Why Every Christian Needs the Saints, Or: Be Like St. Teresa of Calcutta

By Deacon Keith Fournier Published on September 7, 2016

On Sunday the world watched as Mother Teresa of Calcutta was formally canonized. That is, she was entered into the rolls of those the Catholic Church recognizes as saints. What the Catholic Church sees in her is something all Christians recognize, whether we call them “saints” or “heroes” or “mighty men and women of God.”

These people are canons for us. What do I mean by that? The word canonize is derived from a Greek word canon, meaning measure or rule. Christian heroes provide a measure or ruler for our lives. They challenge all of the faithful to grow in holiness by the standard and witness and the heroism of their lives.

Saints and Saints

All Christians are properly called saints (holy ones), as is evident in the way Paul uses the word. At the beginning of Romans, he writes, “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints.”

Though small in stature, Mother Teresa was a modern David slaying the Goliath of the culture of death, which ignores the cry of the unborn and sheds their blood, protected by the police power of the state. She made it clear that procured abortion is not only the taking of innocent human life, but a sin against solidarity.

However, some among us more completely reflect the life of Jesus and are used by God in a special way. From the earliest days Christians gave a special type of honor to those who shed their blood for the faith. The word martyr means witness. That honor was extended to those who practiced a holiness born of a deep walk in, with and for the Lord Jesus. The idea was that such deep holiness was also a great act of sacrifice and a prophetic witness.

As I said, the saints challenge all of us to grow in holiness. Mother Teresa was one of the greatest challenges of our lifetimes. In his homily at the canonization, Pope Francis proclaimed that she, “in all aspects of her life, was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of human life, those unborn and those abandoned and discarded.” She was committed to defending life, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.”

Forty years ago I met this woman the whole world calls “Mother.” I was a year away from graduating as a theology and philosophy major at the then-called College of Steubenville, now the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Mother Teresa came to speak to the graduating seniors. I met her afterward.

The deeply etched lines of her face stunned me. I was pierced by her eyes. They were the eyes of Jesus. I am never without words. However, I was unable to speak and began to weep. She smiled at me and touched my young face. Nothing needed to be said. I had encountered the Lord Jesus living in one of his special servants.

St. Teresa the Canon

After Mother Teresa’s canonization, the media was filled with headlines such as this from The New York Times: “Mother Teresa is Made a Saint by Pope Francis.” But a pope cannot “make” anyone a Saint. Only God can.

Of course, that man or woman must cooperate with God’s grace by giving their free assent and allowing the Lord to work through them in continuing His redemptive mission. Canonization is about understanding that we each hear an ongoing call to conversion in each of our lives.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this well: “By solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors.”

It calls the saints “the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in the Church’s history.” It explains that “holiness is the hidden source and infallible measure of her apostolic activity and missionary zeal.”

But what kind of canon or rule is St. Teresa of Calcutta? A beautiful tribute recently written by Anika Smith, an evangelical Christian, asked, “Do we really believe with Mother Teresa that every child matters to Him? And will we be able to defend and protect them with the same courage and strength that a tiny woman from Albania had?”

Her words and witness in defense of our youngest neighbors, children in the womb, whom she called the poorest of the poor, must continue through our words and witness.

Three years after Mother spoke to the graduating seniors at Steubenville, she received the Nobel Peace Prize. “Holiness is not a luxury of the few, it is a simple duty for each one of us, and through this love we can become holy,” she said.

 … I personally am most unworthy, and I having avowed poverty to be able to understand the poor, I choose the poverty of our people. But I am grateful and I am very happy to receive it in the name of the hungry, of the naked, of the homeless, of the crippled, of the blind, of the leprous, of all those people who feel unwanted, unloved, uncared, thrown away of the society.”

The poor, she said, “don’t need our pity and sympathy; they need our understanding love. They need our respect; they need that we treat them with dignity.”

Most people there undoubtedly accepted that. But then she said the truth they didn’t want to hear: “I feel one thing I want to share with you all, the greatest destroyer of peace today is the cry of the innocent unborn child. For if a mother can murder her own child in her womb, what is left for you and for me to kill each other?”

She repeated those words everywhere she went, whether speaking to American presidents, kings, heads of State or members of Congress. She was a canon for the heroic defense of the most vulnerable.

St. Teresa’s Clarion Defense of the Unborn

That clarion defense of these children as the poor was the cry of this woman of God. Though small in stature, Mother Teresa was a modern David slaying the Goliath of the culture of death, which ignores the cry of the unborn and sheds their blood, protected by the police power of the state. She made it clear that procured abortion is not only the taking of innocent human life, but a sin against solidarity. The reason many on the secularist left tried to impugn her reputation was they could not counter her prophetic message of truth.

We need saints, whatever we call them. We need men and women who live such godly lives that they challenge us to give ourselves more and more to Jesus. We need those who give their voice to the Lord so He can speak and give their lives to the Lord so we can witness His self-emptying love (Philippians 2).

In an age that has forgotten God, the saints, heroes and mighty men and women of God call us to our knees and then up and out into the mission field.

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