Mother Teresa of Kolkata was someone who allowed God's transformative mercy to have a free hand with her.
The goal of this extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy is revealed by its Biblical motto: "Merciful like the Father." It's to be so transformed by God's merciful love that we become the image and likeness of that Mercy; like Jesus, "Mercy Incarnate," we become to some degree an embodiment of God's compassion. This is our Christian calling. This is what it means to become holy. This is what God in his love wants to make of us.
Mother Teresa of Kolkata was someone who allowed God's transformative mercy to have a free hand with her. The celebration of her canonization on Sunday, her feast day on Monday (on the 19th anniversary of her birth into eternal life) and the commemoration next Saturday of the 70th anniversary of her "call within a call" -- Jesus' summons of her to found the Missionaries of Charity to quench the infinite thirst of Jesus on the Cross for love of souls and to labor for the salvation and sanctification of the poorest of the poor -- provide us with a sacred opportunity to see what the Christian metamorphosis of mercy looks like and to respond, as Mother Teresa did, with loving trust, total surrender and cheerfulness to the vocation within our vocation.
Mother Teresa, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu of Albanian heritage in Skopje, Macedonia, in 1910, had certainly been living a good Christian life before Jesus spoke to her on a train to Darjeeling. She had become a Sister of Loreto and had travelled to Calcutta as a Catholic school teacher and principal, passing on the gift of faith and education to girls from families that could provide schooling for their daughters within the Sisters' walled compound. At 36 years old, however, as she was traveling into the mountains, Jesus revealed his desire for her to share his mercy toward all those outside those walls, those who were too poor to receive an education, those who were suffering abandoned on the streets, those who were dying -- and living -- without love and dignity. He asked her to become a "missionary of charity," an ambassador of his mercy to the most alienated and abandoned of those for whom he willingly gave his life on Golgotha.
The secret of her holy life was defined by her encounter, on September 10, 1946, with Jesus' infinite thirst of compassion. She would later write to her spiritual daughters, "Why does Jesus say 'I thirst?' What does it mean? "I thirst' is something much deeper than Jesus' just saying 'I love you.' Until you know deep inside that Jesus thirsts for you -- you can't begin to know who he wants to be for you or who he wants you to be for him. The heart and soul of [a Missionary of Charity] is only this -- the thirst of Jesus' Heart. ... Satiating the living Jesus in our midst is [our] only purpose for existing. ... 'I thirst' and 'You did it to me': Remember always to connect the two."
On the Cross, Jesus, despite his parched tongue, excruciating pain and exhaustion, cried out, "I thirst," and this was far more than to request water or to fulfill Psalm 69. He was expressing his unappeasable desire to save us, to free us not just from the punishment of our sins but from our sins, to have us respond faithfully and generously to him with the total gift of our love and ourselves, and to transform us to share his longing. Jesus doesn't just love us and others; he thirsts for us like a dry weary land without water (Ps 63). And that thirst became the defining characteristic of the life of Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity, as anyone who visits one of their chapels readily sees: the words "I thirst" are inscribed next to the Crucifix as a perpetual reminder of Jesus' thirst until the end of time, a thirst to share his mercy with us and to have us become missionaries of that sacred dehydration.
Responding to Jesus' thirst began with Mother Teresa's approach to his mercy in the Sacrament of Confession, a gift she received at least once a week and to which she called all of us frequently to have recourse. She would counsel, "One thing is necessary for us: Confession. Confession is nothing but humility in action. We call it Penance, but really it is a Sacrament of Love, a Sacrament of forgiveness. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. Confession is a beautiful act of great love. Only in confession can we go in as sinners with sin and come out as sinners without sin by the greatness of the mercy of God. There's no need for us to despair, no need for us to commit suicide, no need for us to be discouraged, if we have understood the tenderness of God's love." She said elsewhere, very simply, "Confession is Jesus and I, and nobody else," and added, "Remember this for life." Confession is where we are bathed and cleansed by Jesus' thirst.
But that mercy received becomes a mercy to be given. Mother Teresa and the Missionaries of Charity are often viewed as a special class of social workers who care for the toughest cases that others won't touch: lepers; those dying in gutters being devoured by disease; those with HIV/AIDS; the severely disabled; orphaned, abandoned and unwanted children; refugees; the untouchables; and the poorest of the poor. But Mother Teresa always firmly resisted the notion that she and her sisters were simply glorified caseworkers. She was, rather, an emissary of God's charity: Having received God's love for her, she recognized that God infinitely loves every else, too, including those whom the world finds most difficult to love; she sought to live according to that love and to invite others to do the same. She became the beautiful, wrinkled face of the Good Samaritan and showed us all how to cross the road with her.
As the Church celebrates her canonization, her feast, and the 70th anniversary of her call within a call to satiate Jesus' infinite thirst for mercy, let us ask her from heaven to pray for us that in this Jubilee of Mercy we, likewise, may come to experience Jesus' thirst and seek to quench it by responding to his calling us within our state of life to become, like Agnes Bojaxhiu, missionaries of that charity.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.
Recent articles in the Faith & Family section
Divorce MonthKevin and Marilyn Ryan
In the WeddingScott Hahn
Disposing of relicsFather Kenneth Doyle
What's right with the Church?Jaymie Stuart Wolfe
I asked, 'Is that all there is, Lord?' and he answered meBenoit Thibault