Mother Teresa’s Was a Life Inspired by God’s Mercy
Her devotion to the material and spiritual welfare of the poor should inspire us all.
By ALEXANDRA DESANCTIS
Every day, Father Stefan Starzynski sits beside the hospital beds of dying men and women, trying to bring God to them in their final moments and to put a smile on their faces. This experience is just one part of serving as chaplain at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia. Father Starzynski has a unique perspective on comforting the dying — a perspective that informs his entire job as a Catholic priest — because of one summer he spent in India almost 25 years ago.
Just after graduating from college in the spring of 1992, he traveled to New Delhi to visit his father, a U.S. diplomat, and following that spent two months in Calcutta working and praying beside a woman who, this Sunday, will be declared a saint. She was born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in present-day Macedonia, but today she is known to the world as Mother Teresa, a woman whose very face is synonymous with charity and who, starting on September 4, will be known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.
Those two summer months spent with Mother Teresa have given profound meaning to the rest of Father Starzynski’s life, particularly to his vocation as a priest. When he arrived in Calcutta, he had only just applied to Mount Saint Mary’s seminary in the Arlington diocese, and he had no idea whether he would be accepted to study to become a priest.
“One day, I had the chance to ask Mother Teresa personally to pray three Hail Marys for my vocation,” Father Starzynski told NATIONAL REVIEW, “and soon afterward, I made the call on some rinky-dink phone somewhere in Calcutta and found out that I had been accepted to the seminary. I’ve always attributed my vocation to the priesthood to her prayers, so I’m very excited about her canonization.”
During Father Starzynski’s time in Calcutta, his faith grew considerably in the presence of Mother Teresa’s example. “She told me that the sisters had never once gone without food. One day, when it was my turn to find dinner for everyone, I went outside but couldn’t even travel the streets because of rioting,” he said. “As dinnertime came around, suddenly the phone rang, and it was somebody offering to provide us food. That was really the start of my learning to trust in God like she did.”
Mother Teresa’s life and spirituality taught Father Starzynski how to understand the idea of vocation as a personal call to holiness that each individual is meant to fulfill in a singular way. “She heard the Lord calling her on a train to Darjeeling in the fall of 1946, asking her, ‘Would thou refuse?’ That was her inspiration to start the Missionaries of Charity. She called it her ‘call within a call,’” Father Starzynski explained. “We all have a vocation, some to be a priest, some to be married, some to be a teacher, and so on, but we all also have a particular way we express our primary vocation. For a priest like me, that could mean working with youth, or at a hospital, or with the poor.”
It is of particular relevance that Mother Teresa is being canonized in this Year of Mercy, a year Pope Francis has declared as a time to focus on the role of mercy in the life of the Church. “Part of mercy is the corporal work of taking care of the poor and sick,” Father Starzynski reflected. “Care for the poor is an essential part of the Gospel. Orthodoxy and care for the poor are the two lungs of the Church. My experience in Calcutta, and my experience of her spirituality, was learning to see Jesus in every poor person we met.”
ALSO FROMALEXANDRA DESANCTIS
For Starzynski, Mother Teresa embodied a radical trust in God in her willingness to step out of the comfort of a life of teaching, choosing instead to follow God’s will and form a new religious order dedicated to the needs of the world’s many neglected poor. “She acted on faith the first time she left the safety of her convent and found a homeless man lying on the streets. She picked him up, took him to the hospital, and waited until they took care of him,” he said.
Sixty six years after the order’s founding, there are now thousands of Missionaries of Charity workers all over the world caring for the poor and abandoned.
Mother Teresa’s primary concern was for the spiritual welfare of the poor.
Though Mother Teresa is of course known for providing for the material needs of poor people all around the world, her primary concern was for their spiritual welfare. “She galvanized the world’s attention by speaking to a universal need, about the fact that the greatest poverty is not the need for food, but the need for love,” Father Starzynski explained. “The deepest pain is the pain of not being wanted, of not being loved.”
Despite the extensive evidence of her faith and the tremendous fruit it produced, Mother Teresa spent most of her adult life feeling so abandoned by God that she was unable even to pray. She said that if she ever became a saint, she would “surely be one of darkness.” Pope Francis has said that elevating Mother Teresa to sainthood recognizes her personal experience of both the material poverty of the poor and the spiritual poverty of so many who feel unloved and unwanted.
In 1994, Mother Teresa visited the U.S. and spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast, focusing not on the material poverty of the world but on the spiritual poverty of a nation that rejects its own children. “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself,” she said in the course of her address.
“In her beauty, she showed us that no matter who we are, we all need love, and that every life is precious. That’s why she was a special champion of the life of the unborn,” said Father Starzynski.
Mother Teresa offered up herself in response to the evil of abortion. “Please don’t kill the child,” she said later on in the same speech. “I want the child. Please give me the child. I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.” This was the beauty of her witness, that she herself made those who otherwise would have been unwanted wanted.
Mother Teresa’s canonization this weekend serves as a reminder that caring for the poor is not simply a matter of providing for their material needs but rather of sacrificing our own desires in order to remind them that they are loved.
First published by www.nationalreview.com, September, 2016
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