It's important to see Mother Teresa's humanity, says college professor - Catholic Courier

It’s important to see Mother Teresa’s humanity, says college professor

By Carol Zimmermann
Catholic News Service
 
WASHINGTON (CNS) — When people think of Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, they should consider everything about her, said a college professor who once volunteered with the future saint’s order, the Missionaries of Charity, in India.
 
"Saints are humble beings; it doesn’t mean they’re perfect," said Mathew Schmalz, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
 
The Vatican announced Dec. 17 that the path for Blessed Teresa’s canonization can now move forward with the approval of a miracle attributed to her intercession. The founder of the Missionaries of Charity, who died in 1997 and was beatified in 2003, was labeled the "saint of the gutters" for her work with the poor and dying in Kolkata and around the world.
 
Schmalz told Catholic News Service in a Dec. 18 telephone interview said that when he was growing up, Mother Teresa was "held up as an example of someone with incredible faith living Christian life to its fullest."
 
When he was a junior in college, he studied in India and spent some time volunteering with the Missionaries of Charity.
 
Over the years he heard stories about the order’s founder, who was not just a diminutive woman religious but a tough woman who was "demanding of herself and those around her."
 
This didn’t lessen his opinion of Blessed Teresa; he said it proved how she was able to do the work she did.
 
But what made the future saint even more real to Schmalz was the 2007 publication of her letters: "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," which reveals her decades-long struggles with disbelief. "If I ever become a saint," she wrote in one letter, "I will surely be one of ‘darkness."’
 
The letters, written to spiritual advisers, reveal a dark night of the soul that Schmalz said only shows how "God transforms our humanity."
 
These letters, which he had his students read to understand Blessed Teresa’s legacy, reveal that she was more complicated than people might think.
 
Schmalz had a brief encounter with Blessed Teresa when he volunteered at a homeless shelter in New York near a Missionaries of Charity home. He was invited to meet her in one of her visits to U.S. homes run by her order.
 
The tiny woman placed rosaries in the hands of those greeting her. For some reason, she walked past Schmalz, but then turned around and placed a black plastic, rosary in his hands and told him: "Jesus through Mary."
 
That moment has stayed with him for years.
 
He described it this spring in an article for the Boston Globe’s Catholic news website, Crux, noting that at the time of his meeting with her he was "in limbo, struggling to figure out what to do" with his life.
 
"Mother Teresa was an emblem of strength. I felt that strength in her hands: They were rough hands, compact, weathered, powerful. Jesus through Mary — the certainness of that faith, the straightness of that path."
 
"For all her heroism and controversy, Mother Teresa stands in — and intercedes — for all us in our own inevitable and very human contradictions. She was humble and willful, wise and naive, steadfast and opportunistic, tough and vulnerable. She had boundless faith, but experienced boundless darkness," he wrote.
 
"It’s wonderful the church is honoring her," he told CNS.

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