With the canonization of Mother Teresa today in Rome by Pope Francis amid widespread rejoicing by all who loved her and her inspiring example of compassionate love for the poorest of the poor, there are of course, the (inevitable) attacks being made on her charactor by her critics. Most of notable of whom was the late Christopher Hitchens, who charactorized her as a "fanatic, a fundamentalist and a fraud", who not only failed to make the lives of the poor better but actually made their lives worse.
Her fanaticism? She opposed abortion and euthanasia. He fundamentalism? She wholeheartedly accepted the teachings of the Catholic Church. Her fraudulance? She appreciatively accepted donations from all comers to support her work on behalf of the poor.
Was she perfect? She'd be the first to acknowledge her frailty and sinfulness. Was she ever mistaken in her judgements and decisions? Yes, of course. Did she live a holy life, worthy of emulation? Absolutely.
What I think her past and present critics miss is that she took literally and radically the words of Jesus, that as often as you perform the works of mercy for the poor, the despised and those who suffer, you do them to me. (Mt.25:31-46). The love she showed those whom she served was, for her, love lavished on Jesus himself. And just as importantly, she believed that what she and her sisters had to offer the poor was the love of Jesus. This love wasn't and isn't a program to eradicate poverty or improve medical care and public health (as laudable and necessary as those kinds of cooperative efforts are).
Instead, her purpose was to personally go to those who were at the most extreme margins of society and love them. To take in those so poor and abandoned that they were literally dying in the streets, and show them great love in their final days or hours. To relieve their physical hunger and thirst, of course, but also their spiritual hunger and thirst for acceptance and welcome, for reassuring and kind words, for a gentle touch, for a smile, for love.
The charity that she exemplified is always a sign of God's presence. Not as an act of religious propaganda, nor to convert the vulnerable and suffering people she served to Catholicism, but because God is revealed in Jesus as Love. The divine love that transforms us from enemies into friends and from strangers into brothers and sisters. The divine love that transforms our hearts so that we can love as He loves. The love that transformed the heart and the life of Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, known to all as Mother Teresa.
St.Teresa of Kolkata, pray for us!