francis says, “to ignore man’s suffering is to ignore God.” “True worship,” Pope Francis adds, “does not exist if it is not translated into service of one’s neighbor.” Jesus said it clearly in today’s Gospel parable of the Last Judgment. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren, you do to me.” 

Mother Teresa would urge us to recognize Christ in our neighbor — even when he appears in various disguises — sometimes disagreeable ones. “People,” Mother would say, “are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway.” 

Mother Teresa was a real woman who took great risks, who had a real belief that Jesus called her to do what she was doing, and she went ahead and did it without hesitation. Some people were scandalized that she did not shun publicans and sinners — like Jesus, she met with them and often recruited their assistance; others criticized her because she did not adopt the sophisticated approaches to poverty of a modern NGO, or because she was not a crusader against social injustice and structural sin in the style of many self-styled champions of the downtrodden. She took on the battles she knew she could win. “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed one,” she would say. 

The vocation of the Missionaries of Charity founded by Mother Teresa was not to be simply their work. The vocation of the Missionaries of Charity was and is the love of Jesus. Again, to quote Mother Teresa, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene. I must wash and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” 

Mother visited Miami — and she visited this very place. A saint walked, stood, prayed and served right here. Isn’t that something? But let’s not forget why she came here, and why she sent her sisters here. And you know why? Because she found Jesus here. Isn’t that something, that even though we can be sometimes unreasonable, illogical and self-centered, that even though we can be poor, confused, thirsty, forgotten or abandoned, Mother could see Jesus in us. 

This is the great Mystery of Faith — Jesus gives himself to us hidden under the appearances of bread and wine so that we give ourselves to him as he appears to us in various disguises — even disagreeable ones. 

Mother Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us.

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