The editorial of the month
Jubilee Year of Mercy: Mercy and Conversio ad Creaturam by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P
Pope Francis tells us: “Without mercy, without God’s forgiveness, the world would not exist; it couldn’t exist.” And without heroic witnesses of mercy, we would doubt the existence of mercy. Which is why the elevation of Mother Teresa of Calcutta to sainthood is such a glorious gift to the world.
The saint’s need for mercy
The whole of Mother Teresa’s life is captured in a line from a play by her patron Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. The infant Jesus says: “I thirst to give myself to souls,/But many have hearts that languish.” Including Mother Teresa’s own heart. “I don’t think there is anyone,” she wrote, “who needs God’s help and grace as much as I do. Sometimes I feel so helpless and weak. I think that is why God uses me. Because I cannot depend on my own strength, I rely on him twenty-four hours a day.”
When Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Prize, she told a now-famous story. “We picked up [a man] from the drain, half-eaten with worms, and we brought him to the home. [He said]: ‘I have lived like an animal in the street, but I am going to die like an angel, loved and cared for.’”
We are so moved because we see ourselves in him…even if we have never lived in the street. “In the developed countries there is a poverty of intimacy of spirit, of loneliness, of lack of love. There is no greater sickness today than that one. Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst, the most terrible poverty of all. One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody”—the diagnosis of the Church’s newest saint.
For Saint Teresa, mercy was a way of seeing, a way of looking at reality. “We need to be someone for the naked who not only lack clothing but mercy. We need to be someone for the destitute who not only lack a roof over their heads, but who are deprived of having someone who cares, someone to belong to.”
She speaks in her writings about visions she experienced. In one, the voice of Jesus called, “Come—come—carry me into the holes of the poor. Come be my light.” And in another, the voice of a big crowd pleaded, “Come, come, save us—bring us to Jesus.”
Sinners showing mercy
What is the chief act of mercy for the saint of Calcutta? “If we really want to love, we must learn to forgive before anything else.” How do we learn to forgive? “By knowing that we too need to be forgiven.” To be a missionary of mercy is to live with a healthy sense of sin: “Our total surrender will come today by surrendering even our sins. The knowledge of our sin helps us to rise. If we admit that we are sinners and we need forgiveness, then it will be very easy for us to forgive others. But if we don’t admit this, it will be very hard for us to say ‘I forgive you’ no matter who comes to us.”
The shame of sin doesn’t stand a chance before this truth: “I am absolutely too small and empty. Only Jesus can stoop so low as to be in love with one such as me. Not only Jesus loves you, even more—he longs for you.”
The practice of mercy
Thankfully, Saint Teresa left us a very practical method for emulating her sanctity. “Jesus said love one another. He didn’t say love the whole world. If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one. Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person.”
Our saint bids us to remember: “Intense love does not measure; it just gives. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
A saint in heaven?
“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. Hungry not only for bread—but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing—but naked of human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a home of bricks—but homeless because of rejection.”
Here’s the irony: “Only in heaven will we see how much we owe to the poor for helping us to love God better because of them.”
We are left to ponder Mother Teresa’s prediction: “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.”