A woman from a poor country who struggled with doubt and worked for the poor — a very 20th century saint. Credit Rex Features
By Tim Stanley
4 September 2016 • 6:00am
Today, Mother Teresa is canonised as a saint. To be clear: the Church isn’t making her a saint, it’s recognising that she is one. God makes someone a saint by taking them into heaven – and that’s what a saint is. A perfectly normal person who has been saved. Anyone can be a saint, and one of the jobs of sainthood is to show us how.
“She was every bit a 21st century saint: a woman from a poor country, tortured by doubt, whose spirituality was focused on care for the disadvantaged. Nowadays, the trolls would call her a Social Justice Warrior.”
You might read that there’s “controversy” surrounding Mother Teresa’s canonisation. Disregard it. There are people who will insist Nelson Mandela was a terrorist up to the end, that smoking is good for your nerves, or global warming is “God hugging us closer”. Critics of sainthood give the impression that the Church just signs off on this sort of thing without a second thought.
In fact, Mother Teresa’s canonisation might have been speedy by historical standards but not by the pace of the 21st century. She died 19 years ago. There was a gap of six years between one miracle and another. The Church’s process of scrutinising her character was so rigorous that they invited Christopher Hitchens to give the evidence against.
Pope attends prayer vigil for Mother Teresa Pope attends prayer vigil for Mother Teresa Play! 00:53
As Mother Teresa discovered when she was alive, the Church can be bureaucratic, slow-moving, “meticulous” – it has been known to put the brakes on popular piety. Thousands flock each year to Medjugorje in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where it is locally believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to six children. Yet the Vatican refuses to acknowledge the supernatural status of he apparitions and it remains in limbo.
What is a miracle? Quite simply it is a wondrous event that betrays divine intervention. Personally, I’ve always thought that life itself was miraculous. God created the Earth and mankind, and the big and small marvels of everyday life point constantly back to him. Child birth; a meteor shower; a huge and extraordinary dragonfly that dances colourfully over my garden pond. But if pointing at the world and saying “isn’t it remarkable?” isn’t enough to sway those who reject the supernatural out of hand, then perhaps unexpected acts of kindness are. And that’s the reason why Mother Teresa is a very 21st century saint.
Indian nuns of Missionaries of Charity gesture as they sing rhymes standing beside a big portrait of the late Mother Teresa while taking part in a prayer to observe her 8th death anniversary, at Mother House in Kolkata, 05 September 2005. Credit: AFP
I don’t expect a lot of readers to believe that believers prayed to Mother Teresa, she interceded with God, and that God cured two serious ill people (for detail on one of the miracles, I recommend Mick Brown’s thorough and beautifully written investigation, written in 2003). We are hard-wired to be sceptical, while our growing proficiency in the field of medicine convinces us that humans are the masters of their own destiny. But it is indisputable that Mother Teresa picked broken, sick, dying people out of the gutter and cared for them. Her willingness to do that is a miracle. And, yes, she could be political and hardheaded in the process. One Jesuit called her: “as gentle as a dove and as cunning as a snake.”
Mother Teresa — A tapestry depicting Mother Teresa hangs from a balcony before a mass celebrating her canonization at the Vatican on Sunday. Credit Stefano Rellandini for Reuters
But that’s what it takes to get things done, and what’s truly remarkable is that she got so much done while struggling with religious doubt. Critics who regard her as having been inflexible and fanatical don’t realise how human she really was. She was not a relic of the Medieval hospice. She was every bit a 21st century saint: a woman from a poor country, tortured by doubt, whose spirituality was focused on care for the disadvantaged. Nowadays, the trolls would call her a Social Justice Warrior.
The Church is often accused of misogyny. Mother Teresa answers that charge. In Catholicism, men and women are called to serve others through their particular vocations. Mother Teresa became a strong, powerful figure who transformed the lives of millions. That’s the role that my Church offers to all of us regardless of breeding, money, looks or brains – the chance to enter the ranks of the saints.
Mother Teresa’s inspirational life – in 60 seconds Mother Teresa’s inspirational life – in 60 seconds Play! 01:08
Mother Teresa Is Made a Saint by Pope Francis
VATICAN CITY — Mother Teresa was long considered a saint by many people around the world. On Sunday morning, Pope Francis officially bestowed that title at her canonization ceremony in St. Peter’s Square.
The canonization marked a highlight of the Jubilee year that Francis had proclaimed to celebrate the theme of mercy. On Saturday, he told thousands of cheering volunteers gathered in St. Peter’s Square that Mother Teresa was a “witness to mercy in our time.”
Of her canonization, he said, “She deserves it.”
A portrait of Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun described by Pope John Paul II as an “icon of the good Samaritan,” is displayed on the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica and shows the saint-to-be in her distinctive blue-trimmed white sari. The portrait was commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and painted by Chas Fagan, an American artist.
Mother Teresa earned fame and accolades over a lifetime spent working with the poor and the sick, and with orphans, lepers and AIDS patients, first in the slums of Kolkata, India, and then in many other countries.
She made the cover of Time magazine in December 1975 for an article that acknowledged her as one of the world’s “living saints.” When told that she had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she said, “I am unworthy.”
Mother Teresa’s supporters praise her selflessness and humility, noting that though she associated with royalty, government leaders and popes, she continued to live simply until her death in 1997.
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