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September 12, 2016

When she was alive, St. Teresa of Kolkata was feted by the rich and powerful. Ordinary Christians were drawn by her unalloyed following of the Gospel to work and pray with her amidst the poorest of the poor.

It cannot be said that she redefined Christianity. She simply did what she asked of others - doing small things with great love. For that, she was admired by all but the most churlish observers.

St. Teresa did things that anyone can do, but few attempt. Her faith and love of Jesus enabled her to see God's presence in every moment.

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI said that in Mother Teresa "we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service" (36).

Prayer can be seen as wasted time, time that might be better spent on attending to the ills of the world. However, St. Teresa flipped that perception: Worldly injustices can only be properly attended to if we link them to God's love, in prayer.

While many went to work with her in Kolkata, she taught that one does not have to leave home to serve Jesus in the poor. The greatest disease today, she said, is that of feeling unwanted, of being the victim of indifference. That disease is present every place in the world, and it needs to be healed. We heal it by overcoming our indifference, by tending to Christ in the person who is annoying or invisible.

St. Teresa was not indifferent to the injustice in the world. The call to overcome injustice is a central Christian call, one repeatedly underlined by the popes of the last 125 years. However, she recognized that by focusing on injustice she could no longer be Christ to everyone. To challenge injustice can make one a focal point for division.

She opened her first house in Kolkata in 1952; by the time of her death 45 years later her order, the Missionaries of Charity, had 4,000 sisters serving in 610 missions in 123 countries. It was all the result of prayer and of doing small things with great love.

The surprise is not what St. Teresa accomplished; it is that, given the clear teachings of the Gospel, more of us are not like her.