Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk: “Mother Teresa put great love into the little things she did”


Interview with Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, Postulator for the cause of canonization of Mother Teresa, who is to be declared a Saint on September 4 in St Peter’s Square, Rome.

Filipe Domingues | O São Paulo | Shared with Focus on the Church

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is often presented as a model of unattainable holiness. However, the Postulator for her cause of canonization, the Canadian Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk, Missionary of Charity, says that exactly the opposite is true. He has worked for 17 years on the process of relating Mother Teresa’s virtues and the miracles received through her intercession. In an interview with the Brazilian newspaper O São Paulo, reproduced here on Focus on the Church by kind permission of the author, he maintains that Mother Teresa, patron saint of the poorest of the poor, is also the saint of the most ordinary things. For her, the quality of even our smallest actions springs from the love we put into them. “Most of the actions that she did are ordinary things that all of us can do,” he observes. Fr Kolodiejchuk replies to criticisms that have been levelled at Mother Teresa and states that the times of inner darkness she experienced make her still more worthy of admiration.

Filipe Domingues: We say in the Church that the saints are “friends and models”. What kind of saint is Mother Teresa? What kind of friend is she?

Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk: She’s a saint that’s not just admirable, but also imitable. Most of the actions that she did, her works of mercy, are themselves ordinary actions, ordinary things, actions that all of us can do. She would say, “Do small things with great love,” or “Do ordinary things with extraordinary love.” It’s the love with which we do them that gives them their spiritual value.

FD: Does that sum up her virtues?

BK: Within that, perhaps she reminds the Church and the world about the presence of the poor. She makes the world aware. When she would receive an award, she would say “in the name of the poor.” And that was also an occasion for her to speak of God.

FD: The way she could reach people outside the Church…

BK: That is in itself quite extraordinary! Perhaps not since St. Francis of Assisi has there been anyone who has had that kind of influence beyond the Church. You might see a movie where someone would say “Who do you think I am – Mother Teresa?” Our culture itself identifies Mother Teresa with love and kindness.

FD: The saints live through tough moments. Mother had to make difficult choices in her life, like founding her own congregation, being among the poorest, deciding in moments of life and death… Some people criticize her because of the people she received support from, like dictators… How would you describe her when it comes to her weaknesses?

BK: OK, but be careful because you mentioned accepting money from people that she should not have. If she knew that the money was ill-gotten or gotten in an improper way, she rejected it. I know that she once refused a gift of a million dollars for that reason. She didn’t receive any money from François Duvalier, the dictator of Haiti.

FD: That was Christopher Hitchens’ criticism.

BK: Some of the criticisms are simply false, in the sense that the fact is wrong. And then another kind of criticism will be a matter of perspective. If you criticize Mother Teresa because she is anti-abortion – what do you expect from a Catholic nun? Or some would say, “In Kolkata you should have built a hospital for the poor”, you know, a Western-style clinic. And she would say, “No, that was never my intention. My intention was a home for the dying.” Where you would keep people who were dying, in literally their last moments, minutes, hours, days, so that they would have the consolation of being loved and cared for. There was a man who was dying in Kalighat home for the dying, and he told us “I lived all my life in the street like an animal and now I’m dying like an angel.” So, Mother Teresa didn’t want to make any big institution. And they did receive the medical care they could have received, and if they would’ve gotten better they would be sent to another home the sisters have.

FD: What about the texts that show her moments of doubt?

BK: We had a special chapter on darkness in the Positio [a document for the canonization process], because it is a very distinctive and actually impressive aspect of her holiness. As Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane has lost this sense of the Father’s presence, so in the same way Mother Teresa is paradoxically living that union by not experiencing that union. So, it’s very painful for a woman passionately in love with Jesus, that wants to love him more than he has ever been loved before, and then it seems to her, on the level of feelings, that she is not wanted, that she is unloved, uncared for. And the heroic Christian life that she lived in spite of that. For me, it is actually the single most heroic aspect of her life. We would have thought I suppose at least she is experiencing a great consolation of union with Jesus, love for God, and that keeps her going. And then we find, on the contrary, that it’s the opposite, and she still did joyfully all the things that she did.

FD: What about her relationship with the Popes, mostly with John Paul II?

BK: The three characteristics of saints, typically, even as they may be very different, is love for the Church, expressed through love for the Holy Father, love for the Eucharist, and love for Mary, Our Lady. Her love for the Church was expressed in her love and fidelity to St. Peter, the Pope whoever it was. She had contact with Paul VI first, because she received the John XXIII prize given by Paul VI. With John Paul II it was quite a special relationship because he was elected in 1978, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. So, the years when she is most publicly visible are the years of John Paul II as Pope. She would come to Rome to see him, maybe in Mass. She would ask for advice. As George Weigel says in his biography of John Paul, in many ways Mother Teresa put into practice, made concrete, many of the teachings of John Paul. Respect for life, human dignity, the poor, love of Mary, love of the Eucharist.

FD: How do you think Pope Francis sees her?

BK: I don’t think they have such a personal connection. He says he met her in a Synod of Bishops once. But he often mentions her. Now, wanting to have this canonization in the Jubilee of Mercy, because mercy is one of the main things of his preaching and example as Pope. There is a new book I just put out, in English, Call to Mercy, about Mother Teresa and the 14 works of Mercy, corporal and spiritual. How Mother Teresa lived the example of that particular work of mercy. There are wonderful stories in there.

FD: Can you tell us one of the stories?

BK: Yes, there is one example that I myself saw. So, Mother is in an airport and because wherever she went there was public emotion among people when she walked in there, they are in a lounge, in a special room. And there’s all these people around Mother. Then, a woman walks in and kind of seemingly oblivious, no attention, she looked very very sad. So it is time to go to the gate to take the flight, and then Mother Teresa goes over to this woman and says “Hello, my name is Mother Teresa, here is my business card”. And the business card was not like a typical business card. But it was with her sayings: “The fruit of Silence is prayer. The fruit of Prayer is faith. The fruit of Faith is love. The fruit of Love is service. The fruit of Service is peace.” And one of the sisters looked back and saw this woman smiling. Just that little thing. Mother amid the crowd noticed this woman who was looking sad. Any of us can pay attention in a gesture of greeting, a smile, a word of encouragement. She would say, “You don’t have to go to Kolkata to find the poor. Look around you.”

FD: Her second miracle was in Brazil. What happened?

BK: I’ll summarize it. It happened in 2008. A friend of Fernanda gave her a novena to Mother Teresa and they began praying because Fernanda’s husband, Marcilio, had a bacterial infection in the brain, which led to multiple abscesses, and then hydrocephaly. They were praying to Mother Teresa and December 9th 2008, around 2 AM, Marcilio is in extreme pain because of the pressure of the water, the liquid in his brain. And then he goes into a coma. By the evening, they wanted to try to drain the fluid, but they couldn’t. There was some technical difficulty. So, the doctor, at 6:10 PM went to the operating room to find another doctor, and he couldn’t find the other doctor and he went back in around 6:40 PM. And Marcilio is now awake, no more coma. No more pain. And he says, “What I am doing here?” Meanwhile, his wife Fernanda was at her mother’s house, praying intensely to Mother, because she knew her husband was dying. And then there was a second miracle, a sub-miracle if you want to call it that. They were told they couldn’t have children and now they have two. It’s a beautiful story.

FD: What is Mother’s legacy? What should we celebrate when we think of her?

BK: Of course, every saint has the virtue of charity. The work for the poor is part of the legacy. But I would say also her fidelity in following her vocation. Fidelity of loving God even without the feeling. The very painful experience of seemingly not having God. In one of her letters she wrote, “Heaven means darkness to me.” And yet, at 4 AM in the morning she got up, she was always the first in the chapel. And then with her heroic faith, she would irradiate joy. She would say “Give whatever He takes, take whatever He gives, with a smile.”

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