Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Should Mother Teresa be canonized?

I feel I may be opening a can of worms here, but I think that it might be worth it to bring up this important topic. I have been motivated to write on Mother Teresa after reading some of Athanasius' posts on the late John Paul II. There, Athanasius posited the argument that though nobody doubted the sincerity and virtue of the late Pontiff, his failures in his role as shepherd and guardian of the deposit of faith make him an unsuitable candidate for canonization. I here propose a similar assertion for Mother Teresa: while nobody doubts the goodness of her deeds working among the poor in Calcutta, her statements about God in reference to non-believers, are extremely problematic. This is especially troubling since missionary work was her primary goal (ie, the conversion of souls to the true faith for love of God). In looking at her cause for sainthood, the problem lies in the matter of faith, the first and most important of the heroic virtues necessary to be proclaimed a blessed.

Before I go on, let me warn you against having a knee-jerk reaction against what I am about to say. "How can you say that about Mother Teresa? She did so much good - you don't know her heart!" True - she did more good than I'll ever do. But this isn't about "knowing her heart"; it's about reading some very troubling statements she made in writing. So, if you want to accuse me of arrogance or foolishness in stating that she should not be a saint, please direct your comments towards the actual words of Mother Teresa, which are the subject of this post.

So, what did Mother Teresa do that was so suspect to sound doctrine? Take this quote, taken from her her authorized biography:

"I would die for my Catholic faith but I would never try to force it upon any one. We never know how God is speaking to a person. I hope to help Muslims become better Muslims, Hindus better Hindus, Christians better Christians." (Symbol of Selflessness, World, Vol. 12, No. 18 (Sept. 20, 1997), 11.

Make "Hindus better Hindus?" How about making Hindus into Catholics! Working among the poor is great, but if it does not lead to conversions, then you are wasting your time in ministering only to the bodily needs while neglecting the more weighty matters of the soul. "Better to enter enter eternal life maimed than to have your whole body cast into hell..."Nor is this an isolated statement of Mother Teresa. Here is a similar quote:

"There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. We believe our work should be our example to people. We have among us 475 souls - 30 families are Catholics and the rest are all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs—all different religions. But they all come to our prayers." (http://www.ewtn.com/motherteresa/words.htm)

In fact, this seems to be something she likes to repeat again and again. Elsewhere, in Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work (by Desmond Doig, Harper & Row, NYC, 1976, p.156), Mother Teresa affirms, “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, and a better whatever we are.... What God is in your mind you must accept”. "What God is in your mind you must accept"? That sounds like the God of alcoholics anonymous, not of Catholicism. Not only was she looking to make "better Muslims", but she herself frequently allowed her sisters to participate in the idolatrous worship of false religions. Take this quote from one of her recollections:

“We went every day to pray in some temple or church. The Archbishop gave us permission to do so. We prayed with the Jews, the Armenians, the Anglicans, the Jains, the Sikhs, the Buddhists, and the Hindus. It was extraordinary. All hearts united in prayer to the one true God” (Proclaiming the Gospel, April 1997).

"Hearts united in prayer to the one true God"? Hinduism has an estimated 330 million Gods. Which of these 330 million was Mother Teresa praying to, and how did she know that it was synonymous with the "one true God?" This is my main problem with her: Mother Teresa seems to have been a believer in syncretism, that all religions basically worship the same God and that they are all equally valid paths to Him. This she proclaims in a letter written to the Indian President: “Some call Him Ishwar, some call Him Allah, some simply God, but we have to acknowledge that it is He who made us for greater things: to love and be loved. What matters is that we love. We cannot love without prayer, and so whatever religion we are, we must pray together.” For any traditional Catholic, the idea that the Trinitarian God is the same as Allah or Ishwar is blasphemous.

Furthermore, her one "miracle" is weakly attested. In 2002 the Vatican recognized one miracle, the cure of Monica Besra, a 35-year-old villager from northern India cured of an ovarian tumor. Besra and the Missionaries of Charity claim that the tumor vanished in September 1998 when a medallion with an image of the late Albanian nun was applied to the site of her pain.

However, Dr. Ranjan Mustafi, chief gynecologist who treated the woman at Balurghat District Hospital in West Bengal, says that it was quite possible that his patient was cured by four anti-TB drugs she was taking at the time, which could have dissolved the tumor. He said he admires Mother Teresa greatly and thinks she should be beatified for her work among the poor. But not for this case. “She [Besra] had a medical disease which was cured by medical science, not by any miracle,” he says. His hospital superiors back him up, saying that records show she responded to the treatment steadily. Five doctors in Rome consulted by the Vatican on the case disregarded this scientific probability and hastily agreed there was no medical explanation for the cure. Mustafi said he was never contacted by the Vatican.

Monica Besra, of course, believes in the miracle (by the way, her own husband disbelieves in the miracle and attributes the healing to the doctors), but admits that she was receiving medical treatments from the doctors at the state-run Balurghat Hospital at that time. “Those who love Mother will believe,” she says simply. That she loves Mother Teresa there is no doubt. But it is not sentiment that determines the value of a miracle in the normal processes of the Catholic Church…

This is a far cry from the kind of scrupulous verification that went into determining the authenticity of the Lourdes miracles in 1858. How can the Vatican approve a miracle when they never even contacted the doctor in the case? Besra's statement that "Those who love Mother will believe" sounds a lot like the Medjugorje enthusiasts who blindly defend Medjugorje no matter what facts present themselves that the supposed apparitions are fraudulent. So in this case: the woman appeals to emotion and "love" over the head of careful inquiry and scrupulous analysis.

I do not think Mother Teresa deserves to be raised to the altars. Do I believe she is in Heaven? I think she is absolutely on her way there. She loved Jesus passionately and exercised heroic virtue when it came to serving men. But she unfortunately did this at the expense of the pure truth of the faith. As Athanasius says about John Paul II, I will pray for Mother Teresa, but not to her.

We should also ask, how many conversions did she affect in India? St. Vincent Ferrer is said to have converted over 50,000 Muslims. We hear so many stories of Mother Teresa's acts of compassion and love and how people were changed by her; how many conversions have the Sisters of Charity recorded? I haven't heard any numbers on this. My guess is because there aren't many. Why would there be? After all, Mother Teresa herself said, "It is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim."

Mother Teresa is a wonderful role model for serving the poorest of the poor. But let us reject all forms of sycretism and remember the words of Sacred Scripture: "All the gods of the heathen are demons, but the Lord made the heavens" (Psalm 95:5).


Alexander said...

To the last part:
Even of there was a lot of conversions would the converts, who owe their conversion to Mother Teresa, follow her lead in her perception of other religions?

Also, I can never get a straight answer on whether or not canonizations are infallible.

What do you think?

Boniface said...

It is my understanding that canonizations are infallible; in fact, that they are the most frequent infallible declarations of the Church. I don't think the Church could ask us to pray to them and also have the Mass offered in their honor if there was any doubt that they were among the Blessed.

However, it is my understanding that only the canonization itself is infallible; the motives for canonization, evidence leading to canonization and alleged miracles could all be fraudulent, but in the end, the declaration (that so-and-so is in heaven) can still be authentic.

So, Mother Teresa's "miracle" could be fake, the reasons for speeding up her canonization based on promoting the "new ecumenism", and the judgment of her heroic viture even misguided. But in the end, if she is proclaimed a Saint, this is protected and led by the Holy Spirit, though it may not be for any of the reasons that the Church authorities cited.

I have often wondered this about certain saints who were canonized for political reasons, as was common in the Middle Ages. I do not doubt one bit that St. Thomas More or St. Thomas Becket, both martyrs, are in heaven (Tradition itself says that martyrdom alone merits heaven), but I also know that their canonizations were heavily motivated by the papacy's desire to make a political statement about the affairs of the Church in England at those given periods. Regardless of the motivation, the canonizations are solid.

However, I know of know documentation to back this up; it is just my understanding and a little bit of common sense.


Anonymous said...

There is a lot of controversy surrounding Mother Teresa. Militant atheists such as Christopher Hitchens have claimed that she was more interested in spreading the Catholic faith than helping the poor, citing as an example her habit of offering the sacrament of baptism to the dying people in her hospitals. Many of them accepted and were ministered to by a priest. This, according to Hitchens and his supporters, is a sure sign that she wasn't really concerned with the physical welfare of her patients at all.

Mother Teresa was a complex human being like any other. I think it is important to realise that she was not a saint from day one. Holiness is a journey, and naturally her understanding of the world and her way of dealing with people would have changed as her prayer life and her awareness of God deepened. A flawless life is not a criterion for sainthood. If it were there could be no saints.

Mother Teresa made her mistakes and committed her sins - the full extent of which are known only to God. Similarly, He alone knows the full extent of her love. She has been pronounced blessed. The Holy Spirit has spoken through the Church; we know that Mother Teresa is in Heaven and can pray for us. It doesn't make sense to speculate on WHY she is in Heaven, as only God knows that one.

This reminds me of a book by the Carmelite nun Ruth Burrows, in which she talks about the canonisation of Therese of Lisieux. Sister Ruth mentions that Therese's fellow-nuns all had a very strange idea about what made Therese holy and tried to present her as the kind of person who even sneezed in a saintly fashion. The same applies to Mother Teresa. We can't know everything about her. That's between her and God.

Anonymous said...

Although troubling, I don't think these published words of Mother Theresa are contrary to the document from the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate (article 2):
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, she proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself.

And although I may not agree with the interpretation/implementation of much of the Vat II documents, I don't believe that Mother Theresa misinterpreted or misimplemented the wisdom of Nostra Aetate here. I think she could consistently respect the element of truth in these various religions, and encourage her patients to pursue that truth, without being guilty of relativism or syncretism. The bottom line: If any of Mother Theresa's Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists made it to heaven, it wasn't because of Mohammad, Krishna, or the Buddha; it was because of Christ's sacrifice, and I'm sure Mother Theresa recognized that.

Editor said...

This is quite interesting and very insightful. I believe she is in heaven though. We should also never forget the weight of AGAPE over PISTIS. Love (Charity) over-weighs Faith but of course must be with the context of Faith. (c.f. 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 4)

Pax in Christo