In a brief count of saints, there are at least 148 who were mothers, and Marie-Azelie Guerin Martin’s daughter was a saint, too—like Marie Zhao Guoshi in China whose daughters Marie and Rosa were martyred with her. Many mothers in the Middle East are appearing in heaven during these days of genocide possibly faster than ever. Every nation and race has mother saints: Eanfleda of England, Elizabeth of Hungary, Margaret of Scotland, Hedwig of Poland, Gianna Molla of Italy, all the way back to the holy mothers of apostles. There must be mother-in-law saints, though they may have been fewer. Blanche of Castille might qualify if only for her terrible zeal, like a Christianized Spartan mother, telling her son Saint Louis that she’d rather have him dead at her feet than to have him commit a mortal sin. The chroniclers have kept private what her daughter-in law Marguerite thought of her.
Ask to name the great ladies of America and you will get Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother Frances Cabrini and Mother Marianne Cope and Mother Theodore Guerin. There is an instinct to call them Mother as a title even nobler than Saint. It is a reverberation from the Cross, when the Son gave us nothing less than a Mother. It was his last word to the human race before he died.
The canonization of Teresa of Calcutta gives the kind of satisfaction that comes from having your mother declared Mother of the Year. More important is the fact that she is a mother. Demographically, the cradles of our land are covered with cobwebs. Motherhood itself is in danger. To prefer motherhood over a corporate career may seem an insult to the autonomous self. At the 2016 Democratic convention, a speaker was cheered when she announced that she had aborted her baby for the sake of her of her professional job. A macabre acoustics twisted Rachel weeping for her children who were not, into Rachel laughing because her children were not. This also obtains in some religious orders: Reverend Mothers have refashioned themselves as presidents, declaiming “peace and justice and climate change” instead of salvation. As one cannot fool Mother Church for long, those orders are evaporating.
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Experience is a relentless mentor, and hard experience teaches that Satan hates mothers, biological and spiritual. Mother Teresa was a mother for an orphaned world, and her canonization will bring out the banshees barking. The infernal vaults shudder every time a saint is placed on the calendar. But every slur and slander is the Anti-Christ’s backward Te Deum. Various websites already are denouncing the event, and I have read one by a recent graduate of a university where Mother Teresa gave a commencement address and was booed for mentioning chastity. The graduates in that crowd probably thought themselves the brightest and best of their generation, and since then, some have aborted many of their sons and daughters who might have been as intelligent and, by God’s grace, wiser than they. How many of their children might have grown up to write symphonies and paint great murals and cured cancers? To ask that question is the only utterance our libertine culture considers obscene.
As for haters, the Marxist historian of India, Vijay Prashad, has expressed his chagrin at the canonization of Mother. The odd intensity of his scorn seems exaggerated in one who considers the Church irrelevant. Mother is not his only target. Among other causes, he is a member of the advisory board of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. The Pakistani radical, Tariq Ali, has indicted Mother for speaking to dictators, while he wept at the death of his hero Che Guevara and called Hugo Chavez a “political great.” In fairness to him, he called the vaudeville atheist Christopher Hitchens, a “saloon-bar boor” but only after Hitchens, like a broken clock that is right twice a day, had said that his hero Trotsky was not perfect. Those who delicately called Hitchens a curmudgeon, might also say Caligula was a tease and Ghengis Khan was hyperactive. Hitchens published some comments about Mother not suitable for print. One does not need to be a Freudian to trace his animus to the day he had to identify the corpse of his own mother after she had committed suicide. He wrote beautifully and, had he analyzed himself, he might have written pages about mother even finer than Muggeridge’s “Something Beautiful for God.” In preparing the memorial Mass for William F. Buckley in the Cathedral of Saint Patrick, I chose the hymns. Hitchens attended and sang those hymns lustily, telling someone later that he liked a good tune. It would be a high favor if on the day of her canonization, Mother was able to pull him up close to her as a son, putting the words to the music.
Mother’s Marxist defamers will have to contend with God’s elegant moral asymmetry by which Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje, in present day Macedonia, and had citizenships over the early violent years as an Ottoman, Serbian and Yugoslavian. Her homeland was the notorious ground of tension between Josip Broz “Tito” and Enver Hoxha whose Albanian state was probably the world’s only officially atheist country. Its priests were slaughtered and, by May 1967, all 2,169 churches and shrines were confiscated, a decade before a new constitution prohibited all “fascist, religious, warmongerish, antisocialist activity and propaganda.” Those tyrants and their hellish utopias are now gone, while Mother’s face smiles on official postage stamps. Saint John Vianney was surprised when a dark voice growled: “If there were three priests like you, my kingdom would be ruined.” May there be more mothers like Mother Teresa, but on her own she was able to harrow a small corner of Hell in the Balkan Peninsula.
I have written elsewhere of encounters with Mother over nine years, but I cannot neglect the time I was rushing to say Mass for her and her sisters in Rome and was chased by what would be called a “junkyard dog.” Perhaps the early hour, half day and night, made him seem more vicious. After I had managed the difficult acrobatics of jumping over a high wall in my cassock, Mother was on the other side to welcome me without comment, as though this were the sort of thing that always happens. In the days before “selfies” we had no picture of the two of us walking hand in hand through a field of poppies on the outskirts of Rome, and later trying to hitch a ride because of a trolley strike—and, remarkably, no one stopped. That is etched on the memory, like the time on my way to offer the Holy Sacrifice for her and her community, I felt conflicted because of a sin—a venial one, but a sin nonetheless. Afterward, she gave me breakfast and, watching me eat, she told me quietly and without prompting exactly what was on my conscience.
She told me once after Mass that the “saddest thing in the world” was to watch people receiving the Blessed Sacrament irreverently. She motioned with her hands but she was speaking of the inward disposition of the soul and not the physical manner of Communion, whether in the hand or on the tongue. I mentioned this in a broadcast talk that was widely interpreted as Mother’s disapproval of Communion in the hand. This distressed her since the bishops had conceded both forms. She always received on the tongue and I have a photograph of me giving her Communion with the late Cardinal Mayer in Rome—he administering the Host and I with the Precious Blood as she often received both species. It may be that Communion on the tongue better avoids profanation especially in urban churches where there are many anonymous people who might abuse the Sacrament. But Mother did not want to be invoked in polemics. No sentimentalist, she ordered me to write a correction for a newspaper that had reported that she opposed Communion in the hand. I told her that I would “pray and then write” to which she replied like a Marine sergeant: “No! We need this right away! I pray! You write!” I transcribe the exclamation points I heard in her voice. I have lost count of the number of times I have explained this, and not a few have ignored and even resented what I wrote at Mother’s behest. I hope this puts the matter to rest. I doubt it will. Well-intentioned people can be their own worst enemies and not all sons and daughters want to hear what their Mother says.
On that hot and depressing August 9, 1974, when Richard Nixon made his final address to the hounds of the media, he said, “My mother was a saint.” With all his flaws that by comparison with others in our national pantheon seem adolescent, his chief anchor and steadiest ballast was his mother long gone. A munificent grace was the day I introduced my own mother to Mother Teresa. Hearing the two of them was like eavesdropping at Pentecost. She thanked Mother Teresa for all her good work. Mother ignored that and thanked my mother for being a mother of a priest. I could shrink whenever I think of that but Mother always made a priest feel big, despite his shortcomings. After Mass, she would kiss the hands of the priest and thank him for having brought Jesus to her. She also would ask the priest to remember her each time he put the drop of water into the wine in preparing the chalice at the Offertory. I try to do that each day. I shall not be at the canonization but I know she will be at every altar everywhere, watching with Mary the Mother of the Church.
(Photo credit: RAVEENDRAN/AFP)