Mother Teresa's Example Can Inspire Troubled Church
The Best Way to Overcome Scandal Is with Acts of Charity

By Tom Ashcraft
The Charlotte Observer [United States]
Downloaded March 6, 2004

"Woe to the world because of scandals! For it must needs be that scandals come, but woe to the man through whom scandal does come!" Matt. 18:7, quoting Jesus.

A sizeable portion of Catholic priests have committed gross injustices and grave sins against children, for which criminal prosecutions are due. But equally bad, through abject mismanagement, many bishops have created a scandal unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church in America.

Whether ordinary criminal law will reach the perpetrators of such mismanagement is unknown. But Jesus' words, which he tells us will survive heaven and earth, certainly will.

Traditional Catholic teaching says that charity obliges all Christians to meet their neighbors' temporal and spiritual needs. From this precept it follows that causing harm through scandal is an offense against charity.

Who can doubt this current scandal has repelled many from the Gospel -- perhaps the most uncharitable of acts? Yet St. Peter asserts that charity itself covers a multitude of sins. Therein may lie the remedy.

More than new programs and policies, more than additional news conferences and press releases, more than another study -- beyond aping politicians -- the bishops need to cultivate charity in the discharge of their office.

Charity for priests committing crimes would have compelled prompt fraternal correction, not years of avoidance. Charity for young victims would have led to compassion and personal help, rather than zealous legal defense.

Charity for the faithful would have nipped the whole problem in the bud, long before the scandal's cost approached $1 billion in church funds.

Though the bishops have many examples in Christian history to draw from, they couldn't do better for a model of charity than Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, born in Skopje, Serbia, Aug. 26, 1910, died in Calcutta, India, Sept. 5, 1997. Several months before her death she had visited the United States and received a Congressional Gold Medal for "outstanding and enduring contributions to humanitarian and charitable activities."

The woman is Mother Teresa. She started the Missionaries of Charity working alone in the slums of Calcutta in 1948.

At her death there were some 4,000 Sisters, over 400 Brothers, and countless priests and lay helpers working for the poor around the world.

Four of her Sisters live in the Cherry neighborhood and work in Charlotte.

How did she do it? Mother certainly would insist that she didn't, that it was the result of God's grace. But her cooperation was essential, and what a game heart she had.

According to Kathryn Spink's 1997 biography, while a member of the Loreto Sisters based in Ireland and teaching school in India, Mother Teresa received "the call within a call." On Sept. 10, 1946 on a train trip to Darjeeling, she heard an unmistakable message. "I was to leave the convent and help the poor while living among them," she said.

Only a few brave souls initially joined her, but in time a flood of others came. The Sisters took the usual religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and a fourth: "wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor."

According to Spink, Mother's call was tied to three New Testament passages.

Hanging on the Cross, Jesus said, "I thirst." Spoken by the God made man, this reflected both God's love for souls and man's yearning for God. The Missionaries responded with the express aim to "quench the infinite thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for the love of souls."

Second, Jesus said to the woman at the well, "Give me to drink." This thirst too could not be satisfied by water alone but required love. The name Missionaries of Charity means carriers of God's love.

Third, Jesus made himself one with the poor: "For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me." In the distressing disguise of the poor, the Missionaries see Christ himself.

After observing so much physical poverty, Mother Teresa said of the wealthy nations: "Here you have a different kind of poverty -- a poverty of the spirit, of loneliness and of being unwanted. And that is the worst disease in the world today, not tuberculosis or leprosy."

Mother Teresa was not afraid to take on the world. She did it with charity based on the love and sacrifice of her Savior.

That is what the bishops need, if they would but follow her example.



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