ROME, DEC. 20, 2002 (Zenit.org).- What was Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s secret? Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of her cause of beatification, answers simply: “She was a woman totally in love with Jesus.”
The publication of the decree of recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of the religious (1910-1997) opens the doors to her beatification.
Father Kolodiejchuk, one of the three men who began the priestly branch of the Missionaries of Charity, talked with ZENIT about some of the aspects of her person which have emerged at the conclusion of extensive research that fills 80 volumes.
Q: Mother Teresa impressed the world by her dedication to the poorest of the poor. How was it possible for a frail woman to go out into the streets of Calcutta and the world to cure the sores of lepers and caress the “pariahs” of modern societies?
Father Kolodiejchuk: I think the key to her life is, precisely, the fact that she was a woman totally in love with Jesus. We have found writings of her youth in which she said that Jesus was her first love. She spoke as a girl who was in love.
For her, her dedication to the neediest, to the poorest of the poor, was the response to a call. Even in moments of darkness, she was convinced that it was an authentic call from Jesus. She was convinced of that phrase that she often repeated: “God’s work.” She felt like God’s pen, his instrument.
Q: Every beatification is a message for the world. What is the message the Church is giving in announcing Mother Teresa’s beatification?
Father Kolodiejchuk: Her central message is love: toward God, not just toward her neighbor.
At the time that she felt the call to found the congregation of the Missionaries of Charity, she experienced a harsh interior trial; it was a spiritual experience in which she did not feel consolation. However, also in these times of trial, it was love that led her to respond to her mission.
On one occasion, in giving her public recognition, India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi said these words more or less: “In this world of today, so frenetic, it is easy to forget the most essential things. Mother Teresa teaches us that love is what is most essential.”
At the same time, her life is full of examples of love for others, not just for the poor, but also for all persons whom she met: the sister Missionaries of Charity, the people who visited her. In reality, Mother Teresa leaves us the message to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.
When she spoke to the people she met, she said that this attitude should not just be lived with the poor: one must begin by loving the members of one’s family, who are in need of a word of encouragement. One must begin by loving someone one knows who might be in need of a letter, one must begin to love by giving a smile to the needy.
However, we have been able to see how faith is also one of her characteristic virtues, because otherwise one cannot love in that way, from morning till night, sleeping three or four hours at night, giving herself each day of her life to the neediest.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge of the process of beatification?
Father Kolodiejchuk: There were two particularly difficult tasks.
The first, to collect or find all the available information, because it meant collecting material, testimonies, facts coming from people all over the world. In the process, we have compiled more than 8,000 documents, 80 volumes of documentation with testimonies and writings.
In the process, there have been testimonies of 113 persons on her life, virtue and fame for holiness. However, hundreds of other people, being unable to travel, have sent their testimony. We have not been satisfied to do only the indispensable work. We have done much more than the minimum, because this work has served to understand her person better.
The second challenge was the writing of the “positio,” the document in which all the testimonies, deeds, documents are recorded on which to base the postulation of her cause of beatification. As there was so much material, it wasn’t at all easy. We have been able to count on a really good team, made up of priests, women religious and lay people, volunteers, who have made all this work possible.
Q: Have you discovered aspects of Mother Teresa that were hidden when you carried out this huge research?
Father Kolodiejchuk: We have been able to understand that her simplicity concealed in reality a depth that very few had understood or even imagined.
When she started the Missionaries of Charity, at 36, she demonstrates in her writings an amazing spiritual maturity. We knew that a person with this worldwide reputation for holiness and the extraordinary attraction she exercised had to have something. But, what was it? This was her secret. Her depth, her spiritual life, her love even in trials — are now exposed.
Q: In recent months there has been talk of the “dark night” that, like the mystics, Mother Teresa felt in important periods of her life. What did it consist of?
Father Kolodiejchuk: Spiritual fruit comes from sacrifice, from the cross. Prior to the inspiration for her work, she had already had an experience of darkness. However, it is important to keep in mind that this “night,” this inner suffering, is the fruit of her union with Christ, as happened with St. Teresa of Jesus, or Paul of the Cross.
On one side is union with Jesus and love unites. And, being united to Christ, she understood Christ’s suffering when he cried from the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?”
However, this “night,” this suffering, is also caused by the apostolate, the love of others. Loving Christ, she also understands the suffering of others, their loneliness, and also their distancing of themselves from God.
Mother Teresa’s “dark night” was due, therefore, to the double dimension that the love of men and women religious experiences: in the first place, the “spousal,” her love of Christ, which leads her to be united to his sufferings and, in the second place, the “redemptive” love, which leads to sharing in the redemption, to proclaim to others the love of God so that they will discover salvation through prayer and sacrifice.
Therefore, more than a test of faith, it was a test of love. More than suffering from the experience of not feeling the love of Jesus, she suffered because of her desire for Jesus, her thirst for Jesus, her thirst for love. The goal of the congregation is, precisely, to slake the thirst of Jesus on the cross through our love for him and our dedication to souls.
Mother not only shared physical and material poverty with the poor, she felt the thirst, the abandonment that people experience. In fact, the greatest poverty is not to be loved, to be rejected.
Q: Some newspapers or news agencies have tried to deny the miraculous character of the cure that has opened the doors of the process of beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. What is the real story?
Father Kolodiejchuk: It is the case of an Indian woman, Monika Besra, who was cured on Sept. 5, 1998, the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death.
On one hand, she suffered from tubercular meningitis. On the other, she had a large abdominal cystic mass that originated in her right ovary. This large cystic mass disappeared without any medical explanation, as the scientific commission verified that analyzed the case.
It is true that the tubercular meningitis could have been cured, as some newspapers have said, by the effect of medicine. However, this wasn’t the miracle. The miracle was the sudden — in one night — and inexplicable cure from the tumefaction.