Mother Teresa and the Path of SaintHood
4th Sep'16, the 19th death anniversary of Mother Teresa and much awaited big day as thousands of pilgrims, believers and the faithful gathered at St Peter's Square in the Vatican to witness the birth of a 'saint'. Pope Francis himself presided the canonisation mass. Francis said "after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops, we declare and define Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (now Kolkata) to be a saint, and we enroll her among the saints, decreeing that she is to be venerated as such by the whole church."
Who is a Saint?
A saint is not someone equivalent to god, instead, a believer who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. When the Church declares that a person is a saint, it means that this person is with God, that she or he has the power to intercede with God on behalf to perform 'miracles'.
Formally declared saints are chosen by the pope, but only after a thorough investigation of the life, writings, and legacy of the saint candidate.
Saint worship or adoration among the Catholics is often debated, as a prayer to anyone other than god is considered anti-biblical. However, for the Catholics, the saint worship or more specifically prayer to a saint is considered as a request to intercede - quite similar to a friend or family member praying on behalf of their loved ones. This again is a line of thought that is challenged for not having any biblical basis.
What is Beatification and Canonisation all about?
Both beatification and canonisation are acts of the Roman Catholic Church declaring that a deceased person led a holy life. People still living can then request the blessed (if beatified) or saint (if canonized) to intercede with God on their behalf.
Beatification is an administrative act whereby a nominee is authorized to have a 'cultus' or a specific group of people who identify with, and request favors from, the beatified. The nominee can be a martyr killed in the service of Christ or a confessor. A confessor’s life and writings must be inspected for heroic virtue (bravery and distinction marked by godly motives and not human desire), sanctity, and adherence to Roman Catholic doctrine. The deceased confessor must also have had part in a verifiable miracle. Five years or more (earlier 50 years), post the death of the person can the beatification commence. A beatified person is labeled 'blessed'. Another verifiable miracle proving the intercession by the beatified is then needed to confer sainthood.
Canonisation is a decree announcing a person has qualified for sanctification. The decree publicly declares the nominee is holy and in heaven with God. The name of the person is then included in the canon, or list, of recognised saints.
All Paths Lead to God
Mother Teresa to the millions of followers in India and abroad has been a humble and revered personality. An Albanian by birth and a Catholic nun; she set course for India upon realising her inner calling to serve humanity and then there was no looking back. Mother Teresa set up Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Kolkata in 1950. When she passed away in September 1997 in Kolkata, her mission already had achieved a global outreach. Around 4,000 sisters worked under her at 610 foundations in as many as 123 countries. Her order Missionaries of Charity attended to the needy under probably some the most extreme conditions both in India and around the world. That's perhaps what fetched her the title 'saint of gutters'. She has also been referred to as the 'apostle of the poor'. A saint not for her beliefs but primarily for her selfless act, for her care and concern for the poor and the destitute and that has been her legacy.
For her dedication towards the noble cause, she was even felicitated with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. She also became the recipient of India's highest civilian honor - Bharat Ratna and numerous other recognition.
Thou Shall Not Sin
Alongside all the love, respect, admiration and praise, there have been plenty of detractors too. On her part Mother Teresa's silence to many of her critics during her lifetime has remained the bone of contention. Whether it's her questionable associations with tainted leaders and businesses or her work and practices at the Missionaries of Charity. The critique however goes beyond, with her being accused of carrying ulterior motives behind her selfless act. Some accuse her of proselytising or converting the destitute Hindus of India to Christianity.
Her orthodox beliefs and regressive outlook has often been discussed and debated. Be it her opposing stance towards divorce and remarriage among women or the fight against contraception and abortions. Her receiving top notch medical care whether in India, US or Switzerland also appears as a stark contrast to what she usually advocated making her the false prophet.
Over the years the living conditions and the quality of care at her hospices have remained substandard and poor. However, the charity money that her mission recieved grew in leaps and bounds. In terms of financial transparency, no disclosures or a white paper on the donations and expenses has been made available. Hence it's alleged that large chunk of that money went directly to the Vatican bank. Mother Teresa's association with tainted money has often raised the credibility question. In the 90's when the Charles Keating savings and loan fraud shocked the US, it was revealed that Keating gave her USD 1.25 Million of that stolen cash.
Some of her staunch critics include author and columnist, Christopher Hitchens, Irish investigative journalist Donal Macintyre and even some of the nuns of her own order like Colette Livermore. Hitchens regarded Mother Teresa as a proselytiser for Roman Catholicism rather than saint or a charity worker. He expresses similar thoughts in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, the author of Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict, has remained quite vocal about the condition of medical care at the hospices operated by Missionaries of Charity in India. Specifically the reuse and lack of sterilization of medical kits.
In July 2018 her mission was at the centre of a baby-selling scandal when a nun of Nirmal Hriday, a shelter home run by Missionaries of Charity in Jharkhand state of India, confessed to selling three children for money. The incident has since reaffirmed the doubts on the some of the previous allegations.
The Road to Miracles
The so-called miracles and the whole concept of journey to sainthood is yet another area of disconnect among the critics.
Here's a little insight into how this all started, post the demise of Mother Teresa. A brief account of the two miracles associated with Mother Teresa. In the year 1998, there was news that Monica Besra, a farmer's wife in a village Nakur in West Bengal, India was miraculously cured of her cancer (a tumour). It was said that she had a tumour in her stomach for last 20 years and had lost hope in the doctors and the medication she had been administered. That's when her sister took her to Missionaries of Charities near her village. She describes, “I was too ill to move, but two Sisters supported me there. There was a photograph of Mother Teresa there. When I entered the Church a blinding light emanated from Mother’s photo and enveloped me. I didn’t know what was happening and returned to my bed at the centre as I was too ill." She recalled that in the night one of the sisters brought a medallion of the Mother and tied it to her abdomen after saying a prayer. She further goes on, "At about 1 am, I woke up and saw that my stomach was flat and the tumour was gone. There was no pain. I was so surprised that I woke up the woman in the next bed and told her what had happened. In morning I told the same to the sisters." While Pope John Paul II declared this a miracle in Dec 2002, the doctor treating Besra claimed that the healing was the result of the ongoing treatment.
Similarly, the second miracle revolves around a Brazilian engineer Marcilio Haddad Andrino who was cured out of his brain infection in December 2008. Andrino had been sick for two years before it was discovered he had brain abscesses. He had a supposed miraculous recovery after his wife, prayed to Mother Teresa for help as she watched her husband clinging to life. For both of them, it was the intercession and not the surgery in the intensive care unit that saved his life.
One can agree to disagree but this is exclusively the domain of faith. For a sane mind or anyone with a scientific/rational outlook, such miracles are simply hard to comprehend. Most likely they tend to be rejected not because they seem unpalatable but because they cannot be proven and lack credible evidence. How on earth, does one justify emergence of a divine light or sudden disappearance of a chronic disease upon reciting a prayer? Even if these persons involved the miracles were suddenly healed, it may very well have been due to the ongoing treatments. But that very fact conveniently gets sidelined. This is the reason why these so-called miracles even though embraced by many, have been rubbished by most rationals as a confusion between religion, faith, superstition, and science. The concerted efforts or the emphasis on such fanciful stories as is often seen, creates a sort of deception which impacts one's thought process as well as judgement. Although there's absolutely no harm in certain beliefs or having faith but where do we draw the line is really a thought to ponder? But then again it's all a matter of faith and that's how the story concludes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2016 Ashutosh Joshi