Mother Teresa and the Exaltation of the Cross

Last Sunday, September 5th, was the feast day of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (popularly known as “Mother Teresa”). She died on that date in 1997. Her life was a great testimony to the Catholic faith. She is perhaps most famous for her love in action in the countless works of mercy she engaged in both in her adopted country of India and the many countries around the globe where her sisters, the Missionaries of Charity, served the poorest of the poor. But there was more to her life than that. She was also a tireless defender of the dignity of each human life and of God’s love for every child, born and unborn. She was fearless in her proclamation of the Gospel of Life, gently but firmly challenging even those who strongly promoted the killing of children in the womb. She famously said that “the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion.” And this from a nun who knew violence – who trustingly and fearlessly served even in war-torn areas.

One of my favorite stories about her was how she “spoke truth to power,” when she was invited to speak at the national prayer breakfast sponsored by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. At the time, President Bill Clinton and his wife, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, were in attendance, together with then-Vice-President Al Gore and his wife Tipper. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton were strong advocates of abortion, with Mr. Clinton being one of the first presidents aggressively to promote it through the power of the office. Mr. Gore had flip-flopped in his political career, first claiming to be pro-life but then reversing his position to one of being strongly pro-abortion. I am sure that, together with the dignitaries in attendance, they were expecting Mother Teresa to speak about her work with the poor, and that they were eager to get a “photo op” with her to establish their credibility as “friends of the poor.”

But in her inspired speech, Mother turned her attention to the violence of abortion, leaving these famous advocates of the destruction of innocent life sitting in stunned and embarrassed silence while she spoke. There was little they could do when the audience erupted into applause. I can’t help but think of the many accounts in the Gospels where the Lord reduces his enemies to silence by His wisdom and holiness. Because Mother shared in that holiness and love of Christ, she could do the same, because, like Christ, her goal was to bring people to conversion, to know Jesus Christ and His love. The standard arguments of pro-abortionists couldn’t stick to her. For example, the illogical argument for abortion, typically leveled at pro-lifers, “you only care about them before they’re born, not after” clearly failed miserably for a saintly religious sister who was famous for caring for those no one else was willing to. (You can read that speech at Although she served people of all faiths and no faith, Mother Teresa was deeply committed to knowing the love of Jesus through the holy sacraments. In addition to Mass, for example, she required all her sisters to adore the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament for a minimum of one hour each day.

She also wrote beautifully about the power of the sacrament of confession. Here’s her reflection on that sacrament (excerpted from the Magnificat devotional magazine).

Confession makes the soul strong because a really good confession—the confession of a child in sin coming back to the Father—always begets humility, and humility is strength.

Confession is nothing but humility in action. We call it penance, but really it is a sacrament of love, a sacrament of forgiveness. It is a place where I allow Jesus to take away from me everything that divides, that destroys. When there is a gap between me and Christ, when my love is divided, anything can come to fill the gap. We should be very simple and childlike in confession. “Here I am as a child going to the Father.”

We go to confession a sinner full of sin. We come from confession a sinner without sin by the greatness of the mercy of God. No need for us to despair. No need for us to be discouraged—no need, if we have understood the tenderness of God’s love. You are precious to him. He loves you, and he loves you so tenderly that he has carved you on the palm of his hand. These are God’s words written in the Scripture. You know that. Remember that when your heart feels restless, when your heart feels hurt, when your heart feels like breaking—then remember, “I am precious to him. He loves me. He has called me by my name. I am his. He loves me. God loves me.” And to prove that love he died on the cross.

This Tuesday, September 14th, we celebrate the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. We remember that, when Jesus was lifted high on the Cross in what looked like humiliation and defeat, he achieved that saving victory over sin and death that would draw all men to himself. That victory, that triumph, is made real in the power of every holy Mass celebrated from the Last Supper until the day He comes again in glory to make the world new.

Let us pray that, through the intercession of Mother Teresa and all the saints, and through devout reception of the holy sacraments, we may share with them in the triumph of Christ’s Cross.

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