Mother Teresa’s long and holy life, a life spent caring for those she called “the poorest of the poor,” brought her an unlikely measure of fame and, yes, celebrity. Not often in this world do we heap admiration on those who choose a mission of caring for society’s outcasts—the people who no one else even wants to look at, let alone take in and embrace.
Yet that’s what Mother Teresa did and what she inspired so many others to do over the years, from the sisters who took up the distinctive white and blue habit of her Missionaries of Charity to the thousands of dedicated volunteers who served alongside them over the years.
Some volunteers traveled halfway across the world to Kolkata, India, where she started her ministry picking up dying, destitute souls in the gutter and caring for them in the hospice-like shelters she founded; some served closer to home, like the many New Yorkers who signed on to help at the shelters and soup kitchens her Missionaries ran in Manhattan and the Bronx for AIDS patients, the homeless and the poor.
And yet, for all of her fame and her following, Mother Teresa—who will be canonized at a Vatican ceremony Sept. 4—was one who never wanted a fuss.
Yes, she was invited to and visited many of the grandest homes in the world. She was at the White House, for instance, as the guest of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, and at Gracie Mansion in New York, where she popped in to pay a “sick call” on Mayor Edward I. Koch, who was recovering from a stroke.
Many of the places she visited, though, were the homes of everyday people, families and others whom her religious sisters and volunteers had gotten to know. She didn’t stay long, but all of those, from presidents to the family next door, were honored by her presence. And she honored them back, in her own way, by following a rule she had made that neither she nor the sisters would have anything to eat or drink in other people’s homes.
Why? Because she realized that many struggling families would sacrifice their own food to offer their scant provisions to her. Making no distinction, then, between the haves and the have-nots, she used typical Mother Teresa reasoning and applied her rule to all.
We’re not sure if Mother Teresa would have thought to plan so much hoopla around her impending sainthood. There’ll be a week of special Masses and prayer vigils, of course, but also an exhibition on her life and work, a “family feast” for the poor and even a theatrical piece: “Mother Teresa: The Musical.”
But even for a person who didn’t like a fuss, we think she’d be honored, accepting the love of others just as she always extended her own love to all. We think, in other words, that she’d have relaxed and enjoyed the show. We know that we will, and so will the millions around the world, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, who will celebrate the sainthood of someone we’ve already considered a saint for a long, long time.
It’s a remarkable blessing, actually, to have witnessed a saint in action in her own day and in our own time. May she pray for us always.