23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
23rd Sunday / Ordinary / C
September 3-4, 2016
St. Thomas Aquinas, Ames, Iowa
Fr. Jon Seda
A few hours ago in Rome, Mother Teresa was canonized a saint. Now she is St. Teresa of Kolkata. It is rare for the Church to canonize someone many of us knew in our lifetime. Normally saints are canonized centuries after they lived on earth.
Mother Teresa was one of my heroes growing up. Many of us first heard of her when she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. I remember well when she died in 1997, and was surprised by the depth of sadness that I felt. She was born an Albanian, and at the age of 18 left her family to join the Sisters of Loretto in Ireland. She was sent to teach in India. After about 20 years of teaching, she heard what she described as "a call within a call" to live with and serve the poorest of the poor. She lived a life of radical simplicity with the poor long before the TV cameras showed up. Today almost 5000 of her followers called Missionaries of Charity do the same everyday.
There are many quotes of her, and so much that could be said about her life. She made us proud to be Catholic, and she both inspired and challenged us. She was bold in her unflinching defense of the life of the unborn. I was always amazed at how this small, frail, elderly woman could stand next to the most powerful people in the world and make them shake in their boots.
All she said and did could perhaps be summed up in her smile. She had a beautiful smile, even during the many years she felt the absence of God in her prayer, which another way the Lord let her identify with the poor of this world. Yet her smile radiated God.
We know what she did, just as important is why and how she did it. Why? One word. Jesus. How? She began everyday with one hour of adoration of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, the same Sacrament we will soon receive in this Mass. That is how she did what she did.
Mother Teresa lived today's Gospel better than anyone. It is a tough Gospel, where Jesus speaks of separation from family, taking up our cross, and renouncing all of our possessions. If you are like me, you might say to Jesus: "Are you serious? I am not Mother Teresa."
So it is good to know that the Lord does not ask us to be Mother Teresa. Hers was a unique and extraordinary call. But the Lord does ask each of us to be saints, in our own time, in our own place, and in our own way.
A couple of years ago I came across a quote that has been helpful to me. The book was on prayer, but could be applied to any area of discipleship. The quote is, "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." In other words, don't let some perfect image of sanctity paralyze us so that we don't do anything. The task is to take the next step, to just do the next good thing toward holiness.
In the Gospel, the three conditions of discipleship could be said to have one thing in common. It is a matter of taking away the safety nets that we surround ourselves with, and learn to really trust God. Sometimes with God's grace, we choose to take away those safety nets. But I suspect that most of the time, life does this for us without our consent.
However it happens, there is a tremendous freedom that comes when we place our lives in the hand of God and trust him to provide. Those are times when we pray, "Lord, I have this problem and I have no idea what to do. I don't see the answer and am confused. So I surrender it to your will, and I trust you to provide what I need." That is the honest prayer of a free person.
Mother Teresa showed us how to do this. Her smile showed us that this is both worthwhile and joyful. She who lost her life, who gave away her life for the sake of the Gospel, found her life.
The Lord does not ask you or me to be Mother Teresa. Holiness comes in many different shapes and sizes. But he does invite each of us to a radical trust in his love and providence in our lives. Then we can become saints in our own time, in our own place, and in our own way.
Today with the universal Church, we rejoice in our amazing new saint. And we pray: St. Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us, that we may become more life you, more life Jesus, each in our own way.