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A saint, not a social worker. March 6, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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What is it about saints that makes them so hard to understand? Just today, our friend Ben read yet another attack on Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Was Mother Teresa actually sort of a jerk?” The article reported on a new study that, once again, denounced Mother Teresa for her shortcomings as a social worker.

The attacks are always the same: Why wasn’t Mother Teresa trying to heal the dying destitute rather than “simply” showing them the face of love during their final days or moments? Why wasn’t she using her vast influence to raise money for social programs like better housing, sanitation, and education for the poor? Why wasn’t she building hospitals crammed with doctors and all the latest technology? Why wasn’t she doing what any philanthropist, any Peace Corps or Habitat for Humanity or other social worker, would do, given her media exposure and resources? Why wouldn’t she, in short, do what we would have done in her place?

Well, duh. It’s because Mother Teresa wasn’t a philanthropist or a social worker, a do-gooder trying to create better, more equitable material conditions for all, to address the gross injustice of a world where the poor are left to die alone in the gutters while the rich speed past in their chauffeured cars. No. What Mother Teresa was trying to do with all her strength was to model the life and teachings of her Lord, Jesus Christ, to the best of her humble ability.

The Lord Jesus, as you may recall, didn’t spend His short time on earth raising money for the poor. Instead, He said that “the poor ye have always with you” and “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s [i.e., material goods] and unto God that which is God’s [a reverential spirit].” You may also recall that Jesus’s betrayal and death came about specifically because of this attitude: The straw that broke Judas’s back was when Jesus allowed Mary to anoint him with precious balm that could, in the social worker Judas’s mind, have instead been sold for a good sum of money that could have then been used to help the poor.

Like Mother Teresa, like Saint Francis, Jesus was no social worker. His work was the saving of souls, the all-consuming, heartfelt attempt to manifest the love of God Creator to each individual, to show them that the Kingdom of Heaven was within, in the heart, not in the hypocritical holier-than-thou outward show of religious organizations and elite individuals such as the Pharisees. He specifically pointed out the alms-giving of the Pharisees, accompanied as it was by a flamboyant show sure to attract the attention of passersby to the man’s good deed, as hypocrisy and displeasing to God.

For Mother Teresa, too, the whole point was to see each starving, maggot-ridden, befouled man, woman and child pulled from the gutters of Calcutta—and let’s not forget, completely ignored and left to die there by the rest of the population that’s now in such a hurry to condemn her—as her own Lord “in His distressing disguise,” and to love each of them as she loved Him. She set up homes for the dying destitute, hospices, not hospitals. Her goal was to show each person the total, unjudging, accepting, all-encompassing love of God as they passed from this world to the next, not to somehow “cure” them and send them back to their lives of loneliness, misery and suffering.

To me, it is our modern attitude that life must be preserved at all costs, even if someone is in a vegetative state, even if they are horribly disfigured or suffering the agonies of the damned from end-stage cancer or other horrible diseases, even if they would give all they had ever posessed to be allowed to die in peace, that is the great sin. We wouldn’t let our dogs suffer like that. How dare we inflict such suffering on our fellow humans? How could we inflict it even on the ones we love the best? God have pity on us.

The news for the past few days has been full of the story of a nurse who refused to give CPR to an 87-year-old woman in a nursing home. We’re all supposed to be outraged and condemn the nurse as a monster of inhumanity, someone who should, at the very least, be jailed for life. But no one is talking about the quality of life of an ailing 87-year-old woman who’d been abandoned by her family and condemned to live out her final years in a nursing home.

Perhaps she’d been praying from the time of her arrival to be allowed to die. Perhaps she’d have given everything to be allowed to die in the loving arms of Mother Teresa or one of her nuns, knowing that, even if her family had abandoned her, there was someone there who understood, someone who loved her even to the end.

A saint is someone who sees beyond the body to the heart and soul, to the person who lives within the body. A saint is someone who sees the face of their Lord in every face they see, be it a dying beggar or Princess Diana. A saint is not a social worker. Their work is in the realm of the spirit, in the realm of the beloved. In a world where material wealth and glamour are valued above all things, to attack a humble woman who tried to show us where true value lay is obscene, an abomination.

Our friend Ben is not trying to say that social workers and philanthropists don’t do good work, have good intentions, and have their place. I wish there were millions more of them out there fighting social injustice and trying to improve the daily lives of the deprived and make them comfortable.

But for every million social workers out there now, for every billion, there is one Mother Teresa, one Saint Francis, one Saint Peter. One who truly heard the message of the Lord Jesus and attempted to mirror it to an uncaring, grasping, self-centered world.

Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s. And render unto God those pure spirits, like Blessed Mother Teresa, which are God’s.



1. William - March 7, 2013

Nicely written and spot on. I hope there will be many people that read this and put to thought what you have written.

Thank you, William! I’m always stunned when this happens, as it does again and again. Our total failure to understand the centrality of disinterested love to life is the tragedy of our age.

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