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Mother Teresa and the Path of SaintHood
4th Sep'16, the 19th death anniversary of Mother Teresa and the 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 our behalf to perform Miracles. Five years or more, post the death of the person the initiation can commence which is referred to as Beatification. At least two miracles are then needed to confer sainthood.
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 Canonisation all about?
Canonisation is the act by which the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, or Anglican Church declares that a person who has died was a saint, upon which declaration the person is included in the canon, or list, of recognised saints.
A Walk into the Past
Mother Teresa was truly a humble and revered personality, often been referred to as the 'saint of gutters' or “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. Mother Teresa set up her Missionaries of Charity in the slums of Kolkata in 1950 when she realised her inner calling to serve humanity and then there was no looking back. When she died in September 1997 in Kolkata, around 4,000 Mother Teresa's Sisters worked under her at 610 foundations in 123 countries. For her dedication to the noble cause, she was even felicitated with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her order Missionaries of Charity attended to the needy, under probably some the most extreme situations and circumstances both in India and around the world.
Though alongside all the admiration and respect, there hasn't been a scarcity of criticism with her being accused of carrying ulterior motives behind her selfless act. Especially of leading or converting the destitute Hindus in India to Christianity. Her order Missionaries of Charity has been staunchly criticised for their practices adopted towards the sick and dying souls. Among her staunch critics were, Anglo-American author and columnist, Christopher Hitchens, investigative journalist Donal Macintyre and even the nuns of her own order, like Colette Livermore.
The Deliberate Path of 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 where this all started, post the death 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. That's when her sister took her to Missionaries of Charities Centre 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. "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.
Any sane mind would probably reject these as cooked up stories, simply because they are unpalatable and deceptive. Let's look at some other aspects. It's worth a mention, that the mandatory five year waiting period before formal evaluation of a candidate for beatification was set aside in Mother Teresa's case, as her devotees began pressing the Vatican soon after her death, to expedite her sainthood cause. That leaves behind some pertinent questions-
Why sainthood in the first place, that too defying the norms? Why elevate the stature on a false premise? Most importantly, why propagate lies and make belief theories of the existence of miracles?
Forget skepticism, even for a naive person, let alone a sane mind, these are conclusions, that easily appear to be motivated and blown out of proportion. They simply do not hold any ground. How on earth, can one justify emergence of a divine light or sudden disappearance of a chronic disease? Even if the said persons were suddenly healed, it may very well have been due to the ongoing treatment. But that 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 fact remains, the emphasis on such fanciful stories helps create a deceiving line of thoughts that impact one's thought process and judgment. The arguments in favour, quite similar to the miracles themselves are nothing but hyperboles. There's certainly no harm in having faith but faith beyond the 'limit of truth' is a thought to ponder?
© 2016 Ashutosh Joshi