The witness to human dignity given by Teresa of Calcutta – whom Pope Francis today declares the newest saint in the Church — illustrates an important lesson in salvation history: God is always teaching and taking care of his people.
How are we to understand this lesson? What does God teach through his saints?
Throughout the course of salvation history, in all its twists and turns and through its multiple demonstrations of glory and the grotesque, God is patiently guiding, correcting, and teaching. As his people choose one dark path or another, God is always calling and directing them toward the path of light and goodness.
Biblically, God’s favored means of teaching his people is through the witness of holy ones, of those people who dare to love him and do as he asks.
In the Old Testament, God repeatedly raises up leaders for his people. Even as his leaders possess weakness or sinfulness, God still seeks to instruct and enlighten his people through them. This pedagogy continues into the New Testament as even the apostles, the early leaders of the Christian faith, show cowardice, vanity, and other forms of waywardness.
St. Paul expresses this dilemma of a fallen witness giving a perfect gift, when he taught that “we hold this treasure in earthen vessels.” And so God persistently works with, through, and sometimes in spite of his chosen ones.
This principle is particularly seen in the Old Testament when the Kingdom of David was divided, which was one of the most destructive events in Judeo-Christian history, and God raised up multiple prophets. The prophets, as some of history’s holy ones, called God’s people back to fidelity, back to the covenant with God, and back to God’s loving kindness and family-like relationship.
In the fulfillment of their call, the lives and witness of the prophets exemplified the status of God’s people. For example, the adultery of the Prophet Hosea’s wife showed Israel’s adultery against God, while the celibacy of Jeremiah displayed the infertility of Judah’s disobedience and rebellious spirit. God constantly raised up holy ones, and through them taught his people.
In the New Testament, the call of the prophet is given to all Christian believers. Every member of the Christian faith is called to learn from God by both being a prophet and by receiving the prophetic witness from others.
While all are called to be light, some will shine more brightly than others as they challenge prevailing dark views and epitomize a life of goodness, mercy, and compassion. Through such brightly-shining holy ones, whom the Bible calls the “cloud of witnesses,” God will edify, correct, and teach his people and the whole human family.
Thus, as humanity was enclosed in a world of vengeance and violence, God raised up and blessed St. Faustina, a humble Polish nun who taught a message of Divine Mercy. When religious belief was being stripped of a supernatural perspective by rationalism, God singled out and endowed the holy St. Pio of Pietrelcina — Padre Pio — with miraculous powers and mystical gifts. And so, through his holy ones, God gives a tutorial on the life of faith and goodness.
So in declaring Teresa of Calcutta a saint, Pope Francis is recognizing and honoring the lessons and teachings of God that have been lived and given through this contemporary prophet. It should not surprise the Church or the human family that God has so abundantly blessed and raised up Mother Teresa. She was a woman and believer whose life and witness among “the poorest of the poor” exposes today’s multi-tiered and heinous attack on the dignity of all human persons, especially the forgotten, poor, sick, vulnerable, and abandoned. The life of this holy one gives a strong and convincing lesson from God: Life is sacred, honor and cherish it. Protect and selflessly serve life.
Once again, as throughout salvation history, God points to the more excellent way of love, and he does so through the lives of his holy ones.
And so, if someone wants to know the teachings of God and what the Christian way of life should look like and how humanity is called to live, she must look to the holy ones. She must look to the lives of the saints. And among those others, from today if not before, she must look to Saint Teresa of Calcutta.