The Urgent Importance of Mother Teresa’s Canonization

Mother Teresa will be canonized on Sept. 4, but Benedictine College has been celebrating for days.  And remembering.

I remember Feb. 3, 1994. I sat nervously next to the Congressman Bill Archer, who would soon become chairman of the powerful U.S. House Ways & Means Committee. I was his press secretary, and we were fielding press calls.

“Powerful” was a word that got used a lot for Archer’s influence on Washington’s biggest issues: Social Security. Taxes. Trade. But today Congressman Archer couldn’t keep his mind on all of that. His concentration had been rattled.

“You should have seen it, Bill,” he told a reporter. “You should have heard Mother Teresa. This little lady from I don’t know where …”

“Albania,” I said.

“She stood up there at the National Prayer Breakfast, and I don’t know what you think of abortion, Bill, but she said, ‘Please don’t kill the child! I want the child! Give me the child!’ The audience stood and cheered, but the Clintons sat on their hands. You should have heard her!”

He was a man transformed. I had never seen him like this. He was always the master Texas politician, able to wrest what he wanted from a spreadsheet or a Senator. Now he was like a kid who had just seen a superhero.

Behold the power of an authentic Christian. Behold the potential in each of us.

“Albania,” I had said, because I knew very well that Mother Teresa was a Catholic from Albania.

My first steady writing job was working for Gjon Sinishta, an Albanian exile in San Francisco. He was a man on a mission, intent on publishing everything he could about Catholic Albania as the communists tried to destroy it. He would translate it into broken English and I would take the English up a notch: Albanian Catholic documents, Albanian Catholic history, Albanian Catholic folklore.

We were telling the story of Mother Teresa’s homeland, where the political order had cancelled the rights of Catholics in the name of a new “enlightened” Marxist morality.

Religious freedom went out the window, and soon the right to life followed as priests and religious were rounded up and killed. I remember helping translate one report: The government was forcing bishops to dress as clowns and clean public toilets, “To lower them in the eyes of the people before they are executed,” explained Gjon.

Mother Teresa’s father died when she was young, but the government prevented her from returning home to see her mother and sister throughout her life. When Mother Teresa spoke truth to power, from Oslo to Washington, she knew what she was talking about.

The circumstances we find ourselves in — the place and time God has chosen for us — make the canonization of Mother Teresa an extremely important event for American Catholics.

He chose us to be the Catholic people in the world’s greatest superpower in a time when terrorists are bent on erasing Christians from the Middle East, when a government-and-big-business culture of death dominates the West and where Catholic conscience rights are being cancelled here at home.

Many American politicians, including the one who refused to applaud St. Teresa all those years ago, are following a new “enlightened” morality to another disastrous place for the Church. They, too, deny the right to life to a whole class of people, the unborn, and are determined to curtail the rights of Catholics.

And God chose exactly this moment to send us the newly-minted St. Teresa of Calcutta.

We live in an age that detests hypocrisy, so he sent us the example of Mother Teresa, who lived her faith to the point of exhaustion.

People today are skeptical about faith, so he sent us Mother Teresa, who kept her faith despite unimaginable spiritual and physical hardships.

Our age exaggerates physical beauty — so he sent us Mother Teresa, to remind us that, through him, someone who is ugly by the world’s standards can be as captivatingly beautiful as she was.

Her canonization is a plea from the Church, asking each of us to be more like her. It is as if the words of the call she reported hearing from Jesus are now a call meant for the whole Church:

“You will suffer, suffer very much, but remember I am with you. Even if the whole world rejects you, remember you are my own and I am yours only. Fear not, it is I. Only obey — obey very cheerfully and promptly and without any questions. Just only obey. I shall never leave you if you obey.”

Marquette photo from Flickr Creative Commons.

America’s Media Summit is Nov. 18 and 19 at Benedictine College. Join Raymond Arroyo, John Allen Jr. and others to ask “After the Election: What Next for Catholics?” More information.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.