Mother Teresa, Saint or Sinner?

mother_teresa_costume218Ever since the publication of Christopher Hitchens book, The Missionary Position, I keep hearing from people who believe that Mother Teresa was twisted person who intentionally perpetuated poverty rather than relieving it because she believed things were better that way.  I attended a discussion for an unrelated book last night in which one of the audience member commented that Teresa kept people poor because she thought it would help them get to heaven.  The moderator pushed back at that idea, but it obviously had some currency with those present.

I’m not an expert on Teresa, and I haven’t gotten around to Hitchens’ book.  So no answers here, but I do have this question.  I wonder whether its the case that Mother Teresa’s admirers and detractors would all essentially agree on the facts of what she did, but interpret them in almost opposite ways.  Could it be that she chose to focus on comforting the sick and dying rather than relieving poverty because that was her calling, her charism, and she needed to focus on bringing a personal touch to as many people as possible in Calcutta?  Those who fell under the influence of her ministry certainly seemed grateful.  Hitchens, whose vision goes no further than the material comforts of this life has no appreciation for a touch of grace to the dying because it doesn’t solve anything he can see.  It has no tanglible results.  But with every hug, every bath, every spoonful of soup brought to the lips of an invalid, Teresa was sowing grace amidst despair.

I’m not opposed to poverty relief efforts–quite the opposite!  But I do recognize that there is more than one kind of good work in the world.  I’d be cautious about criticizing someone for doing a kind of good work different than the one I prefer.  There’s room for both.

And I’m definitely of the opinion that Teresa is just too tempting a target for my atheist friends.  There’s a little too much glee in the criticisms.  What a delight it is to show that the woman so admired around the world was a fraud!  If the iconic holy woman of the modern age was really a pathological deviant, then there can’t be anything to that Christianity stuff after all, can there?

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2 Comments

Filed under Atheism, Books, Politics and Culture

2 responses to “Mother Teresa, Saint or Sinner?

  1. Nan

    Have you read her biography or Come be my Light, which is a compilation of her letters?

    Blessed Teresa did a lot to alleviate poverty; the problem is that most people in the developed nations don’t realize how spoiled we are. In addition to starting schools in the slums, so that children would at least be educated, she picked people up from the gutter, whose families had abandoned them, created homes and jobs for those win Hansen’s disease and fed an awful lot of people.

    Also, one must consider that she was first in India during the Bengal wars and that India has a caste system that ensures that the poor are kept poor; they’re only allowed to do certain work. While I realize that has changed to a certain degree, during the time Bl. Teresa was working in India, it was completely in effect.

    In addition, Bl. Teresa’s work wasn’t limited to Calcutta, she has houses in many cities of India as well as all over the world; I was at Mass in honor of her Feastday; properly her feastday as the Missionaries of Charity have a house locally and asked the church to have Mass for them.

  2. Anthony

    well…St. Paul the Apostle did say that he rejoiced in his sufferings for the body of Christ, which is the church.

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