On September 4, 2016, Pope Francis canonized Mother Teresa, now known as St. Teresa of Kolkata. This diminutive nun was known to a woman named Susan McCaffrey for many years. Susan, an avid reader about the life and work of Mother Teresa, admired the saint for her work in serving the poor. As a private duty nurse living in Horsham, PA, Susan wanted to serve the poor, too.
Susan prayed and asked for guidance. One day, almost 30 years ago, she opened her mail and found a newsletter with an article about Rev. David Martin who had previously served with Mother Teresa and was preparing a trip to India and welcomed others to join him. Susan was ecstatic. This felt like an answer to her prayers until she spoke with the coordinator of the trip. He informed her that she would need $2,800 to cover expenses of the plane, room and board. Susan had only $5 in her bank account. In addition, she had a husband and two teenaged children at home. How was she going to get to Kolkata to serve?
Susan firmly believes that the Holy Spirit guided her on the journey to India and to the lessons she was taught. Returning home from the meeting with the coordinator, her thoughts were of ways she would be able to raise the money. Shortly after, she received an unexpected phone call from her sister-in-law who said she felt compelled to call her and inquire how she was. Susan related her desire for working with the poor in India and her need to raise the money. Her generous sister-in-law insisted that she would send a cheque to cover expenses as she felt that if anyone should be able to go and serve, it was Susan.
In January 1988, the arrangements were finalized. Susan would be going to Kolkata. However, she was told that Mother Teresa was in England at the time, and the chances of Susan actually meeting her were nil. Again, the Holy Spirit had other plans in mind. It was Epiphany and Mother Teresa wanted to spend the time with her sisters and so she flew home to India. Susan did get to meet Mother Teresa and have several conversations with the now saint.
In the palm of your hand
When Susan first met Mother Teresa, she says she felt she was in the presence of holiness. Mother Teresa looked at Susan and said, “Daughter, give me your hand.” As she held Susan’s hand, she moved each finger said, “We do it for Jesus.” With these five words, she closed the five fingers of Susan’s hand and then said, “Daughter, you have the whole answer here in the palm of your hand.”
Susan spent five weeks working at various facilities including Kalighat, the house for the destitute and dying. The volunteers literally lifted some of the people staying at Kalighat straight from the gutters. The work here consisted of bathing the patients, cleaning their beds, administrating medicine, feeding those who needed assistance and just holding the very ill.
One day at the Kalighat facility, Susan began to help a woman who was in deplorable condition. This woman had been found in the streets and was dying. She was like a skeleton covered in maggots and filth. The nurses were not able to start an IV due to severe dehydration. Susan asked, “What do I do?” One of the sisters replied, “Just be.” And so Susan held the woman to offer comfort. The woman looked into Susan’s eyes and said, “I thirst” and then she expelled her last breath.
Later that same day, Susan had a brief conversation with Mother Teresa, who asked Susan if she had seen Jesus today. Susan replied, “Yes, I saw Jesus in the eyes of the woman who died in my arms.”
Mother Teresa then asked her final question, “Daughter, did Jesus speak to you today?” Susan glanced behind Mother Teresa and looked into the chapel at Motherhouse where she saw the crucifix and the words “I thirst. I quench.” A realization came to her and she answered, “I understand. Yes, Mother, Jesus said ‘I thirst.’”
Quenching the thirst
Mother Teresa has had a long, meaningful association with those two words. In the Missionaries of Charity chapel a huge crucifix hangs behind the altar and the words ‘I THIRST’ are painted in bold black letters in front of it. These two words are part of the seven last words Jesus said while dying upon the cross and serve as a reminder of the purpose of the Missionaries of Charity that Mother Teresa founded. In her book, Where There is Love, There is God, Mother Teresa states, “We have these words in every chapel of the [Missionaries of Charity] to remind us what an MC is here for: to quench the thirst of Jesus for souls, for love, for kindness, for compassion, for delicate love.”
In 1946, the Holy Spirit called Mother Teresa to serve the poorest of the poor. In Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa has maintained that the Missionaries of Charity were founded “to satiate the thirst of Jesus.”
During her last conversation with Mother Teresa, Susan McCaffrey was commissioned “to tell everyone who will listen what you have seen, what you have heard and what you have done in Kolkata.”
Over 20 years later, Susan is now Rev. Susan McCaffrey and she is still telling this story. She explains that this experience changed her in that she no longer worries about material things and she is more focused on the spiritual. She is now a Deacon at Grace Episcopal Church in Port Orange, Florida. Her service to others is still based on her lessons learned from St. Teresa of Kolkata.
The Making of a Saint
The canonization process is a series of steps taken by the Roman Catholic church, among other churches, to declare a deceased person as being included on a list, or canon, of recognized saints.
Requirements for sainthood include two verifiable postmortem miracles (note: canonization requires two miracles, whereas the beautification process (blessed) requires only one), and evidence of having led an exemplary life of goodness and virtue worthy of imitation, having died a heroic death (martyrdom), or having undergone a major conversion of heart where a previous immoral life is abandoned and replaced by one of outstanding holiness.
Rev. John Trigilio, Jr. and Rev. Kenneth Brighenti say that the process is lengthy and involves local interest and support of “the faithful” – fellow believers who “invoke the intercession of a potential saint whom they consider is probably in heaven and carries a little clout after living an exemplary and holy life.” The process has changed significantly throughout history – at one time, requiring little or no formal process – and now includes two phases of investigative procedures before a final decision is made by the Pope.
Triglio and Brighenti note that “in former times, the process was adversarial and resembled a trial where evidence was presented and examined along with any possible evidence to the contrary.” This is where the term “Devil’s Advocate” comes from – referring to the person who presented the opposing arguments, similar to a prosecuting attorney in a secular law trial. “He dug up any dirt to discredit the ‘saint-candidate’ to make sure an objective and fair decision was made on all evidence available.” Pope John Paul II streamlined and changed the canonization process and made it a documentary process rather than adversarial.
–Features Editor, taken from various online sources
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