My homily for the Feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta – Monday, September 5, 2016.
So here we are on Labor Day, which if Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer season, Labor Day seems to be it’s less popular counterpart – the unofficial end of the summer. Sorry to state the obvious.
While it’s always exciting to see our students come back, meet our new students arriving and begin a new Academic Year, Labor Day kind of makes me melancholy with memories of the summer ending. Unlike winter, which we seem so ready to part with, Summer with it’s warm sun-rich days, somewhat slower, lazier pace is often much more popular. And for this Jersey guy – filled with lots of memories down the Shore. (The sobering reality that it will probably be a solid 9 months before I can make some new ones – kind of brings me down a bit)
One such image that kept coming to mind today was this one time down in Wildwood Crest NJ – the crown jewel of the Jersey Shore (for you non-Jersey natives, you have to understand that each of us professes to know which of the shore points is the best. And while us natives might argue among ourselves about which one actually is… try telling us that your cute little beach in some other state is the best and we’ll unite together quite dramatically. Anyway…)
When I was a kid, I used to love swimming in the ocean. And down in Wildwood, you had a good couple of hundreds of feet that you could walk before you actually got waist deep. My brothers and I would go as far as possible to get the good waves to ride in. As far as was possible before the lifeguard or my Mother would go nuts.
But it was always remarkable to me how we would be simply walking, swimming, riding – and before you knew it, how far out, how deep we could get. And if you simply kept looking out at the horizon, how you could keep going without even realizing it. You were doing these simple, ordinary things and all of a sudden you found yourself in the deep, the vastness of the ocean. You realized how small you were in comparison. To a little kid, just learning about who God was, you could say the image was impressionable.
While that could be a dangerous (even deadly) lesson to learn in ocean swimming, it’s perfect on this last day of summer which more importantly is a feast day – the first celebration of St. Teresa of Calcutta who was canonized a Saint by Pope Francis yesterday in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. One of the Pope’s unscripted remarks that seems to have been repeated over and over in the last 24 hours from his homily was that people may struggle to call her St. Teresa and would continue to call her Mother Teresa. Why?
Because of the ordinariness of mother hood. Not to say it’s not an extraordinarily important vocation. But rather because of how relatable Motherhood is. The beauty of motherhood – the nurturing, caring, love that we give thanks for in our own lives, that we long for, that we mourn when it’s been missing or is lost. In Mother Teresa, the world saw how this simple little nun believed she heard what she calls “the call within a call” to leave her first religious community and start this new one – the Missionaries of Charity. With a few sisters, and the most simplest of “motherly” tasks, lovingly caring for those who no one cared about – the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the ill, the dying. Tasks that initially few in the world would care about or even notice.
But as she continued humbly, simply, being this dispenser of divine Mercy as Pope Francis put it yesterday – that changed. Spiritually she kept swimming towards that horizon. She probably didn’t even realize how deep she had swam. Far from the coast lines, the people around her warning her or trying to temper her enthusiasm. The poor, the sick, the dying flocked to her… as did those who felt called to assist them… And the Gospel message was brought to birth anew once again, as it has over and over throughout the centuries in this simple, little woman who proved to be anything but.
And those of us who stand on the coastline, or are just wading into the water a little bit – we still marvel at this little nun who simply wanted to love Jesus and to let His love radiate from each and every little action of her precious earthly life.
We who call her Saint (or continue to call her Mother) Teresa ask her to pray for us. Pray that we too can stop fixating on the fears, the worries, the crowds around us who try to inhibit the power of God (just as they attempted to do to Jesus in today’s Gospel from healing a man on the sabbath). Pray for us that we not try to imitate her – since there can only be one Mother Teresa – but that we follow her counsel, that we be inspired by her example, that we strive for holiness in our own way, in our own lives by following her simple advice: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can each do small things with Great Love.”
Doing that, we might be surprised how deep we can swim as well.
Saint – Mother Teresa – Pray for us.