By Mercedes B. Suleik
The Extraordinary Year of Mercy which began on December 8, 2015 closed on November 20 this year. Its message began by saying “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” words which might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. For indeed, God revealed His name to Moses as “a God merciful and gracious, show to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Pope Francis, in canonizing Teresa of Calcutta last September 4, provided us with a new saint for the Year of Mercy. His decision to elevate Mother Teresa to the altars, within this Year of Mercy, emphasizes the essential part of the works of mercy to holiness. Indeed, Mother Teresa had once remarked, “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’”
This new “Saint of Mercy” cannot but inspire us to participate more actively in alleviating poverty, and wake us up from our preoccupation with materialism and selfishness. Mother Teresa’s selfless effort to help those in need has caused many to regard her as a model humanitarian. She founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Catholic order of nuns dedicated to helping the poor. Began in Calcutta, India, the Missionaries of Charity grew to help the poor, the dying, orphans, lepers, and AIDS sufferers in over 100 countries.
Mother Teresa in all aspects of her life was a generous dispenser of divine mercy, making herself available for everyone through her welcome and defense of life, those unborn and abandoned, ceaselessly proclaiming that “the unborn are the weakest, the smallest, the most vulnerable.” This has got to be a lesson for all of us!
Mother Teresa saw Jesus in all people, and showed Jesus to them by her personal attention to everyone. Her whole life was a total gift to the poor, but at the same time steeped in prayer. She would say that “You don’t have to go to Calcutta to find the poor. You find the poor right around you, in your own family. Those acts of mercy are little things – a smile, a word of consolation, reading the newspaper for someone, doing the shopping, spending a little time with speaking to them. So the actual works of the Missionaries of charity are small things done with great love.” Her postulator said, “Anyone can imitate and do the same kind of action in your own home, your own parish… Some saints are to admire, some saints are to imitate. Mother Teresa is one of those who are imitable. We could do those things – small things, humble works.”
Mother Teresa also reminds me of another saint, Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei. The “Work” opened up a whole new way of sanctification in the middle of the world through the exercise of man’s ordinary daily work, and the fulfilment of family, social, and personal obligations. Being a saint need not be doing heroic things like being tortured and killed for one’s faith, but in little things one encounters in one’s daily life. St. Josemaria said “It is in the midst of the most material things of the earth that we must sanctify ourselves, serving God and all mankind.” In other words, we can “die” to ourselves by giving up our need to satisfy ourselves and instead looking out to others, be it in our own family or school or officemates through little acts of kindness.
St. Teresa had her famous five-finger exercise of “catechism.” She would take one hand and with the other point to each finger saying, “YOU DID IT TO ME.” And truly, we need not go farther than this reminder, for this summarizes our Christian faith, reminds us that we are responsible to God for our brothers and sisters…our neighbor.