JOHN PAUL II’S ANNIVERSARY AND MOTHER TERESA’S BEATIFICATION
Fr Sebastian Vazhakala, M.C.
Co-founder and Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity – Contemplative of Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Falling in love with Jesus makes everything else easy!
A reflection on the Spirit-guided significance of the Pope's Anniversary and Mother Teresa's Beatification
We are marking two big celebrations of praise and thanksgiving. One is the jubilee of 25 years of Pope John Paul II's great and eventful Pontificate and the other is the beatification of the great Venerable Teresa of Calcutta, virgin and foundress of the Family of the Missionaries of Charity.
The celebration of any Pope's 25-year pontificate is a rare occurrence. Glancing through the list of the 264 Popes, starting from St Peter to our present Pope, we see that only three lived up to this kind of celebration. The first was Bl. Pius IX, whose pontificate lasted from 1846 to 1878, followed by his successor Pope Leo XIII from 3 March 1878 to 20 July 1903. The last to complete 25 years on the Chair of St Peter is our present Pope, who was elected on 16 October 1978.
It is thus right and fitting and is our duty to give thanks to the most Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for the gift of the Holy Father to the Church and to the world of our time.
It was on the very first day of the jubilee year of his long, painful and demanding Pontificate that our beloved Holy Father published his apostolic exhortation "Rosarium Virginis Mariae", explaining to the Christian faithful the meaning, significance and importance of praying the most Holy Rosary and exhorting them to pray it daily. He also wants all the faithful to "contemplate the face of Christ with Mary", as "she is the contemplative memory of the Church" and will help us to "do whatever Jesus tells us" (cf. Jn 2:5), as she did during her life.
Pope John Paul II went further and deeper into the mysteries of the life and work of God's own Son on earth as he added five new mysteries from the public life of Jesus to the already existing 15 mysteries of the Rosary. So we now have 20 mysteries, with the five Luminous Mysteries added.
In the past year through faithfully and contemplatively praying the Rosary, the Christian faithful worldwide have been thanking God for the fidelity of our present Pope, for his wonderful example, his profound teaching and preaching, his endurance in the many and unceasing trials of life, his availability and approachability, his personal zeal, and for the many apostolic and missionary journeys which gave so many people of good will a chance to see, hear and even to touch in person the Vicar of Christ on earth. This is what our beloved John Paul II has been doing ever since his election to the See of Peter 25 years ago. Thus, the reason for this great jubilee celebration.
If Pope Pius XI called St Thérèse of Lisieux the Star of his Pontificate, seen not only in his beatification of her in 1923 but also her canonization within two years (1925) and her designation as patroness of the Missions together with St Francis Xavier, then Pope John Paul II has another great Star in his Pontificate, whom we all know and love: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Unlike St Thérèse of Lisieux who did not live during Pope Pius XI's Pontificate, Bl. Teresa of Calcutta worked very closely with Pope John Paul II, as we all know.
Mother Teresa loved the Holy Father and the Church, just as she loved Jesus, her spouse and Lord, so passionately. She wrote: "I long to be only his — to burn myself completely for him and for souls — I want him to be loved tenderly by many... ".
She also had a very special veneration for the Holy Father: "...If he (the Holy Father) only knew how much his children, the M.C.s, love him and how each one of us are ready to give our all to stand by him — everything of mine is his and for him" (from Mother Teresa's letter to Charlotte). For Mother Teresa, to love Jesus meant to love the Church, for the Church is the mystical body of Christ whose head is Jesus! And the Pope represents Christ and makes him visible. To love him, then, meant to love the Church. Like St Thérèse, Mother Teresa also wanted to remain in the heart of the Mother Church and to be only love.
With her profound and unshakeable faith and trust, Mother Teresa saw Jesus in the person of the Pope, giving him love, respect and obedience as she would give to Jesus. For her, all these elements were one and the same. "Once you fall in love with Jesus", she used to say, "everything else follows and becomes easy in a way".
Her love was neither conditional nor limited, nor was it simply general. It was without barriers of caste, colour, religion or nationality; without boundaries of status, rich or poor, young or old. She loved everyone individually and personally with Jesus' love.
Not only did she want to recognize the presence of Jesus in everyone and to love him in everyone as if he had never been loved before, especially in the poorest of the poor, she also wanted all people of good will to do the same.
The really poor person is not the one who is deprived simply of material things; the really poor person lacks true love and generous charity. He is totally selfish, utterly self-centred, with no thought of his neighbours, never responding to the needs of others. The really poor man lives just for himself and so lives with himself, buried in his own miserable world.
There are so many poor-rich people and so many more rich-poor people in today's world. This is well explained in the parable of Lazarus and the rich man in the Gospel of Luke (cf. 16:19-31). The rich man was condemned to hell, not for the evils he committed, the lies he told, the blasphemies and bad words he uttered, but for failing to do what he should have done. "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.... Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick or imprisoned?... As long as you did not do this to the least of my brothers, you did not do it to me.... These will go to eternal damnation, while the just to eternal life" (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II are ordinary people to whom God bestowed extraordinary gifts and talents, above all the gifts of invincible love, ardent charity and unshakeable faith. In order to understand these two outstanding personalities of our time it is good to see their background and many other things that pertain to their lives and future missions. The similarities are astounding.
Their countries of origin, at one time or another, were under Communist rule. In fact, Albania had the worst form of Communism. By law they were forbidden even to mention the name of God.
Their Christian names: Karol Wojtyla; Agnes Bojaxhiu
Nicknames: Lolek (Karolet); Gonxha
Dates of birth: 18 May 1920; 26 August 1910
Countries of birth: Poland; Yugoslavia, Macedonia from Albanian parents
Name of fathers: Karol; Nikola
Name of mothers: Emilia Kaczorowska; Rosa Markit
Both lost one parent at the age of 9: Karol lost his mother on 13 April 1929; Agnes lost her father in 1919.
Both suffered terribly from the loss of their dearest parent. The boy lacked a beloved mother and turned to Our Lady for help, love and guidance; and Agnes lost her father and turned to the Sacred Heart and Our Lady.
Both were very gifted, born leaders and organizers, good singers, much involved in parish activities. They received strong family discipline and religious formation, under the father for Karol and the mother for Agnes.
Both were serious students, extremely energetic, enthusiastic and intelligent.
Both were trained to practice kindness and charity, not only by words but above all by their good example.
In a mysterious way for both, Jesus became the centre of their lives and they were open to his call unconditionally.
For both, 1946 was a grace-filled year.
On 1 November of that year, Pope John Paul II was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Krakow, Poland. And it was on 10 September of the same year that Mother Teresa had her second call, which she called a call within a call.
Strangely enough, it was during this period that Communism triumphed in Albania and the church doors were shut; priests and Religious were captured, imprisoned and killed by the dictator Enver Hozha. He confiscated all Catholic institutions and churches, turning them into sports stadiums, ammunition depots and other such places.
That is why our good and merciful God called Mother Teresa Bojaxhiu, one of their own flesh and blood, to defend and diffuse the very God the dictator tried to make people deny and destroy. With all the fibres of her being Mother Teresa preached without preaching, not so much by words but by actions, by loving service to the poorest of the poor. When the dictator Enver Hozha closed a small window to God, through Mother Teresa God opened hundreds of doors to himself throughout the world.
On 1 November 1996 there were grand celebrations in St Peter's Basilica for the Pope's 50th anniversary of priestly ordination, and on 10 September the same year there was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Mother Teresa's inspiration in the Motherhouse of the Missionaries of Charity Sisters in Calcutta. It was my great grace to participate personally in both these jubilees.
Both the Holy Father and Mother Teresa are so devoted to Our Lady, especially to Our Lady of Fatima, that is, the Immaculate Heart of Mary. For both the Rosary has been one of the strongest weapons to attack the evil of atheistic regimes that destroyed peace and unity in the world. In fact, the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Calcutta was founded on 7 October 1950, the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
Again the Holy Father and Mother Teresa were instrumental in the breakdown of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s as Our Lady of Fatima had predicted back in 1917 to the three children. This came about through the continual praying of the Holy Rosary and through the consecration of the entire human race, especially Russia, to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by Pope Pius XII already in 1942. This consecration has been renewed several times in later years.
Our Lady also told Mother Teresa back in 1947: "Fear not, teach them (the people) to say the Rosary, the family Rosary — and all will be well. Fear not — Jesus and I will be with you and with your children" (Mother Teresa's letter to Calcutta's Archbishop Perier, S.J., 3 December 1947).
I could go on with many more striking similarities between the two prophets of our time whom God used and continues to use to show the world he still loves it as he loved it once in Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 3:16). In other words, God will never stop loving the world as long as there are human beings living on this planet, even if there is only one person.
Let us hope and pray that the jubilee celebration of our beloved Pope John Paul II and the beatification of our dearest Mother Teresa of Calcutta may bring all people of good will more closer to God, to the Church and most especially to the poor of the world.
The Missionaries of Charity-Contemplative is a community of brothers and priests founded on the charism received by Mother Teresa. In close cooperation with her, they were formed as a separate branch of the Missionaries of Charity on 19 March 1979, under the guidance of Fr Sebastian Vazhakala.
Prayer is central to their vocation, and when not in formal prayer, they maintain a spirit of prayer both inside their houses and while carrying out their apostolic work to the poor, the sick, the homeless and the imprisoned.
In Rome, they provide night shelter for about 60 homeless men, who are given a bed, clothing, washing and medical assistance as well as two meals a day and a sense of family.
In India, their house and Church are in a non-Christian area, but they still give significant witness by living a contemplative Christian life, providing loving care and shelter to the needy regardless of religious or cultural background.
Weekly Edition in English
22 October 2003, page 9
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