Homily for the Feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta

05 Sep 2015

Introduction for the Feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
St Peter’s Church, Surry Hills, 5 September 2015

It’s my great pleasure to celebrate with you the feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta for my first time as the Archbishop of Sydney – though I have joined you in the past under other titles! I thank the Missionaries of Charity for their invitation and acknowledge the presence of their regional superior Sr Mary Lucy MC, Fr Bill Milstead the Parish Priest, other concelebrating clergy, and all parishioners, friends, co-workers, volunteers and benefactors of the Missionaries of Charity. To you all: a very happy feast day!


Homily for the Feast of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta
St Peter’s Church, Surry Hills, 5 September 2015

Ours is the age of the do-it-yourself wedding contract. It began with the 1960s sexual revolution fuelled by the Pill which meant the exclusivity and for-childrenness of marriage and marital acts became elective in many people’s minds. The 1970s advent of no fault divorce meant the for-lifeness of marriage also became an optional extra. In the ’80s private ‘de facto marriage’ meant the for-societyness of marriage became discretionary and the 1990s push for out-of-church weddings meant the for-Godness was also. Most recently, under the slick slogan of ‘marriage equality’, the for-man-and-wifeness has also been challenged; and next, on the near horizon, the for-two-people-onlyness will likely go.

A culture that rejects the authority of faith and reason, nature and custom, church and even state, tells us there’s no such thing as absolute truth, only my truth and your truth. It’s up to each couple to negotiate what they want from marriage, revise it along the way or dissolve it once their conceptions diverge. Some canonists now suggest that most Western marriages today are annullable, because those entering them have no idea what they are committing to. Sometimes the DIY wedding reduces to schmaltz: I had a bride-to-be tell me she wanted to promise her groom “I will make you happy every day of your life” – to which I responded she would be promising the impossible. At other times weddings are reduced to triviality. One current fashion is to write promises that will entertain your guests. A website suggests: “I promise to love you as much as my credit card and not hold your poor fashion sense against you”, “From this day forward, I promise to declaw my cat Fluffy so that you are not scratched” and “I promise to love and cherish you as much as I do our dog, Spot”.[1] Such examples raise the question: do people know what they are doing when they make a solemn vow?

Needless to say, the spirit of the age manifested in DIY wedding vows is contrary to Catholic faith. Our teachings, rites and laws insist that the ‘man and wife’ bit, the ‘to have and to hold’ bit that often leads to babies, the ‘in good times and bad’ bit that demands fidelity, the ’till death do us part’ bit that means permanence and the ‘let no man divide’ bit that means indissolubility, are all essential. That doesn’t mean that every wedding ceremony is the same, that every couple are the same, or that every culture in which weddings are celebrated are the same: but it does mean that if it is really marriage you want to vow, especially Catholic marriage, there are certain essentials.

So, too, for those who want to make other kinfds of vows. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in 1910 in what is now the Republic of Macedonia. As young schoolgirl, she travelled with her peers on pilgrimage to the Black Madonna in Letnice. There she felt the first stirrings of a call to religious life. At 18 she joined the Loreto Sisters, with whom she made First Profession in 1931 and Final Profession in 1937. She didn’t make up her own vows and call it religious life: whatever else she hoped for, like all religious she was bound to a life of evangelical poverty, chastity and obedience. 50 years ago next month, the Second Vatican Council its Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life, Perfectae Caritatis, reminded as that these essentials of religious vowing are intended to be paths to the perfection of charity. If you want something else, you can invent something else, but it won’t be religious life. Even a great foundress like Mother Teresa, apparently so clearly guided by God and so sure of herself, had to submit to faith and reason, nature and tradition, to be part of that Church that is Christ’s spoiuse if she was to be that spouse herself.

These would not be the last of the vows made by Mother Teresa. Central to the story of her life is the remarkable private vow she made to God before her public profession in which she promised “to give God anything that He may ask – not to refuse Him anything”. Such a solemn promise is not for the faint-hearted and should be rated at least “Parental guidance recommended”! Teresa wisely sought the counsel of her confessor before taking this drastic step.[2] In due course, she was led to found her own congregation devoted to the poorest of the poor and to vow herself to the life of a Missionary of Charity.

Mother Teresa’s private and public vows reveal the true meaning of her life. Posing the question, “Why must we give ourselves fully to God?” she answered “Because God has given Himself fully to us.” To give ourselves to Him is therefore the means to receiving Him abundantly. “I for God and God for me.”[3] This exchange of love reveals that a religious vow, like a wedding vow, is not a one-way street. You give yourself to your spouse and your spouse to you and God blesses the union abundantly. It’s about so much more than keeping a pet under control or to loving someone as much as your credit card. It reveals that love of which St Paul speaks that is more than showy display and fleeting sentiments, but anchored to truth and virtue (1Cor 12:31-13:13).

Mother’s private vow took her across the world, to the service of God’s little ones in Calcutta and the leadership of a revolutionary order of Missionaries of Charity. Her and their characteristic blue and white saris have come to represent the service of Christ in the least of His brethren (Mt 25:31-46), the prophetic call to self-sacrifice in feeding the poor and sheltering the homeless of our readings (Is 58:6-11). And so, all the over the world, the abandoned and the dying, the refugees and dispossessed, the physically sick and the mentally ill, the elderly and lepers and the rest receive the love and care of Teresa’s ‘charities’, her daughters.

In this Year of Consecrated Life we give thanks for the example and intercession of your sainted founder and yourselves. We are inspired by your presence and apostolate in our Archdiocese. May God bless you! Bld Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us.

2. See Mother Teresa, Come be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” edited and with commentary by Brain Kolodiejchuk MC, 28-9.

3. Ibid, 29.