The death of Mother Teresa shocked the world, and at the same time added balance and perspective to the analysis and grief following the death of another global celebrity, Princess Diana. Following the famous nuns funeral, talk turned immediately to the prospects of her being designated a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.
Ganxhe Agnes Bojaxhiu grew to become an amazing shaper of world opinion as Mother Teresa. Her Missionaries of Charity served the down and out, the lowest of the low out of convents dedicated to compassionate outreach around the globe. Teresa demonstrated the power of single-mindedness as she focused on the pain, the suffering, the needs and the misery of lepers, persons dying with AIDS, the homeless and the starving. She devoted her life to the idea that everyone should die with dignity while surrounded by love. Everywhere she traveled, Mother Teresa sought out the poor so that she could hold, comfort and nurse them in their desperation. The secret motivation for her unceasing passion to touch the untouchables of the world was not hard to discover. She described it often: In the faces of the suffering, rejected and forgotten poor she discovered the face of God. Looking past the filth, grime and misery of the exterior, Teresa focused on the very real presence of God in each tormented life. Her story inspired millions. Her world view enchanted and amazed both her disciples and the most casual of observers. Most of us regarded her as the epitome of human goodness, a rarity on the landscape of world history. But, now she is gone.
Since her death, Calcutta keeps coming to my mind. Calcutta, the intractable metropolis of pain, poverty and powerlessness for masses of people. Teresa worked in the slums of Calcutta for 49 years. She attended to the millions one person at a time. No one could criticize the purity of her simple approach. But, at the risk of sounding irreverent, I must ask, Whats up with Calcutta? The city needs hundreds of Teresas followers to rise up and take her place, but it seems to me something else is needed as well. Calcutta needs the emergence of a different breed of saint. Even better would be the rise of many varieties of saints. Calcuttas need is shared by every major urban center on earth.
Please dont misunderstand. I hope thousands will be inspired by Teresas life to give up all they own to serve the poor, the ill, and the tossed aside of this world in exactly the same way she did. A life could be spent in no better fashion. At the same time, we need to understand there are so many ways to live as a saint in a world like ours. Come back to Calcutta with me for a moment. Obviously many things are not working in the city. Who controls the power in this ghetto of pain? How do the religious structures, values and traditions affect the continuing suffering of so many? What needs to change about the citys economic structure, development and opportunity? How does Indias national culture relate to the cruel realities of life in this city? See my point? Someone (actually many people) needs to step up and begin addressing these systemic, fundamental questions with pure motives and a heart of compassion every bit as real as Teresas. Someone needs to stand up and object, and then get to work attacking an obviously corrupt and evil system.
With Teresa-like motivation, politicians (yes, you read it correct!), educators, bureaucrats, economists, entrepreneurs, bankers, religious leaders and countless other ordinary folk could live world changing lives by taking action in countless ways in as many venues as possible. Teresas example should inspire us to get involved, but in ways that fit our own unique styles, options, locations and possibilities. Too often though, I fear her life intimidates us with its radical goodness to the point that we stand in awe, but remain inactive. Staring into the faces of the suffering, dying poor of Calcutta allowed Teresa to discover God. Hopefully, for some of us her example and her memory will lead to new, diverse and sometimes radical attempts to transform the unjust systems that today only guarantee the pain will continue in Calcutta, as well as in countless urban ghettos in this nation and around the world.