I am of the opinion that souls recently departed from this world should not be canonized immediately. There, I have said it. This goes for the ordinary layman as in, at the New Rite funeral liturgy, where both the texts of the rite and the general attitude of the “mourners” leaves one wondering whether Purgatory was ever really a thing. It also goes for the actual canonized saints of the Church. What follows is purely my observation and commentary. Please feel free to disagree but always call upon the saints in all your troubles.
Last night I had the opportunity to attend a local screening of a movie produced by the Knights of Columbus on the life of Teresa of Calcutta. Screw the Indian government, I’m not spelling it with a “K”. Here is my own personal background on this subject. My mom heard Mother Teresa speak in Philadelphia in the mid-1970’s. She was so thoroughly impressed with the humility and personal holiness of this tiny nun that she promised to name her next daughter after her. Two years later I made my debut. The doctors were quick to notice I have parts inconsistent with Mom’s name choice. However, three minutes later, my twin sister emerged, claimed the name Teresa, and my name was bestowed upon me because it had to match by starting with the same letter – Harvey. You know by now that it isn’t my real name but you get the point. Four years later my Teresa was called home. Fifteen years after that, Mother Teresa was called to her judgment. And just shy of two decades later, the “saint of the gutters” was made a saint of the Church.
It used to be common practice that the canonization process was deliberately long. In fact, most saints were canonized long after living memory of them existed in the minds of any man on earth. One notable exception was Anthony of Padua who was sainted just one year after his death in the early thirteenth century. But come on, man, he was a miracle worker in his lifetime. I mean, St. Anthony, right? But for most, there is wisdom in waiting. Here’s why.
People are canonized because they lead lives of heroic virtue in their particular states of life. The key words there are “heroic virtue” and “states of life”. Although there is absolutely no chance this would happen, if I were ever to be canonized it would be because I was an heroically virtuous husband and father. So let us review the evidence with Mother Teresa and see if she fits the bill. I believe I can sum this up quickly.
Mother Teresa was superior of a religious order she had founded. She lead a worldwide band of sisters numbering in the thousands who’s sole purpose was to follow the words of Our Lord in Matthew’s Gospel: “Whenever you did it for the least of my brethren, you did it for Me.” There is no one who could successfully argue that Mother Teresa didn’t live the most heroic of lives in this regard – her state in life. Do I believe she is a saint? I certainly do. Do I try to learn from her example how better to live my Catholic faith? Again, the answer is a most assured yes.
But was Mother perfect? Although perfection is not the criteria for sainthood, and although we must argue positively that no man is perfect save Our Lord and His Mother by His singular act of love for her; there is something to be said about the witness that the imperfections, often buried in the vault of time bear upon the life of the faithful when those imperfections – however minor – are still in fresh dirt. Let me give you three examples from the movie and explain how each one seems to tarnish – however slightly – the halo of this saint.
In one scene, we are shown our heroine gleefully distributing the Sacred Host to her sisters from a ciborium. Now on this count I’m going to say a few things. First, no matter what anyone tells you, the Sacred Host should never be manhandled by anyone other than a man who’s hands have been consecrated. This has been the ancient practice of the Church. Communion in the hand (I just threw up a little) is a modern innovation that has been “allowed” by an indult that should be rescinded yesterday. Also, Mother Teresa was famous for telling others never to receive in the hand so one has to wonder why the producers included this scene at all. And I will also say that this “imperfection” of Mother’s is something of which many of us have been guilty. I myself was a “Eucharistic Minister” (threw up again) for many years before I came to my senses.
In another scene, Mother is described by one of her associates as having lived by the mantra that every man should be a better version of whatever he is. “Be a better Christian, be a better Hindu, be a better Muslim…” was apparently something Mother said at least once or twice. OK, that’s kind of heresy right there. Outside the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church there is no salvation so why she would be telling anyone to be a Hindu or Muslim at all is beyond me. Again, the K of C including this bit truly seemed like a bit of Prot-pandering, virtue signaling to me. And if that’s what it is, shame…
Finally, the very notion, pervasive in the film though with dubious connection to Mother’s own personal train of thought, that material poverty is in itself a virtue is displayed in all its glory. In fact, it is poverty of spirit that is a virtue to be sought. “The [materially] poor,” Our Lord assures us, “we will have with us always. Good going, multi-million dollar New Haven-based insurance company Knights of Columbus. Great job. But again, Mother Teresa did strive to live a life of the kind of poverty recommended by Our Lord when He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
And I do believe she is in the kingdom of heaven.
The point in all of this is that the whole of Mother Teresa’s life taken in complete context and with the passage of sufficient time would probably, in my opinion, have yielded for the Church the same St. Teresa of Calcutta. Only the perceptible “imperfections” would have either faded or taken on a new light with the wisdom afforded by the passage of time. Should Mother Teresa have remained Venerable or Blessed a few more decades? Should Pope John Paul II have been thrust to the honors of the altars rather than raised there? Even his most ardent supporters have given up the moniker “the Great” in light of just a few short years of understanding of the entirety of his pontificate. Kissing the Koran, anyone?
The scandal to the sense of the faithful that such rapid canonizations elicit undermines the very faith that should be bolstered with the introduction of each new friend of God. I for one hope this trend stops before we end up with something truly dreadful on our hands.
Our Lady, Queen of Angels and Saints, pray for us!