Something Beautiful for God: Mother Teresa’s Vocation and Ours, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), September 4, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Potomac, MD
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
September 4, 2016
Wis 9:13-18, Ps 90, Philemon 9-10.12-17, Lk 14:25-33


To listen to an audio recording of today’s Mass, please click below: 


The following text guided the homily: 

Imitating what is Imitable

Today the whole Church, and so many non-Catholics, rejoice at the canonization of someone who will go down in salvation history as one of the greatest human beings who has ever lived: Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the diminutive Macedonian born Albanian who seventy years ago this week (September 10, 1946) was asked by Jesus to found the Missionaries of Charity to quench his insatiable thirst of love for souls especially for the poorest and most marginalized, and who responded to that vocation within her baptismal and religious vocation with loving trust, total submission and cheerfulness and with all her mind, heart, soul and strength. Canonizations are not meant to be posthumous award ceremonies for lives well-lived. Nor are they meant merely to provide the people of God with one more intercessor in heaven. Their ultimate purpose is to show us how to live, to lift up before us someone whose life became a living commentary on the Gospel, whose words echoed the word of God, whose actions enfleshed Christ’s own light, love and mercy. Anytime a Christian hero like Mother Teresa is elevated to the prayer of the altar, the Church does so precisely so that we may be inspired to imitate what is imitable in that person’s words, work and witness, to convert, and to build our life anew emulating that person’s faith, hope and love. Mother Teresa’s canonization, her feast day tomorrow on the 19th anniversary of Jesus’ calling his good and faithful servant to his Father’s home, and the 70th anniversary of her call within a call this Saturday, is a blessed opportunity for us to see how each of us, like her, is called by God to be a missionary of his love, to quench his infinite thirst for us and others, to care for him in the hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, imprisoned, unfamiliar, and needy, and to try to do with our life “something beautiful for God,” as she sought to do, and did, with hers.

Today’s readings help us to focus on the transformative call flowing from our baptism and the various excuses so many of us give to responding to the Lord as he deserves and desires. They shed light on what happened in Mother Teresa’s life and what is supposed to happen in ours.

A Faith that Revolutionizes Every Relationship

In the second reading, St. Paul tells Philemon that the way he should relate to his escaped slave Onesimus, who had cared for Paul in his Roman imprisonment, should be marked far more by the reality of their common baptism than by Roman class structure and law. Onesimus had escaped and for that reason was at a minimum going to be marked by a red-hot iron with a F for “fugitive” on his forehead and could even be crucified at Philemon’s whim. But Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon and asked him to receive him not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord, to welcome him as he would welcome Paul himself or even Christ himself. This is amazing: The reality of the indelible mark of baptism on Onesimus’ soul was to be far weightier, Paul suggested, than the branded F that should be seared into his forehead. And we have every reason to believe that that is exactly how Philemon welcomed Onesimus back, otherwise we almost certainly wouldn’t have had this personal letter of St. Paul preserved. This points to the type of revolution the Christian faith is supposed to work. Our faith in Christ, and what we know he asks of us, is supposed to be the central reference point for how we look at ourselves, how we look at others, and how we make our decisions. Philemon received God’s grace to welcome Onesimus no longer as a piece of property, no longer as someone who had stolen from him, but as a beloved spiritual sibling. The Christian faith is always supposed to transform the way we look at others. It certainly had that impact in Mother Teresa’s life. She took seriously Jesus’ words that whoever receives a little child in his name, receives him, and that whatever we do to the least of his brothers and sisters, we do to him. And she behaved accordingly, finding and loving Jesus Christ in the “distressing disguise” of lepers, the dying, those covered in maggots drowning in their own urine in gutters, those with AIDS/HIV, refugees, the disabled, the untouchables, abandoned, orphaned, unwanted and unborn children, and so many others. No one was a mere mortal, to use CS Lewis’ memorable expression: everyone was special for God and therefore special for her. God calls us all to this holy vision and to the actions that flow from it.

Transcending Timid Deliberations to Respond in Faith

In the Gospel Jesus out of love helps us to focus on the various excuses we give, still today, to acting on the call he gives us by our baptism, like he gave to Mother Teresa, to be holy as God is holy, and to love others as he has loved us first. He describes for us that our Christian faith is meant to be the most defining reality in our life, more powerful than our family, than our money and possessions, than our comfort, safety and even our life. The Book of Wisdom in the first reading reminds us that “indeed, the deliberations of mortals are timid and unsure are our plans. For the corruptible body burdens the soul and earthly shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.” Jesus wants to help us to transcend those timid deliberations, unsure plans, burdens of the body and weights of the soul. And so he tells us that in order to be his follower we must count the cost of discipleship. Just like someone building a tower needs to have enough in the budget for materials and a general to win a war needs to have enough well-trained troops, so we to be a follower of Christ need to know the commitment it’s going to take. He does this not to scare us away, but to give us proper expectations so that we will open ourselves to receive the help he’ll give to complete win the battle against the evil one and discouragement and to complete the building project of the Christian life.

Today he gives three conditions.

Loving God First and Above All

The first is, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” In other words, Jesus must be our greatest love. The word “hate,” in Hebrew, does not mean “detest” but to “put in second place. Jesus, after all, calls us to honor our parents, not hate their guts. Moreover, if he calls us to love even our enemies then we are certainly called to love our siblings. The point of Jesus’ expression is that we must love him more than we love ourselves or our loved ones. Jesus cannot just be a part of our life but the center. He clearly was for Mother Teresa, who was willing to leave her home and go first to Ireland, then to India and then to the ends of the earth because she knew that Jesus was calling her. Each of us in a similar way must put Jesus first, and this, frankly, will help us to love our loved ones more, not less, and seek their ultimate good and happiness through a contagious and consistent witness of a life of faith.

Willingness to Suffer for Him who Suffered All for Us

The second condition is, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” We need to be prepared to suffer out of love for Jesus and other; otherwise we will not be able faithfully to fulfill the journey of the Christian life. The clearest example of this is the martyrs, who were prepared to die rather than to sin, who were prepared to embrace the Cross all the way because they knew that the Cross would unite them to Christ. But we see this as well in Christian doctors, medical students and pharmacists who refuse to take part in any way in abortions, even if they might suffer professionally; in people who stick up for Christ and his teachings even when they suffer derision as a result at school, work or in their families; in those who sacrifice money and time to care for others and for the mission of the Church. Mother Teresa her Sisters have never been afraid of the Cross, because they recognize that the Cross is not so much a symbol of pain but of the love that makes that suffering bearable, and they recognize that by uniting themselves to Christ on the Cross they are responding to his thirst and sharing it.

Finding in Christ our real treasure

The final condition is, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” This seems to be a shockingly challenging condition, but Jesus was driving at something he had said elsewhere in the Gospel. “No one can serve two masters; for he will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other,” he said during the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 6:24). He then gave that sentence a clear practical application: “You cannot serve both God and money” (Mt 6:24). Unless we give up our love of money, unless we make the choice not to serve money, unless we sever the cord of being possessed by our possessions, then we cannot be his faithful follower. We cannot help but think of the Rich Young Man, who, when presented by Jesus with the path to true fulfillment through giving up what he owned, bestowing the money on the poor and storing up treasure in heaven and then coming after him, chose his stuff rather than Jesus. Jesus says that we cannot be his disciple unless we’re prepared to choose differently from the Rich Young Man, unless we’re ready to use all that we have to obtain the pearl of great price from Nazareth. This, likewise, Mother Teresa did, becoming poor together with Jesus, so that she might better serve the poor and lift them up in poverty. This led to a far greater trust in God’s providence because she wasn’t putting her faith, hope, love and security in the things of this world. And God responded. And she became one of the richest persons on earth in what matters most. God wants to enrich each of us by that same wealth, if only we detach ourselves from the things of this world so that we might be able to receive it.

Receiving the Jesus we later serve in disguise

All of today’s readings come together in what was the greatest joy of Mother Teresa’s holy life: her relationship with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist. This is where she reaffirmed the primacy of Jesus over all the other persons she loved in life, this is where she received the Body and Blood Jesus offered on the Cross, this is where she found her true treasure, this is where she recognized anew each day how others were related to her in Christ’s mystical body. She said, “If we have our Lord in the midst of us, with daily Mass and Holy Communion, I fear nothing for the Sisters nor myself; he will look after us. But without him I cannot be. I am helpless” (MFG, p. 26). She described her union with Jesus in Holy Communion and adoration as the source of her strength to care for him in the poorest of the poor. She saw that Jesus in the Eucharist and the poor are inseparable, that the One who said, “This is my body” is the same one who said, “I was hungry and you gave me to eat…” (cf. Mt 26:26; 25:35). And it spurred her to reverence and serve Christ in both ways. “Every Holy Communion,” she said in Los Angeles is 1977, “fills us with Jesus and we must, with Our Lady, go in haste to give him to others. For her, it was on her first Holy Communion day that Jesus came into her life, and so for all of us also. He made himself the Bread of Life so that we, too, like Mary, become full of Jesus. We too, like her, be in haste to give him to others. We too, like her, serve others.” And she summarized the secret of holiness, hers and others, by saying: “The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time that you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in heaven, and will help bring about an everlasting peace on earth.”

Today as we come together on the day of her canonization, we ask her intercession that we might pray this Mass with the devotion with which she did, as if it were our first Mass, our last Mass and our only Mass. We ask her to pray that our union with Christ in Holy Communion may spur us on to choose him above everyone else, to embrace him on the Cross, to find in him the real treasure of our heart, and to help us to enrich others with that same gift. And we beg her to continue to pray for us so that in our life, like in hers, we may do something truly beautiful for God and come to the place where she now rejoices with Jesus and all the saints forever. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta: pray for us!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 WIS 9:13-18B

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.

Responsorial Psalm PS 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17

R. (1) In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.
Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!
R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

Reading 2 PHMN 9-10, 12-17

I, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus,
urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment;
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave
but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

Alleluia PS 119:135

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Let your face shine upon your servant;
and teach me your laws.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel LK 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”
Mother Teresa Canonization Painting