I served as Vicar for Priests in the Diocese of Phoenix from November 2006 until my ordination and installation as the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of Gallup on April 23, 2009. The position of Vicar for Priests required that I work full time with the priests in the Diocese of Phoenix, primarily working with priests personnel and ongoing formation for the priests. During this time I was able to assist by offering Mass and hearing confessions in a number of parishes throughout the Phoenix metropolitan area.
One of my favorite places to assist was the Missionaries of Charity shelter which was attached to Our Lady of Fatima Parish in inner city Phoenix. Every Tuesday and Friday morning at 7 am I was able to offer Mass for the sisters, volunteers and residents. This gave me in insight into the spirituality of the Missionaries of Charity, as well as the missionary spirit they had as they served the poorest of the poor. You can imagine my delight when I found out there were a number of Missionaries of Charity serving in the Diocese of Gallup. Prior to my arrival in the Diocese of Gallup, one of the Missionaries of Charity said to me “you can never get rid of the Missionaries of Charity, we are everywhere”. Thank God! Their presence, serving the poor throughout the world, is a testament to the original calling Mother Teresa received from our Lord in 1950 when she founded the Missionaries of Charity: a call to quench the thirst of the Crucified Christ in the poor.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta is the saint who, in our modern times, put a face on the virtue of charity (love). In this age of communication we are able to recall the pictures, videos, countless stories, or perhaps even a personal story of an encounter with the diminutive saint with a great love for the poor. These images are a living witness to the words of Christ in Chapter 25 of Saint Matthew’s Gospel: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
Charity is a two-fold grace. Its primary effect is of moving the will to love God fervently above all things, with the secondary effect of intensifying love for our neighbor. It is a fulfillment of God’s commandment “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37,39).
Saint Teresa lived the virtues – Theological and Cardinal – for the world to see. She did this not to be “showy”, but as a beautiful witness of her Catholic faith, a beautiful expression of her love for Jesus Christ and His Church. Primary among the virtues she practiced was the virtue of humility. If she were prideful, which is the opposite of humility, then her actions would have been in vain, but because she was humble – serving the poor out of a genuine sense of love for God and neighbor – her actions were animated by the power and strength of the Holy Spirit.
Remember, if we are prideful, then there is no room for God or others in our lives. However, if we foster the virtue of humility, emptying ourselves of all pride and vanity, then we make the perfect resting place for the Spirit of the Lord. When St. Bernard of Clairvaux was asked to identify the three most import virtues toward growth in the spiritual life, he replied “humility, humility, humility”. We must never underestimate the necessity of humility in our lives.
The humility of Saint Teresa of Calcutta allowed her to be an icon to the world of the virtue of Charity – especially in her love for the poorest of the poor – and to be a voice for the voiceless, a champion of the unborn.
She was very courageous in the face of much adversity. She lived in a world, as we do today, that does not give value to fostering of virtue, a world which at times even chooses to make up its own “virtues”.
We are all products of the “me generation”, whether we like it or not. Central to the spirit of the “me generation” is the question “what’s in it for me”? A question such as this leads one to think of oneself first all the time. This way of thinking is not new or distinctive only to the present age, as it goes back to the creation of man. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden they essentially said “I don’t care about God or anyone else”. Their actions said “I want what I want now and I don’t care about anybody else but me”. This was selfish then and it continues to be selfish today as many people live by this self-centered way of thinking. Saint Teresa was not one of these people. She lived for God and for others. She was “counter cultural”. She was a light of love in world enveloped in darkness, a darkness that turns a blind eye to our brothers and sisters, especially the poor and marginalized.
To give into the spirit of the age is to lack love, which Saint Paul tells is the most important of all virtues. “So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).
If we were to give into the spirit of the age, then we would forget about God and our neighbor, causing us to give into a disorder: love of self. Our Lord said “if anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26). We know Jesus is not asking us to literally hate our neighbor, rather he is asking us, as the Rule of Saint Benedict teaches, to “prefer nothing to the love of Christ”. If we prefer others or ourselves above the love of Christ, this would produce a life that is not properly ordered. This is the spirit of the age, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta lived a life contrary to this. You might even say she was “counter cultural”. While the world was saying “love yourself” or “what’s in it for me?” she was promoting the virtue of love – love of God and neighbor.
At times the world attempts to manufacture its own virtues. One such worldly virtue is “tolerance”. The spirit of the age promotes a tolerance for all sorts of actions, even if they are sinful. Jesus never tolerated sin, nor should we. The modern age tolerates, and even promotes, the sin of abortion. Abortion is killing of an innocent, defenseless human life in the womb.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta did not tolerate the sin of abortion and spoke out courageously against this assault on human life. In 1994, at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., she gave strong defense of the Church’s teaching on the sanctity and dignity of human life. In the audience there were those who agreed with her, as well as those who strongly disagreed with her and the Church’s teaching on the gift of life.
Mother Teresa said “But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts. By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems. And, by abortion, that father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. The father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”
We must never tolerate sin. We must love, even when it hurts. Our Lord showed us the the perfect act of love on the cross, and Saint Teresa imitated His love through her selfless service to those who were in need, especially the poorest of the poor. This love is one that calls us to be in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in need, those born and unborn, those hungry and living on the streets, those in prison, those strangers to our land. To love is to will the good of our neighbor. To say “I love my neighbor”, but to tolerate his or her sin, is a false love. To say “I love my neighbor” and to turn a blind eye to their pain is not a true love. Rather, love calls us to go beyond our comfort zone, to be self-sacrificing for the good of our neighbor. Saint Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity showed – and continue to show us – this love, to put a face on the love of Christ, especially to the poorest of the poor.
Our newest saint, who enjoys the eternal reward of Heaven, spoke of this love when she said “I am not sure exactly what Heaven will be like, but I know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, He will not ask, ‘How many good things have you done in your life?’ rather He will ask, ‘How much love did you put into what you did?’”