James Cardinal Hickey
Homily – Mass for Mother Teresa
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
September 7, 1997

 

Archbishop Cacciavillan, Archbishop O’Brien
Msgr. Bransfield, brother priests & deacons, dear Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, dear friends in Christ:

 

All the world was saddened to learn of Mother Teresa’s death last Friday. People from every continent, from every walk of life and from every persuasion grieved her loss and spoke of her with love. Again and again, she was praised as one of this century’s great humanitarians.

That she was – but she was so much, much more. In truth, Mother Teresa’s life and work cannot be explained apart from her clear, uncompromising Catholic faith and her profound love for the Lord Jesus. That is the key which unlocks who she was and what she did as a lover of the poor and a universally respected advocate for human life and dignity.

Indeed, a trustful faith expressed in loving deeds is the central theme of Mother Teresa’s entire life. She lived what we just proclaimed in the Book of Wisdom: "Those who trust [in the Lord] shall understand truth and the faithful will abide with Him in love."

As a young woman growing up in her native Albania she experienced the faith of her parents. Successful and prosperous, they were also generous to those in need. From her father, a well-traveled merchant, the future Mother Teresa learned of human suffering in various parts of the world. From her parish priest, she learned about the foreign missions.

As she grew to adulthood, she sensed God’s call to religious life and to missionary activity. At the age of 18 she accepted His call in faith and in loving trust by becoming a Sister of Loretto and by embarking to far-off India. It was in India that she received much of her religious formation deepening her already ardent faith and love. It was also in India that she encountered the poor as she labored in a hospital in Bengali, and later, in a school in Calcutta. Wherever she went and whatever she did, her faith and trust in Jesus prompted her to open her heart and hands to the poor.

Yet the Lord was asking more of her. He was asking her to dedicate her whole life to the poorest of the poor. In 1948, the Holy Father granted her permission to begin a new religious order, the Missionaries of Charity – dedicated to the poor and abandoned on the streets of Calcutta.

All this she did as a woman of faith. Her philosophy of life was simple. She summed it up this way: "Give God permission" to work through you. "The work is God’s work. The poor are the Lord’s poor. Put yourself completely under the influence of Jesus, so that He may think His thoughts with your mind, [and] do His work through your hands."

The Jesus she knew in deep prayer she met also in the poor. At the very heart of her life and mission are the words from St. Matthew’s Gospel: ‘whatever you did for one of these least brothers, you did for me.’ Truly, she recognized the Lord Jesus in the abandoned leper dying in the streets, in the person ravaged by AIDS, in the newborn baby in need of a home, in children, hungry and neglected – and she taught her sisters to do the same.

Mother told the story of two young sisters whom she sent out to help a dying person. Before they departed she reminded them how reverently the priest handles the Body of Christ at Mass. She told them to have the same reverence for the bodies of the poor and the dying. Three hours later the sisters returned and told Mother Teresa how they washed and cared for the dying man taken from the gutters. The youngest sister said to her: "Mother, for three hours we were touching the Body of Christ!"

Mother saw Jesus in the poor and the dying but she also led them to Jesus and His love. She did not pity the poor but loved and respected them as human beings called to eternal life and glory. Her goals were simple and straightforward: to comfort them in hunger and illness and to open their hearts to God’s love. She knew they needed bread, but also the living word of God. She knew they needed water, but also peace, truth, and justice. She knew they needed a home but also a loving embrace and deep respect.

Mother’s deep faith expressed in loving service eventually attracted the world’s attention. She was sought after by the media and honored by world leaders. Never for a moment did she use the spotlight for herself. Rather, she mingled the world’s spotlight with the light of Christ and then focused it on the human dignity of the poor and the humanity of the unborn child. In 1993, at a Congressional Prayer Breakfast, here in Washington, she challenged our nation when she said: "Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use violence to get what they want." She wanted nothing from the world except respect for human life and the resources to serve the poor.

In these last days, some have asked if Mother Teresa’s work will go forward after her death. In God’s loving Providence, Mother Teresa’s work will continue through her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, under the loving guidance of Sister Nurmila, the Superior General. It will go forward through the intense prayer of the contemplative Missionaries of Charity and by the loving service rendered by Mother Teresa’s sisters—in Calcutta, in Washington & throughout the world. God gave the Church and the world an extraordinary gift in Mother Teresa but He continues that gift in her sisters, and in the brothers, priests and lay workers associated with her mission.

Finally, dear friends, we commend Mother Teresa to the Lord with uttermost confidence. The Book of Revelation proclaims, "Happy are the dead who die in the Lord. They shall find rest from their labors for their good works accompany them." Even as we pray for the happy repose of Mother Teresa’s soul, so also our eyes of faith can readily see her entering the Kingdom of God, there to meet Jesus face to face. But in heaven, as on earth, she will meet Jesus many times over—in the leper whom she picked up from the gutter, the AIDS patient who died a beautiful death, the homeless woman who found love in one of her convents. She will see Jesus in them again—Jesus glorified at the Father’s right hand. And we pray that she will rejoice forever, accompanied by those whose lives she touched.
May the angels lead her to paradise.
May the martyrs welcome her.
May she rejoice in the Holy City Jerusalem
where Lazarus is poor no longer!


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