A new year has begun and many things will be before us. One of them will be the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a saint of the Church. Truly the announcement of her canonization, due to the affirmation of another miracle performed through her, is very welcome news. Mother Teresa stands as a great woman who made a tremendous difference in our times. She was a great proponent for the poor and needy in an extraordinary fashion which caught the attention of many in the world and in government leadership. She was also a tremendous proponent for the unborn and proclaimed the sanctity of life on behalf of the unborn as well as that of every person at every stage of life.
As we continue to reflect upon God's infinite mercy during this Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Mother Teresa stands as a profound example of a woman of mercy. She was a woman of great joy and her joy flowed from her giving of herself to others, especially the needy and the poor. St. Pope John Paul II, who was a great advocate of Mother Teresa, formally announced her beatification shortly after her death. She was a great influence in his pontificate and he eagerly promoted her mission in the world.
While Mother Teresa was a woman who exuded great joy and a loving smile to all she encountered, she was no stranger to suffering and pain in her life. Naturally, part of her suffering was due to the life of extreme poverty which she so eagerly lived. However, this suffering was not one that brought her distress or discomfort. It was surprisingly one that brought her great peace. However, another suffering she faced was one encountered by many of the great saints of the Church which was a feeling of distance from God. After her death, her writings on this suffering were published. It is surprising to read how this joyful woman faced the pain of feeling an absence from God which caused her the greatest suffering in her life. Such great saints as St. John of the Cross, St. Paul of the Cross and St. Teresa of Lisieux were but some of the saints who faced this emptiness which was similar to what our Lord experienced on the Cross. This experience is often referred to as the dark night of the soul. It is comforting for us to know that Mother Teresa and the saints experienced this emptiness which we too sometimes experience in our lives to a lesser degree. However, this cross became a source of grace for them as they realized that the Cross of the Lord was present to them in this experience.
Mother Teresa was fond of saying "God does not demand that I be successful. God demands that I be faithful. When facing God, results are non-important. Faithfulness is what is important." What wonderful words to reflect upon as we begin a new year and as we continue to journey during this Jubilee of Mercy. God is not interested in our successes but in our being faithful to Him. Our faithfulness to the Lord is the indication of our willingness to enter into a real relationship with Him in which we realize our faults and limitations but are not discouraged by them. Our faithfulness enables us to know the deep love of God for us by experiencing His mercy and forgiveness. Mother Teresa experienced this faithfulness especially in her sufferings of the dark night of the soul that she experienced which may, at face value, to seem a lack of success.
As we begin a new year, especially during this Jubilee of Mercy, Mother Teresa's words stand before us as a wonderful reminder of what the road to holiness is all about. In a world so caught up in success, it is reassuring to know that success and achievement are not what life is all about. Many of us have undertaken New Year resolutions to change certain aspects of our lives for the coming year. This is a wonderful practice but usually we find we are not often faithful to these resolutions. Many of us may already be experiencing that we have not been successful in what we intended to carry out. These failures at our resolutions are a good example of realizing our limitations in our humanity. They are also a good opportunity to realize that God always goes beyond our limitations. We just celebrated that He became one of us in our human nature and raises us to His Divinity through His love and mercy. Again, it is our faithfulness and willingness to persevere that are important and not our successes especially in the eyes of God.
Every year for the New Year the Pope puts forth a message of peace. This year the message of Pope Francis emphasizes that it is only by overcoming indifference that we are able to achieve peace. He begins his message by saying, "God is not indifferent! God cares about mankind! God does not abandon us! At the beginning of the New Year, I would like to share not only this profound conviction but also my cordial good wishes for prosperity, peace and the fulfillment of the hopes of every man and every woman, every family, people and nation throughout the world, including the heads of state and government and all religious leaders." Truly, it is only by recognizing that God is not indifferent but that He cares for us that enables us to recognize the value of our lives not in terms of success but in terms of faithfulness.
Mother Teresa never expected to be the example and spiritual leader that she was to the world. However, her faithfulness to the plan of God for her is what made her who she was and enabled her to accomplish the good that she did. Her founding of the Missionaries of Charity is a great blessing for the world. This congregation carries out in a concrete manner the concern and mercy that Mother Teresa gave to the poor, the needy, the abandoned, the elderly and the unborn. All of these would certainly seem to have not experienced success in their lives. Nevertheless they were successful as Mother Teresa helped them to realize God's faithfulness to them and encouraged their faithfulness to God.
It was a great joy to learn of the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa during this year. Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity are present and active in the Archdiocese of Miami immediately next door to us. I was very privileged to know the Missionaries of Charity as they had several homes in Brooklyn where I was privileged to visit them and to celebrate Mass for them. I was also privileged to meet Mother Teresa who exuded a great peace to me as she did to everyone she met.
One of the most humorous but profound stories I know about the Missionaries of Charity occurred in one of their homes in Brooklyn where a generous priest brought them a brand new statue of Our Lady for their monastery. The sisters, very much taken with the beauty of the statue, would not accept it because they said it was too new and perfect. They preferred a statue that was imperfect as that was in more keeping with Mother Teresa’s way of life. The wise priest agreed and took the statue outside where he hit it against a tree to bring some damage to it. He then brought it back to the sisters and proclaimed that they could now accept the statue since it was no longer perfect. The sisters accepted it and the moral of the story for me is that God truly does not expect us to be perfect but to be faithful in striving for perfection even in our brokenness.
May this New Year be a time for all to know more deeply the love of God in our lives and in our imperfections. A blessed New Year to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
January 8, 2016