The Nature of Suffering and Ministry: Some thoughts on those criticizing Mother Theresa
Devotional THoguht for the Day:
41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. 45 At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. Luke 22:41-45 (NLT)
The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men. United in Christ, they are led by the Holy Spirit in their journey to the Kingdom of their Father and they have welcomed the news of salvation which is meant for every man. That is why this community realizes that it is truly linked with mankind and its history by the deepest of bonds. (1)
17 Alms could be listed here, (among the sacraments) as well as afflictions, which in themselves are signs to which God has added promises. (2)
I read a critique about St. Theresa of Calcutta (still Mother Theresa to me) yesterday which said her being made a saint should be controversial because of two things. The first is that she glorified suffering instead of relieving it, and that she had a strong missional spirit, to the extent she was accused of using her ministry to make proselytes.
I think the author has no idea of suffering, or to be more precise, he makes a generalization about suffering that is too short-sighted. On top of that, he confuses proselytism with ministry.
There is suffering that must be relieved – some of it simple, such as feeding and educating the poor. Or the sacrifices that are made to relieve suffering in the midst of natural disaster and other traumatic experiences. W e need to be there – to alleviate what we can – and to ensure that as we do, they know they are loved.
The is suffering that cannot be relieved (especially in the short run) without a miraculsou healing, which can and does happen. Yet it is not on-demand, and only God knows why in this case and not that. Such are the poor with leprosy Theresa and her co-workers ministered to, or those on hospice I helped our nurses minister to as their staff chaplain. The answer here is not to simply do away with those who suffer, but to be there with them, to make sure they are not abandoned, to offer comfort and peace to them and those around them. The answer cannot be euthanasia, that is not an answer, it is dismissing the value of the person, who is a valuable part of our community. SO there is suffering that must be endured – but never alone!
Then there is suffering which should be endured, for the sake of the gospel, in order to share the love of God with people. The kind of suffering that Theresa chose, the physical and psychological and even spiritual despair that accompanies ministering to those who are suffering. This is the suffering that is “sacramental” as the Lutheran confessions explain sacraments. It is the suffering the church gladly takes on, for in this ministry, we encounter Jesus. It is the suffering the apostles would feel – that would even exhaust them to where they fell asleep because of the turmoil, because of the ministry, because of the grief.
This is where the writer accused Mother Theresa of proselytizing the people she and her co-workers minister too. As if they did this to grow numbers in a club, or as if they got a bonus from God for making converts. I’ve been in similar circumstances, and often, being there when all others have left, when others can’t stand the pain, the suffering, even the stench of disease, is when we encounter the Holy Spirit at work, and a heart made ready to know a love that makes a difference.
It’s not caring for people so that they will convert, but as God reveals himself, it happens. They find His love, they find HIs mercy, they find a strength that turns their suffering into something holy, for both them and the one offering care.
That is when suffering, well there isn’t a word I can think of except beautiful or glorious, or maybe transcendent. When hope prevails over pain, and joy is mixed with the sorrow, when God is present, and when the line between patient and caregiver is blurred, because we realize in that moment God is caring for both of us, and we are simply His kids. He ministers to each, through the other.
That is something that is hard to notice from an office, from a keyboard or even watching video that recorded the ministry. You have to become part of it, have a stake in it, and serve those, and be served. It happens, as God dwells among His people.
As He hears and answers their cries for mercy, sometimes in ways not expected, but He answers, and hearts and minds are brought to know a peace that is beyond understanding.
(1) Catholic Church. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.
(2) Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print. (from Article XIII of the Apology of the Augsburg Confession…
Posted on September 6, 2016, in Augsburg and Trent, Book of Concord, Devotions, Vatican II and tagged Abiding in Christ, brokenness, Mother Theresa, prayer, sacramental, sacraments, spirituality, suffering, Theology of the Cross. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.