Mother Teresa supplies sermon theme Homilies today to cite her life of good works

September 07, 1997|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

If a Christian wants to learn how to emulate the works of Jesus, look no further than Mother Teresa.

That is the message that will be delivered today from pulpits in Roman Catholic churches across Maryland as a result of Mother Teresa's death Friday in Calcutta.

Priests writing their sermons yesterday said they were suffering no writer's block this weekend: Mother Teresa's life of service to the poorest of the poor is reflected perfectly in the Scripture readings scheduled today, which speak of healing the blind, deaf and lame.

A passage from the Book of Isaiah speaks of the healing that will accompany the arrival of the Messiah: The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, the lame will leap like a stag and the tongue of the dumb will sing. The Letter of James instructs Christians to welcome the poor. And the Gospel of Mark tells of Jesus healing a deaf man.

"I think it's very easy to draw parallels between the readings and the things Mother Teresa not only did but continues to do through her sisters and the people who follow her inspiration," said the Rev. Patrick Tonry, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Sykesville.

The Rev. Donald E. Fest, a Josephite priest who is pastor of St. Veronica parish in Cherry Hill, said he will use his sermon to challenge his congregation.

"She has helped to focus our attention on the fact that the faces of the poor and suffering are the faces of Christ himself," he said. "I think in our society, we tend to walk past the hungry and either say, 'They deserve what they got' or 'Their lives are meaningless.' We may not think that, but we behave that way. We'll drive past them or walk past them and not even greet them.

"What [Mother Teresa] said is, 'This is where we encounter Christ and his own suffering, and if nothing else, we could at least greet them, receive them or help them.'

"I don't think there's been anyone more forceful than she to bring that idea home to us," Fest said.

Combating evil

Monsignor Robert A. Armstrong said that when he celebrates Mass at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen this morning, he will cite Mother Teresa as an example of how any individual person can fight against evil in the world.

Her life challenges Christians to help those less fortunate than themselves, "to assist people to enjoy the good of life and pull them from that which is degrading, undignified, that which we call evil."

"She is a good example of living out, as the Lord did, the ability to take what is less than good in life and change it through our own good actions and the help of God's grace," Armstrong said.

The Rev. Michael J. Orchik is pastor of the Shrine of the Little VTC Flower in Northeast Baltimore. The Little Flower is the name for a popular 19th-century French saint, Therese of Lisieux, who is known for her way of doing "ordinary things in extraordinary love and faithfulness," Orchik said.

When Mother Teresa took her religious name, she chose Teresa in honor of the Little Flower. Orchik sees a parallel between the two women.

"[Therese of Lisieux] demonstrates how we, in the so-called ordinary circumstances of our lives, can do the same kinds of things Mother Teresa has done in the public eye," he said. "And we can be as important in our witness as Mother Teresa was."

For many priests, it is impossible to overlook the timing of the deaths of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana last week.

"Both of these deaths have been issues for people," said the Rev. Frank Donio, a Pallottine priest who is administrator of the St. Jude Shrine in downtown Baltimore.

Particularly in the case of Diana, he said, "it was one of these things of 'Why do bad things have to happen to good people?' "

Reaching out

Diana had something in common with Mother Teresa, Donio said. "She was at least attempting to reach out to those who were suffering in life," he said. "And Mother Teresa spent a lifetime doing that.

"The confluence of events really has grabbed people and left them thinking," he said. "I know, for me, I would like to grasp the opportunity for that kind of reflection."

The Rev. Francis X. Callahan of St. Margaret parish in Bel Air sees another parallel between Diana and Mother Teresa: their fraility. Mother Teresa, as she grew older, had constant health problems, and Diana's battles with eating disorders and depression were well publicized.

"It's one thing to be healthy and good and reach out to others," Callahan said. "It's another thing to be a wounded healer.

"A wounded healer, that was Diana," he said. "And you look at Mother Teresa, that was her, too."

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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