The year of mercy Pope Francis called for the Church may be over, but our call to mercy is ever-pleading for renewal. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, was the postulator of the cause of the canonization of Mother Teresa and author of the book A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve.
He talks a bit about her, the book, and the rest of us.
Lopez: With all the talk from Pope Francis about mercy, is there a danger justice and truth get lost?
Kolodiejchuk: One of the challenges we all face in living the Christian life is to keep the different truths to be held and virtues to be practiced in proper perspective and “order.” It is very difficult to keep all the different elements of our faith together in our understanding and even more so in daily lives. We can emphasize truth but lack charity. We can so focus on compassion but at the expense of truth.
So, is there danger? Yes, certainly. Thus, all of us need to be properly formed and carry on even a daily examination and review of our attitudes and actions.
As to Mother Teresa, she upheld all the teachings of the Church and attempted to live them as faithfully as she could. A requirement of heroic virtue is to be able to live in an excellent way virtues that may seem opposite: for example, humility and fortitude (or courage).
And so, Mother Teresa could, while holding steadfastly to the truths of our faith, practice Christian compassion, mercy, and kindness, to an exceptional degree. As one of the senior Sisters, said, “the first thing for Mother was the mercy of God. She wanted to prove to the world that God is merciful.”
She once told sisters who were serving as superiors: “Above all, one day you have to answer to God — be merciful and loving now, as you would want His love and His mercy then.”
Sister Nirmala, Mother Teresa’s immediate successor, stated that, “Mother was ever forgiving. Mercy was one of the main qualities of Mother. It did not matter what fault we committed. Mother always forgave us, if we were sorry.”
By her example, Mother Teresa shows us mercy which encompasses both justice and truth and which integrates them together. We never know the depths of others’ sufferings and inner struggles, so in justice we should have mercy on them. To give to the hungry, to clothe the naked, to shelter the homeless, etc., is justice.
Every human being has a right to have the food, clothes, medical care and other necessities of life that he needs. Thus, what we call mercy is often simple justice. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes St. Gregory the Great, “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice” (2446).
Is spiritual hunger really as dangerous as actual hunger for food and water? Is there a danger that could make us more self-centered?
It is not a question of either/or. Physical hunger and thirst are serious human needs that need to be satisfied by concerted human effort on many levels (individual, group and governmental). Normally, one cannot speak to a person’s spiritual needs before meeting the physical ones.
Yet, as Mother Teresa said, spiritual poverty is deeper and more difficult to relieve.
That is why we say, the unwanted, the unloved, the uncared, the forgotten, the lonely. This is much greater poverty because material poverty you can always satisfy with the material. If we pick up a man hungry for bread, we give him bread and we have already satisfied his hunger.
But if we find a man terribly lonely, rejected, a throwaway of society, material help will not help him. Because to remove that loneliness, to remove that terrible hurt, needs prayer, needs sacrifice, needs tenderness and love. And that is very often more difficult to give than to give material things.
The wisdom of our spiritual tradition says knowledge of self is fundamental to virtuous living and even to my eternal destiny. I must know myself but not in order to be focused on myself but rather in order to acquire an attitude of humility and dependence on God, and ultimately to transcend my limitations in the service of others.
Focusing on our poverty and staying there can lead to self-pity or despair. Focusing on our own poverty in the light of God’s love and seeing how much we are in need of God’s mercy should lead us never to judge others, but rather to have great compassion on others and help them in their needs.
Loving God and loving others, including attending to another’s material or spiritual poverty, takes me out of myself.
Is there a testimony that you love the most from the book? That captures Mother and mercy best?
The testimony of a prisoner given on pages 121-22 encapsulate Mother Teresa and her way of mercy extremely well. She was a messenger (a “carrier,” as she liked to say) of God’s love and mercy that gave hope to people. She also encouraged this prisoner to be a messenger of that same love and mercy to others, right where he was. She encouraged him to come closer to Jesus precisely through his suffering.
“Let Him [Jesus] live in you, so that you may spread the mercy of His Heart to all in similar situations.”
Similarly, do you have favorite words from Mother Teresa in the book? That maybe could be marching orders or a particularly profound reflection as we go into the fall and the end months of the year of mercy many may have previously missed?
Mother Teresa believed in putting “love into living action” — today! “Yesterday has already gone, tomorrow has not yet come, we only have today!” On page 8, we have this same practical point. “Love is for today…we are for today; when tomorrow will come, we shall see what we can do…So be concerned with what you can do today.”
After reading what Mother Teresa said and did in the book, she leaves us with the challenge of our “today.” What can I do today — in my own home, at work, in my parish or a group to which I belong, in my city or country? There is so much to be done. Let us begin.
As it was for Mother and her work, so for me: it may be only a drop in the ocean, but the ocean is made out of “drops,” and without my “drop,” the ocean would be one drop less.