Locals reflect on life, work of Mother Teresa upon canonization

September 13, 2016

HOUSTON, ROME — The mercy and strength of Jesus Christ is exemplified in the heroic efforts and love of Blessed Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta.

St. Teresa was canonized a saint on Sunday, Sept. 4, at a canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. A celebration of the life and service of St. Teresa, the timing, God’s timing, for her canonization was perfect in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. St. Teresa transformed the world and locals in Houston weighed in on how she changed their lives and helped them strive to make the world a better place. 

Father Desmond Daniels, parochial vicar at Christ the Good Shepherd in Spring who is originally from India, had the privilege of meeting St. Teresa on three separate occasions — each having a unique impact on him. She and Father Daniels were planning to collaborate on a project that helped care for children with AIDS in Madras, India. The project ultimately fell through after St. Teresa passed away, but Father Daniels said their first meeting left a lasting impression. 

“I saw her praying on bended knee in front of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour,” he said. “That touched me to the core. She then blessed me and said she would pray for my priesthood. She told me that every day she would spend an hour in personal prayer as well. That inspired me to do the same with the Blessed Sacrament every morning.”

Father Daniels said that she was able to reach out to the poor in a very human way. 

“People with HIV are ostracized in society, so her heart went out to those kids,” he said. “The sisters had already started other programs like this in India, so it was in her mind that this was a part of her ministry. Being the Jubilee of Mercy and given her attention to the poor and marginalized in society, this is the perfect time for this to happen.”

Father Daniels said that by her own life example, people are attracted to her charism. The Missionaries of Charity (MC), the religious order founded by St. Teresa, are an example of that beautiful attraction. The MCs have been in Houston since 2001, including providing a home for homeless pregnant women, teaching catechism in different parishes, and visiting nursing homes, hospitals and homes of the poor and elderly. They also have a vibrant summer camp for children. More important than any of their works of charity, is the love they provide.

“Mother used to say that the most difficult type of poverty was not material poverty, but hunger for love,” the sisters said. “This type of poverty was much more difficult to remove and she too wanted to alleviate the poverty of being forgotten, abandoned, rejected, the poverty of selfishness, of lack of concern for the other, and the lack of communication of understanding and compassion.” 

The MCs said they fight against this poverty by allowing themselves to love in a real way, as Jesus loves. 

“Love opens our eyes to see the needs of those around us,” the sisters said. “It opens our hearts to love those who are rejected, unwanted, unloved. Love opens our hands to give, as Mother used to say, ‘until it hurts.’”

Wanting to do more in her community and feeling that same attraction to St. Teresa’s charism, Elsie Hernandez, development director at Annunciation Catholic Church, joined the lay movement for the MCs when they came to Houston in 2001.

“Mother Teresa did so much to help the poorest of the poor, but if it wasn’t for her order and allowing the laity to participate with them (The MCs), my life would’ve been totally different,” she said. “I was like most America women, living comfortably, striving to move ahead in my career and enjoying my life, but once you’re exposed to this way of life, you cannot live your life in the same way. It made such a big impact on me that my way life changed forever, as has so many others.”

Hernandez said St. Teresa’s impact goes well beyond just her actions. She said she continues to impact people globally through her order and beyond any human means. 

“That’s how you know it is God working through the MC movement and through her accomplishments. And that’s why she’s a saint.”

For some self-examination upon St. Teresa’s canonization, the MCs challenge the faithful to determine their own works of mercy:
• To how many people did I smile today?
• To how many people did I give a word of encouragement?
• How many times did I give my hands to serve?
• Did I see Jesus in that homeless person, in the sick, or in the person who was difficult to deal with?
• Did I give my time to the person who wanted to be listened to?

“Maybe we are not called to do great things, but we are called to do small things with great love,” they said. 

St. Teresa did undeniably great things with great love. The MCs said her canonization during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is a providential opportunity to present both her teaching related to merciful love and her way of putting those teachings into practice through her daily actions.
“We hope that with her canonization, we will be encouraged to deepen our own relationship with the God of tender, merciful love and to share this love with our brothers and sisters especially all those most in need — the materially and spiritually poorest of the poor,” they said. 

Let us all celebrate and share with one another how this one woman changed the lives of so many through her works of mercy and her genuine love and fortitude for her brothers and sisters.