Updated date:

Mother Teresa and the Path of Sainthood

Ashutosh enjoys writing on a variety of subjects including politics, current affairs, and social and religious issues.

the-path-of-canonisation

Saint Teresa

4th Sep'16, the 19th death anniversary of Mother Teresa and the much awaited big day as thousands of pilgrims, believers and 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 people's behalf to perform 'miracles'.

Formally declared saints are chosen by the pope, but only after a thorough investigation of the life, writings, and the legacy of the saint candidate.

Saint worship or adoration among the Catholics is often debated because 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.

the-path-of-canonisation

All Paths Lead to God

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910, in Skopje, Macedonia. At the age of 18 she set course for India and then there was no turning back. She joined the Loreto order of teaching nuns in 1928, before finding her inner calling to serve the poor in the streets and slums of Kolkata. An Albanian by birth, she acquired Indian citizenship in 1951.

She set up the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, in the slums of Kolkata in 1950. Her order began attending to the poor, sick and destitute in the streets of Kolkata and elsewhere ever since. These were mostly the poorest of the poor and those discarded or shunned by the society. That's perhaps what also fetched her the title 'saint of gutters'. When she passed away on 5th September 1997 in Kolkata, her mission already had a global outreach. More than 4,000 sisters operating roughly 600 orphanages, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and hospices for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy & tuberculosis in as many as 123 countries.

A humble and revered personality to the millions of followers in India and abroad, Mother Teresa has also often been referred to as the 'apostle of the poor'. A saint not for her beliefs but primarily for her care and concern for the dying and the destitutes. That has been an inseparable part of her legacy too. For her dedication towards Kolkata's destitute and ill, she was even felicitated with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Besides numerous global recognition, she also became the recipient of India's highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna in 1980.

The Road to Miracles

Here's a brief account of the two miracles associated with Mother Teresa that elevated her to sainthood posthumously. On Sep 5th, 1998, Monica Besra, a farmer's wife in Nakor village in West Bengal, India was miraculously cured of her abdominal tumor. The tumor Besra claimed, had persisted for last 20 years. She had lost hope in the doctors and the medical-aid she had been receiving. 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 to add, "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." Pope John Paul II declared this a miracle in Dec 2002, however the doctor treating Besra as well as her husband claimed that the healing was the result of the ongoing treatment. Though her husband later retracted his statement. This was the first miracle that aided in the beatification of Mother Teresa in 2003.

The second miracle needed to confer sainthood involved a Brazilian engineer Marcilio Haddad Andrino, who was cured out of his brain infection in December 2008. Marcilio had been sick for two years before it was discovered he had brain abscesses. His wife fervently prayed to Mother Teresa and he had a supposed miraculous recovery shortly before he was due to undergo surgery. He sat up, awake and without pain. He was declared to be symptom-free a day later. For the couple, it was the intercession that had saved his life.

the-path-of-canonisation

Thou Shall Not Sin

Alongside all the love, respect, admiration and praise showered on her, there have been plenty of detractors too. On her part, Mother Teresa's silence to the allegations thrown at her during her lifetime has remained the bone of contention among many. Whether it's her questionable associations with tainted leaders and businesses, or her work ethics and the practices adopted at her missions itself. The legacy to a large extent has been marred with controversies. The critique however goes beyond, with her being accused of carrying ulterior motives behind her selfless act -Accusing her of proselytising or converting the destitute Hindus of India to Christianity. While some critics add a more sadistic twist to notion of care at her hospices equating it with her ardent belief in suffering as a means to reach closer to god.

Her orthodox beliefs and regressive outlook has often been discussed and debated. Be it the 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. Thereby making some refer her as the 'false prophet'. Parallels have often been drawn vis a vis the care she received and that which she provided.

Further Skepticism
Over the years the living conditions and the quality of care at her hospices have remained substandard, poor and questionable. However, the charity money that her mission received 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. This further fans the fire of her alleged role in stacking up charity money in the Vatican accounts. Besides donations from whose who of the world, Mother Teresa's association with tainted money also has been well established and often raised the credibility question. In the 90's when the Charles Keating savings and loan fraud shocked the United States, it was revealed that Keating gave her $1.25 million of that swindled money. She has also been criticised for taking donations from Haiti’s ruler Jean-Claude Duvalier.

In India, various right wing organisations, ideologues and even some parliamentarians have time and again fiercely criticised and levelled allegations against Mother Teresa and the working and irregularities of her order. Besides them some of her staunch critics have been late British 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 a saint or a charity worker. He expresses similar thoughts in his book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice. He had accused her of writing to a California Superior Court judge seeking clemency for Charles Keating on account of his being “kind and generous to God’s poor.” He even made a critical documentary on her titled Hell's Angel. British-Indian author Dr. Aroup Chatterjee, too has been quite vocal in his critique on the misappropriation of funds, as well as the condition of medical care at the hospices operated by Missionaries of Charity in India. Specifically the repeated use and lack of sterilization of the medical kits. He expresses similar sentiments in his book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict. Apart from Dr. Aroup adding to controversy was a January 2013 research paper, published by a Canadian trio in French titled, "The Dark Side of Mother Teresa". The paper among other allegations also critically examined the sub-standard care and alleged malpractices at the hospices.

In July 2018 her mission was at the centre of a baby-trafficking scandal when a nun of Nirmal Hriday, a shelter home run by Missionaries of Charity in Jharkhand state of India, confessed to selling kids for money. Authorities had disclosed that babies were sold to childless couples for price tags varying between $550 and $1,450.

It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.

— Mohan Bhagwat, RSS Chief

Final Thoughts

It's often said that there is no end to the controversies in the life of rich and/or famous, even long after they're gone. Sages and saints are no exception and neither is Mother Teresa or her legacy. Even the so-called miracles attributed to her, and the journey into sainthood have been an area of disconnect. The controversy starts from the very fact that late Pope John Paul II bent Vatican rules to allow the procedure to establish her case for sainthood to be launched two years after her death instead of the usual five. Indeed one can agree to disagree but this is what a believer's paradox looks like. Of course a paradox solely meant for the believer. However, for a sane mind or anyone with a scientific/rational outlook, such miracles are simply hard to comprehend. Most likely they stand to be rejected not just 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 people involved in the miracles were suddenly or supposedly miraculously healed, it may very well have been due to the ongoing treatments. Although the sudden healing will still pose a big question mark! But as far as the cure is concerned, there is definite science to that and same can be factually established or rebuffed. This is one of the many reasons 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, disinformation, or the propaganda does not help one bit in adding credibility to such fanciful stories. Adhering to certain beliefs is absolutely fine, but where do we draw the line is really worth considering? Then again it's all a matter of faith and that's how the story concludes.

To some despite all the controversies that surround her, the fact that she's still remembered as Mother Teresa of Kolkata, and not as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church does speak of her legacy. Does she still need a validation in the form of a miracle? Probably not! However at the same time it's paramount that her legacy be viewed in entirety and not bits and pieces. So coming back to the crucial question of morals & ethics, and the law of the land. Certainly the smoke isn't entirely a smokescreen. How should one really view the misappropriation of funds; poor treatment of the dying; the orthodox stance on critical social issues; and the religious evangelism in the institutions? Is there a silver lining in all the critique? Indeed there are plenty of disconnects and detractors as far her work at the order is concerned. Some of her own actions have not been appropriate or were inappropriate, so as to speak of. Were there things that must be condemned? Unfortunately yes! However even in retrospective the yardstick to assess those actions would itself have to pass the test of time. The poorest of the poor, the homeless, those abandoned by their families, those terminally ill or with contagious diseases, did have roof and food on the plate in their final moments and some care too, even if it were substandard. Then again there is that crucial question of intent or malice. The discourse that might never get settled.

A lot of it is a matter of perspective and a whole lot of it driven by prejudices. This by no means implies that aren't any issues. But then again that's how it stands. Despite their shortcomings, the Missionaries of Charities continue to serve humanity wherever they are. Generations have been inspired to take up the cause. Speaking specifically of Mother Teresa, surely the halo surrounding her is not blinding enough. It leaves enough room to actually see the individual and their flaws too.

References

Kozicka, P. (2016, Mar 15). Is Mother Teresa worthy of sainthood? Some researchers don’t think so. Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/2578766/is-mother-teresa-worthy-of-sainthood-some-researchers-dont-think-so

Gowen, A. (Sep 2, 2016). The Vatican believes Mother Teresa cured this woman. But was it a miracle?. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/the-vatican-believes-mother-teresa-cured-this-woman-but-was-it-a-miracle

Chawla N. (Sep 22, 2016). A journey to sainthood. The Hindu.
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/A-journey-to-sainthood/article14620233.ece

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

Comments

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on February 27, 2018:

I understand, I don't write much and most of my hubs are not that popular either. It may be my writing style or the topics I choose but english is definately not the reason :) For being a third language, its an acquired skill that I continue to polish. You'll notice the difference in your own rightups in just about few months and that kind of helps.

Coming to the topic, as far as Mother Teresa or rather Saint Teresa is concerned, the good she did will always be acknowledged and appreciated but that doesn't mean, take away the space for critic or us making her a demigod based on some preposterous ideas. Anyway, that's my own understanding. Besides I dont write to please the fanbase.

Roohi from Himachal on February 27, 2018:

Hmm. When in your spotlighted articles, i spotted this one. I felt... Oh !! There is one topic i can relate to. So intrigued i read this one. :)

Don't want to comment about whether miracles happened or not. That's a decision for each individual's perceptions on faith or no faith. I can't even comment on Grammar :D

For me your English was good enough. Lolz... Coz i know where i stand. Verbs and tenses are always beyond me,.

But as for Mother Teresa. I respect her as an exceptional human being. Her Spiritual Views -- i don't always agree with all of them. But choosing the tough life, that she did. And living up to the demands of that kind of life. While never giving up. Is something not many human beings can do. Personally i have read her letters. And know how many times she struggled with her decision and apparent spiritual dry periods. Still she kept hanging on. To be able to give certain happiness and alleviate loneliness of one single person. Is something beyond ordinary human capability. And she showed much perseverance. For that , I respect her immensely.

Nice research by you ..

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on October 16, 2017:

Thankyou for your comment. Agree with the controversy bit and at the same time I also genuinely appreciate the great deal of humanitarian work she did, especially for the poor and desperate lot.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 16, 2017:

I like the reasoned way you approached this. Your arguments are persuasive. I admire Mother Teresa's devotion to the poor, but even in her lifetime she stirred up a number of controversies. Interesting read.

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on April 03, 2017:

@Yves thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Your words are truly encouraging.

Yves on March 31, 2017:

I believe it is important to question everything and I am glad that you do so...

I appreciate Mother Teresa.

I appreciate her because, after all, how many people choose to live a "poor man's" life when they don't have to?

That being said, perhaps not all perceived miracles are true miracles. That I can agree with. In any event, you have done this article justice and I enjoyed reading about your views.

BTW, don't pay any attention to Oztinato; he insults everyone.

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on October 18, 2016:

Miz, Appreciate your views, a much more balanced persepective. Thanks!

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on October 18, 2016:

Ashutosh, your hub is not poorly written. I am an editor of 33 years, and I might knit-pick out some small errors like comma usage and verb tense, but I'm not going to do that.

We have to remember that the "saints" of the Catholic Church are just the way of recognizing a job well done in the eyes of the church. Unfortunately, help from organized religion comes with a price. An example is the homeless shelters in the U.S.A. If they are Christian sponsored, a homeless person "pays" for his or her help by listening to a sermon from that church. Some are converted, but a good many are not.

As far as heavenly intercession goes, I think a person who is strong spiritually usually does not need a personal intercession. However, right now with the condition of the world, we all need to combine our efforts with the heavenly spirits to improve our world. BTW, I am a student of Djwhal Kuhl, whom I understand was a student of Lord Kuthumi, so I hope you know where I am coming from.

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on September 05, 2016:

I don't see the reason why people get all worked up when their faith is questioned directly or otherwise. I mean, if it is that weak than what's the point. Raising a question cannot be seen an attack on faith or religion whether its your or mine.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on September 05, 2016:

Ash

If you want to question your own faith that's fine. Go ahead. Each of us can only focus on our own faith not someone else's faith. As they say you can't eat for someone else; so why try?

Ashutosh Joshi (author) from New Delhi, India on September 04, 2016:

Poorly written or not, that's not the concern but Questioning Faith surely is. The sole purpose was not try and be offensive or derrogatory towards an individual but rather question the intent of this so called farce of miracle that has been constructed and much hyped for some ulterior motives.

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on September 04, 2016:

A poorly written hub filled with grammatical errors. The line of reasoning fails quickly and suddenly as the hub is way too brief.

It seems you have faith in your own writing abilities that is not warranted and is " faith beyond a limit of exaggeration".