The following is a transcript from Archbishop Vigneron's homily at the Canonization Mass of Mother Teresa on September 4, 2016.
We all figured there’d be about 300 of you here today, so this is great!
I apologize that we ran out of worship aids. As I said, we didn’t plan accordingly. Maybe I don’t have enough confidence in God; I didn’t think about that. But I do want to, for myself, for the rector of the Cathedral Fr. Mech, for the associate, Fr. Patrick, and for my fellow parishioners here at the Cathedral I want to welcome all of you to your second parish. The Cathedral is something for all of us; a home for all and I’m so glad we can all be here today to give thanks and praise to God for the recognition of the holiness of St. Teresa of Calcutta.
I want to offer a particular word of congratulations to the Missionaries of Charity. If I wouldn’t embarrass them I’d ask them to stand up; they don’t’ like that sort of thing. Congratulations sisters! The congregation is more persuasive than I can usually be, but I know many of you are co-workers with the sisters and congratulations to you. Congratulations to those of you who share the ethnic origin of St. Teresa – the Albanian community here in southeast Michigan. And congratulations to those of you who belong to Mother’s adopted homeland of India. What a great day for the whole people of God.
As I was thinking about how to launch into my preaching today, I thought I’d use an example. I’d ask you to think about somebody down at Wayne State who’s a professor of mathematics. She can do the very most abstract kinds of problems. But to remember when she was in kindergarten, the teacher had to show her two chickens, or two little houses and get her to add one plus one equals two. There are very significant theoretical points that we need to understand in life, but it’s so much easier, isn’t it, when we have pictures and stories. That’s a better way for us to get the point very frequently. And that’s why our Lord told these two little stories that we have today, these parables about building a tower and going into battle. Making the point that if one is going to embark on a project, engage in a decision, you should understand what the consequences are. He tells this story so that his listeners, whether two thousand years ago in Palestine or today here in Blessed Sacrament Cathedral, so that we will understand his point. The point being that to be his disciple we should know the consequences, which are that we must love him more than all of our earthly goods, we must put him ahead, even of our dearest relationships, and we must count him more precious than life itself; so much so that, if required, we would give up our lives and lay them down on the cross as he does for us. That’s what it means to be a disciple.
One way we could put this is to use a little saying from sports: if you’re not in, if you’re not all in with Jesus, you’re not in at all. It’s all about him. There is no negotiating with Jesus about belonging to him. Because he gives everything – even to the last drop of his blood – how could he be content with anything less from us than our whole gift, our whole self? He would be selling us short knowing that our true happiness comes from reciprocating to him the gift of self that he first gives to us.
As Pope Francis says so frequently, being a disciple is recognizing that belonging to Jesus, having him, being his disciple, is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. That’s why having him and belonging to him is more precious than all of our goods, more precious than our closest relationships, more precious than life itself. That’s what we need to think about and recognize as we make our commitment to him. Jesus can’t be a kind of a hobby. You can’t be a part-time disciple, semi-retired. Jesus can’t be a lifestyle resource, a choice, something we use to decorate our existence. He can’t even be something like one more crutch or resource we use to get along. He is life itself for us who are his disciples. Jesus told those two stories about the king going into battle and the builder constructing a tower to help make the point clear.
Today, the Church gives us another kind of picture, another story to make the point of Jesus from the Gospel clear this morning. That picture, that story is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She did what she did not because she wanted to start a movement, her own kind of Peace Corps – as worthy as that as. Not because she had in mind a worldwide project, a religious order of men and women spread throughout the world – as worthy as that is. But what we know about her, and why we praise and honor God on behalf of her, is because she lived the parables that Jesus told today. She was all in for Jesus. It was always about him and only him because she saw Jesus at his most needy and most broken in the people who were lying in the streets of Calcutta. She was a Missionary of Charity of the love of Jesus for Jesus, as she found him in the poor and the most abandoned. The Church honors her because she is an exemplary disciple. She lived a life that shows us what God expects from each one of us.
A few days ago I was asked by a journalist what I would make about the fuss being given to Mother Teresa and what she would think about that. I thought about it and I don’t think she’d be embarrassed as long as it wasn’t about her. As long as everybody understood that St. Peter’s piazza was filled today because of Jesus and this Cathedral is filled today to overflowing because of Jesus and her picture is in the paper because of Jesus, because of the love of Jesus to which she responded by loving him in his poor and weak limbs and broken body.
I feel quite confident in saying that I believe two things if you ask me what Mother would think. I would think, first of all, she would say to us, you have to do the same thing. I am in heaven, I’m a saint, and I’m in the presence of God because I was faithful to my call to be a Missionary of Charity. And I invite all of you to be missionaries of charity. Now, don’t get on the plane to Calcutta; that was never the kind of thing she asked for. In fact, she used to send people home, if I recall correctly. I believe she would say to us, find your own Calcutta – and it’s not going to be very hard for us to do this – find your place where people are alone, where they are not loved, where their dignity is not appreciated, where they feel abandoned and show them the love of Jesus Christ. Take time in front of the Blessed Sacrament to ask Jesus, “Where are you sending me to be your missionary of love? Where do you, Jesus, thirst for the soul that will, and ought to, respond to you? And where can I be that agent, that mediator, that icon, that presence of your love?” Then we must do that, each of us. That’s our job in the New Evangelization, to be missionaries of charity. Where am I sent? Where’s the Calcutta to where I am called and where I should show love and compassion? Secondly, I think St. Teresa would invite us, call us, to join her in praising God for what he has accomplished, for the power of the spirit of Jesus Christ to do something beautiful where it looks, to the unaided eye, the eye not aided by faith, it looks so ugly. To thank God for that.
I’m going to read you the liturgical text for the preface that can be used in houses of the Missionaries of Charity on the days they celebrate Mother’s feast day: It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere, to give you thanks Lord. For you granted St. Teresa a share in the thirst of your Son dying on the Cross, making her a Missionary of Charity. She took upon herself the rejection of the poor and placing herself at their service she radiated the light of your merciful love. And so, with angels and saints, we acclaim, holy, holy, holy …
We can be sure this is the right way to pray, this is the teaching of the Church, this is the heart of what the Church gives thanks for and joins with St. Teresa in thanking God for. That God gave her this charism of sharing the thirst of Jesus, of having the zeal of a Missionary of Charity and putting herself at the service of the rejected poor for the love of Jesus Christ. I thank God for that. You thank God for that. The Church thanks God for that.
Two things, then: Be a missionary and join with Mother in praising God for his power to work in our world.
We’re about, then, to celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist and we remember that all of the things which are so marvelous and so striking and powerful in the life of Mother Teresa are the fruit of the Mass. They are the fruit of the Passover sacrifice, the Paschal Mystery, the death and rising of Jesus. They have nothing to do, really, ultimately, with her, except insofar as she became one with the sacrifice and rising of Jesus and was able to bring that into the streets wherever she was. So, let us approach the Eucharist, Holy Communion, the Body of Christ, the Blood of Christ, with great expectation. What the power of the Holy Spirit did in her, the power of the Spirit will do in us if we surrender ourselves to Jesus. And our world will become paradise just as that little home next to the Hindu temple in Calcutta, in the first days of her work, was transformed into a window into paradise because what makes paradise is not comfort, not ease, ultimately, not security, but what makes paradise is charity. The love of Jesus for us and our love for Jesus in return.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.