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The Scandal of Mother Teresa

The Vatican has confirmed the rumor, earlier circulated by the Italian bishops’ daily newspaper Avvenire: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be canonized this year. A decision only right in itself, but also a prime opportunity to acknowledge a certain politically incorrect truth: Mother Teresa’s ministry to the poor in India was a microcosm exposing Christianity’s moral universalism, unique among the world’s religions, something that post-Christian Westerners dabbling in Hinduism and pursuing other strange gods have failed to notice.

Mother Teresa detested publicity and insisted that her fans look towards Christ, not her; she was unwillingly a celebrity. According to Gallup, Americans admired her more than any other twentieth-century figure. Eighteen years after her death, books, films, and postal stamps commemorating Mother Teresa appear frequently.

Her popularity in the West has coincided with a decline in Christian fervor and a surge in interest in Eastern religions. Already in the nineteenth century, Friedrich Nietzsche was greatly influenced by Hinduism, while European explorers to the Himalayas claimed to have found spiritual liberation. Today, however, this process has reached a pinnacle. Although many parishes and presbyteries in the West are emptying, yoga classes are full (despite the warnings of Father Gabriele Amoth, Rome’s official exorcist, of yoga’s devastating spiritual effects). While previously millions of Americans turned to Fulton Sheen or Billy Graham for spiritual advice, millennials listen to Deepak Chopra.

The pivotal point was the 1960s, when Westerners increasingly began to reject their parents’ Christianity. To them, the religion was dogmatic, hypocritical, and bigoted. Rather than improving mankind, Christianity was allegedly obsessed with sex. The 1960s generation looked to Indian gurus, yoga, and Transcendental Meditation for inspiration.

Mother Teresa’s work among the poor in India, however, serves as a petri dish in which we can test a hypothesis: are Eastern religions truly better for humanity than Christianity?

Today, India is an up-and-coming economic powerhouse, boasting the world’s largest middle class. Extreme poverty is, however, still rampant in India, and will likely continue to be so for a long time due in large part to Hinduism.

Dalits, previously known as “untouchables,” are excluded in India’s caste system based on their parentage, bad karma, and occupations (for example, butchers are “untouchables” because of their contact with animal carcasses, as are janitors as a result of their contact with human waste). For centuries, they have been victims of violence and segregation. The caste system originates in the Hindu scriptures.

MTeresa_child

Recently, there have been improvements in the treatments of Dalits. Mahatma Gandhi fought for their emancipation. India’s 1950 Constitution officially bans discrimination against “untouchables.” In 1997-2002, a Dalit – K.R. Narayanan – even served as president. However, the quarter-billion Dalits continue to face inhuman treatment. They constitute more than 90 percent of illiterate Indians, and according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, every day three Dalits are raped, two are murdered, and two have their houses burnt down. Contact with Brahmins is strictly prohibited, and Dalits walking through upper-class neighborhoods can be killed. Orthodox Hindu leaders sanction all this. Today, many Dalits convert to Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism to escape the caste system.

For Mother Teresa, caste made no difference. She was famous for helping India’s poor, who were often untouchables. Many upper-caste Indians simply walked indifferently past starving, sick, and filthy Dalits. In Hindu teaching, it was their own fault they found themselves in such circumstances: they had done bad things in a previous incarnation or chosen an unclean profession.

Mother Teresa was part of a greater phenomenon: the Church runs more hospitals, orphanages, and leprosaria than any other institution in India. If this is because of a desire to proselytize, as Hindu radicals like Mohan Bagwat argue, then the Church is quite ineffective: a mere 1.7 percent of Indians are Catholic.

Unlike Hinduism, Christianity preaches a universal ethical system. From Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman to St. Paul’s insistence that there is “neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free man,” the faith preaches identical treatment of all. Ethical universalism makes Christianity unique among the world’s religions. In Islam, the kaffir is treated as inferior, and the Koran even permits jihad against him. Until the president of the Mormon Church had a tête-à-tête with God in 1978, blacks couldn’t serve as priests. There are many similar examples.

Not only is Christianity unconcerned with ethnicity or class, it also preaches forgiveness and equal treatment of all, regardless of past transgressions. In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, Christians are taught to look past their brethren’s sins and treat them with respect. While the Hindu caste system rejects people based on their professions or sins in a previous life, Mother Teresa never asked the poor if they were sinners (she already knew that all humanity, including herself, has sinned since the Garden of Eden).

There is no shortage of intolerance in Christian history. During the colonization of the Americas, Spanish Catholics used violence to convert Indians. In the Middle Ages, Christian leaders in much of Europe enclosed Jews in ghettoes. Nowhere, however, does the New Testament sanctify these abuses.

What’s more, abuses on the part of Christians often met with a strong Christian reaction: medieval popes issued bulls condemning blood libel charges; Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas was Europe’s most impassioned defender of the Indians; and Pope Paul III issued bulls threatening excommunication for those who enslaved indigenous Americans.

Human beings are naturally inclined towards tribalism, towards viewing the Other as a lesser being. Most of the world’s religions reflect this, and Hinduism, which so many Westerners have flirted with after shunning the faith of their fathers, with its caste system is no exception.

May the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa be an opportunity for us to study her example and see that, contrary to the West’s fantasies about Eastern religions, Christianity more than any other religion sees all men and women as made in the image and likeness of God, and equal in dignity.

Filip Mazurczak

Filip Mazurczak

Filip Mazurczak is a correspondent for the National Catholic Register and the assistant editor of the Vienna-based journal, the European Conservative.

  • Oscar Pierce

    Wow, thank you Filip for an inspiring breath of fresh hope and commentary. There ARE saints among us, most unsung.

    This was so much more rewarding than so much of the, “Oh, Woe is me,” commentary of late!

    By-the-bye, I wonder how many will find a way to comment with yet another cheap shot at Pope Francis?

    • kathleen

      Read Michael Dowd’s comments above. I haven’t noticed any “cheap shots” at Pope Francis on TCT – just thoughtful comments about the state of affairs in our beloved Church and the Pope’s leadership, especially before, during and after the two Synods.

      • Cal-gal

        Then I would challenge you to search your heart…I have read those “thoughtful comments” and I find them greatly lacking basic respect. American Catholics just don’t seem to get it for the most part…The Catholic Church is a THEOCRACY not a DEMOCRACY. The Pope is the VICAR OF CHRIST, not your personally appointed POLITICIAN. If one is a Catholic, it is not acceptable to be disrespectful to or about the Pope. That’s just common Christian decency. If one cannot discern between rude remarks and thoughtful ones, I would say there is a much deeper issue afoot. I very much agree with Oscar Pierce.
        That aside, I loved this article on Mother Theresa. May her life, words and suffering encourage us to be more like the the Christ she served.

        • kathleen

          I have not been disrespectful to our Pope. I do find some of the things he has said very confusing, and I am not alone. I am trying to understand him. I don’t believe I am being disloyal to my Church when I question some of the things he has allowed and some of the things he has said. And I don’t believe I am committing a sin when I raise questions about his leadership. I pray for the Pope every day.

          • FreemenRtrue

            I pray for the pope’s conversion.

          • ScottG

            Conversion to what??

          • FreemenRtrue

            Catholic or even Christian.

          • ScottG

            I don’t get it, are you saying Catholic and Christian are mutually exclusive? How is the pope not being a good Catholic/Christian?

          • FreemenRtrue

            Read ‘Jesuits’ by Fr. Malachi Martin S.J. to get a grip on the Relativism and Inculturation that have affected that order. How do you fell about honoring the Muslim anti Christian religion of heresy?

          • ScottG

            C’mon now Free, is relativism really the ‘greatest’ evil that ever infiltrated the Church? Without exception, the Church is necessarily affected by every culture in which it is planted. While Scripture asserts the unchanging nature of our divine Lord and Savoir, the institutional church is governed by men and, thus, is subject to the laws of (human) nature.

            What of Judaism or imperial Romanism (i.e. paganism), enormous cultural influences which largely gave the RCC it’s present-day flavor in terms of clerical dress, customs and liturgical rubrics? Do you see these human manifestations as being evil affectations?

            While I’m not saying that relativism is a positive influence, I am saying that there are equally bad (if not worse) cultural influences that have permeated our Catholic culture, yet they somehow get a pass.

            To round out this discussion, I believe that is why PF is urging us to get back to a simple ‘gospel of mercy’ and to stop splitting hairs over the small-minded rules. It is a matter of emphasis… if we emphasize something other than what Christ has instructed (love of God and neighbor above all else), we might as well scrap the rest of it because we are in clear violation of His two greatest commands.

          • FreemenRtrue

            small minded rules like Christ’s teaching on marriage or the prohibition against killing babies or the false teachings of Muslim heresy or diminishing the Church’s reverence for the Real Presence in the Eucharist, but it’s all relative, only one’s conscience(however malformed) matters so do whatever you want. How about PF’s notable lack of charity toward orthodox Catholics? It is interesting how Satan uses Lies about ‘Love’ to undermine the Love of God and His Word.

          • ScottG

            I understand your frustration and yes, I agree that teachings from the present papacy represent a clear departure from his predecessors… but there again, said teachings and interpretations have vacillated throughout history as a direct result of the political and cultural pressures it has come to bear. To my mind our comfort should rest in His promise that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (i.e. the Church). It may not be a Church that resembles traditional Roman Catholicism as we know it, but we can rest assured that the larger Body of Christ will ultimately prevail.

            I do not see a lack of charity from PF toward orthodox Catholics. He has frequently railed against career-minded clerics whose primary interests appear to be elitism and/or self promotion, and rightfully so as these are not holy attributes to which Christians should aspire. To compare the pope’s emphasis on a God of love and mercy to ‘lies from Satan’ is really going down a slippery slope, IMHO it is not a good position to take. Of course each of us must choose according to his/her conscience as you have duly noted.

            God bless and thank you for the lively discussion.

        • Phil Steinacker

          You paint with a broad brush, making no distinction between a vocal minority pronouncing the pope as a heretic and the millions of Catholics concerned by this pope vacillating between heretical and near-heretical statements and decisions which signal his failure to pass on untouched and unchanged that which was handed down from St. Peter.

          I have been continuously amazed how progressive Catholics have suddenly discovered ultramontanism. The sensitivity level resulting from such papalotry has seen a collective panty-twisting over hard-hitting but respectful criticism of pope Francis. We Catholics are certainly required to listen and consider non-infallible, non-binding statements by any pope with due respect, but we are not required to agree with them.

          On the matter of binding statements by a pope (EXCEPTING ex cathdra statements) which contradict infallible Church Teaching, Tradition, and the Scripture in which both are rooted, we are required to weigh all pronouncements by any ecclesial authority of the Church, including popes, against those three elements of the Three-Legged Stool of the faith.
          Disagreeing publicly with the pope is NOT disrespect IF his words have been considered with due respect, nor in cases where – however -rare – he speaks erroneously against the Magisterium, Tradition, and Scripture.

          I remind you that St. Paul called out the first pope, St. Peter, in the presence of the Apostles and others attending the first Church Council, and told him in no uncertain terms he was dead wrong. Fortunately, there was no ultramontanism in existence yet.

        • GaryLockhart

          No “h” in Teresa.

          As for the justifiable criticism of many of the current Pontiff’s poorly composed and poorly expressed prudential statements and remarks which contradict the teachings of the Church, I defer to the exhortation of Christ Himself.

          “And why even of yourselves, do you not judge that which is just?” Luke 12:57

    • Cal-gal

      Please read my remark to Kathleen…I agree. Blessings+

      • Oscar Pierce

        Thanks Cal-gal, please note my reply to Phil. Blessings to all+

    • Phil Steinacker

      You mean by that a criticism you are unable to effectively refute – and the Vatican has not?

      One cannot defend the indefensible.

      • Oscar Pierce

        Phil,

        What I was referring to was sort of comment in the closing line to Brad Miner’s commentary on the FPA’s upcoming production on the trial of Martin Luther, “I gather our pope is a witness for the defense, not the prosecution. Ah, ecumenism!”, and not simply, “our Pope is a witness for the defense.”. Also, what of the other witnesses, are they for the defense for the prosecution? Brad defined a criticism of that with, “I merely quoted from the Fellowship for the Performing Arts blurb about the upcoming play.” To which my response is as above…”and not simply…”

        My comment to Filip’s column was the first of the day…later on looking at it, I read the quick defense of our brother Dowd by Kathleen (bit defensive?). I made no criticism of his commentary. Still, I confess, I largely ignore him as been rather repetitive.

  • Elijah fan

    Loved this essay but near the end, be careful on the topic of slavery. It is not as papally innocent an area as two 19th century Popes described it as shown by Federal Judge, John T. Noonan Jr. in his book, ” A Church That Can and Cannot Change”…which goes into grandular detail on the topic.
    Pope Paul III did oppose in 1537 the enslavement of indigenous Indians ( not slavery in general) but withdrew threats of excommunication later and in 1548 ( Nov. 8) he issued a motu proprio supporting slave owner rights over slaves fleeing to Rome. Indeed at the end of that century, the Trent catechism gave slave stealing as an example of theft. Paul III in Sublimis Deus was actually opposing four previous Popes starting with Pope Nicholas V who gave Portugal the right to perpetually enslave new natives
    ( see Romanus Pontifex (1455) online, mid fourth large paragraph). The bipolar nature of this topic is understood once you realize that the Catholic theologians in the universities gave four just exceptions for slavery: born to a slave mother was one and captured in a just war was another. The former is mentioned by Aquinas in the Supplement to the ST and he gives the decretals ( Church canons) that agree here: ” children follow the mother in freedom and bondage…The canons are in agreement with this…” Supplement ST,Question 52, Article 4, “I answer that..”
    Those canons were partly why you see Bishop John England defending slavery in 19th century in his diocesan paper, Catholic Miscellany, in a series he did. He contended that a recent Pope ( Gregory XVI) opposed the slave trade but not slavery per se.

    • RainingAgain

      One must keep it in context. The desire not to separate mother and child isn’t necessarily an endorsement of slavery. To condemn the enslavement of captives in war would have meant they would simply have been slaughtered.

      • Elijah fan

        You are not seeing historical context. You’re shocked and trying to put makeup on a sad period in many ways. Read Aquinas’ actual words and think before you respond. Aquinas is not saying children should follow mothers into slavery until they are of age. He is saying children de facto follow the mother into slavery permanently and legalistically even if the son becomes of adult age or the mother dies next year. There was an awful incident that reveals that legal mindset of yesteryear in a History of the Jesuits in America by Thomas Hughes S.J. in which he recounts how six Sulpician religious in 1792 leased a parish from the Jesuits in Maryland and sold a female slave of the parish with only one of her children, a three week old infant. A month later, they sold her four year old daughter to a different farmer. The Jesuits argued with them that the proceeds in money should go to the Jesuits not to the Sulpicians. No one involved saw what we see…that selling the four year old, Clara, away from her mother was doubly horrendous.

    • Dave Fladlien

      “It is not that the Gospel has changed, it is that we understand it better…” — St. John XXIII.

      You’ve raised a very good point. This is why we have to adhere rigorously only to that which is directly part of the body of faith as handed down by the Apostles. In every other way, that is concepts we have developed by logic, etc., we must be willing to review and reconsider. At the same time we *must* not reject part of the genuine true teachings of Jesus or revelations to the Apostles given by the Holy Spirit (i.e Scripture and Sacred Tradition).

      Pope Benedict XVI, I believe, made a point of distinguishing between stating the Church’s position (Pope Benedict XVI as the author) and stating his own opinion as a theologian (Josef Ratzinger as the author). In making that distinction he set a very good example for us about the importance of that kind of distinction.

      Bottom line: we have to always carefully and rigorously distinguish between what I’ll call developed teachings on one hand, and the body of faith on the other, and never confuse them. Developed teachings must be subject to reconsideration; the actual body of faith must not be.

      • Elijah fan

        Yes…yes….yes….and the spanking new papal anti death penalty campaign makes conversions in Japan and China and amongst evangelicals less likely. China with a real death penalty has an adult murder rate 24 times lower than non death penalty largely Catholic Brazil ( the largest Catholic country). That is thousands of unnecessary victims.

        • ThirstforTruth

          China with its murderous atrocities against its own citizenry should
          hardly be given as an example of forward thinking regarding the sanctity of life. With its one child policy ( now two), forced abortions and merciless treatment of Christians, particularly Catholic clergy,
          should NOT be given as an example of a country that respects life in all its forms.

          • Elijah fan

            Do you even see my phrase “adult murder”? China has the abortion rate of NYC….and that’s with coercion. NYC is doing the same rate of abortion by free choice.

    • ThirstforTruth

      There were slaves in the time of St Paul. Read your Bible and know that forms
      of slavery have always been with us….and condoned as well as condemned by both the church as well as various governments. Paul was far more concerned about spiritual slavery than the political kind. He had advice for both the masters as well as the slaves that was in keeping with Jesus’s commands. Where his concern lay ( as was Jesus’) was becoming slaves to sin. Jesus’ passion and death freed us from that most insidious form of slavery forever. Political slavery will, like the poor, will likely be always with us in this life in one form or another. Human trafficking is prolific today yet little is being reported or done about it The first thing Obama did upon becoming Presidentwas to rescind the Mexico Policy which took away much of the church’s advances in fighting this social evil.

      • Dave Fladlien

        I think you’ll find that St. Paul “tolerated” slavery — which he certainly was opposed to — only because he believed that the Perusia was almost any day now, so why be concerned with freedom or slavery since everything would end at any moment anyway. Note please that he also felt that there was no point in getting married, for I think the same reason.

        But he clearly disapproved of slavery, as is clear from his attitudes expressed in Philomen. There he wasn’t going to just say to Philemon that he had to free Onesimus, but instead appealed to his friend, on the basis of friendship, to do so.

        To me, that choice is entirely compatible with both a belief in the immediacy of the Perusia, and also with an disdain for slavery: to him I think there was no point in forcing a confrontation over it since all will end soon anyway, but he nonetheless points out that the true right thing to do is to treat Onesimus as a brother (which has to reduce to freeing him).

      • Elijah fan

        Have read the Bible cover to cover. Lol. So at the very end, you are saying slavery is a “social evil” after arguing from the beginning that slavery was no big deal. I think you arrived to set a record in contradicting others but now you’re contradicting yourself.

  • Michael Dowd

    Outstanding article! What a contradiction to our dear Pope’s efforts to say/imply/suggest all religions are the same. Pope Francis has the only true and holy religion and he is afraid to proclaim it as Christ demanded. Example: Islam says we will kills or fine you if you don’t become a Muslim. The Catholic religion says we will love you regardless what you decide to do, like Mother Teresa. We, as Catholic, have the best deal in the world. We should want others to enjoy the same privileges and attitude. What is wrong with us?????

  • Bro_Ed

    It would be wonderful if our Church could take Mother Teresa as a model for virtue, humility, and dedication to the teachings of Jesus. No more princes, mansions, royal pretenses, wasted resources – all that would be gone. No chance, I understand, but still: It’s a nice thought.

  • I was misled by the title of the article. I thought Mr. Mazurczak was going to expose Mother Teresa’s scandal of disregarding the commission of our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel and baptize non-believers into the One True Faith, outside of which there is no salvation. Our Lady of the Rosary of Fatima, pray for us.

  • Thank you Filip. It will be interesting to see how the Church handle’s Mother Teresa’s ceremony. Will the Church stay true to her dedication to those in poverty and caring for the less fortunate or will it be an elaborate, over the top media event? People I know who practice yoga seldom if ever talk of any religious element to it but will certainly talk about the physical benefits and serenity it brings them. Many will say “I found a new life in yoga.” Some even search for groups that have very little talk or explanations of the yoga teachings.
    Kathleen, I think all of us who are regulars to TCT know that Michael Dowd has no use for Pope Francis. You wouldn’t have to search very hard to find cheap shots of Pope Francis in TCT’s comment sections.

    • ThirstforTruth

      Please go to Vatican.gov or look to the archives at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction archives for clear information re yoga, reiki and other eastern practices to see why it is at your own spiritual peril to practice any of these New Age movements.
      Eve saw nothing “wrong” either about disobeying God when Satan overcame truth in her mind. We can easily choose the wrong thing when we are not informed.
      As a former yoga practitioner, I know personally of its dangers. Yet, I gave the
      very same reasons ( great stretching exercise, etc) for turning a deaf ear to those
      who tried to teach me it would eventually harm me spiritually. It not only brought
      evil into my life but also my family’s.
      The same sort of fitness programs can be found in Catholic Christian programs for
      promoting physical well being without compromising spiritual health.
      They are to be found by just googling Catholic physical fitness programs.

  • Cheryl Jefferies

    Mother Teresa did what all people, and all governments, should do. Refuse to recognize that “untouchables,” as such, exist. Every human is “touchable.” It may have been better for the Indian government, in their laws, to not single out “untouchables.” For in doing so, they admit the concept. Why not a “positive” type law? One that was broad, admitted, supported and covered equality and did not admit of the concept of inequality? I know. I’m being nit-picking. A picky detail. But, the devil is often in the details.

  • Thomas J. Hennigan

    Your notions about the way the Spaniards evangelized America are mostly false. Prove that
    “Spanish Catholics used violence to convert Indians”. As for Bartolomé de las Casas, he was an extreme case as he had mistreated Indians and converted, became a Dominican Friar and used much rhtetoric to exaggerate the plight of the Indians. His exaggerations were used by English and Dutch Protestants to attack Spain and the Church. In fact, he states that some 2 million of were died due to abuse in Hispaniola, the tiny island of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This is extreme exaggeration when reliable estimates are that the populaiton of America, North, Central land South was a total of 13 million. The facts are others. The Spaniards, such as Cortés and Pizarro could not have conquered the immense empires of the Aztecs and the Inca with a few hundred Spaniards, who weren’t even professional soldiers. They conquered because many other Indian tribes allied with them in order to free themselves from the oppressive empires of the Aztecs and the Inca. The Indians were smart enough to recongnise that Christianity was far superior to those horrific religions, especially the Aztec one. Yes, many died but almost all of them died due to diseases brought by the Spaniards, who could hardly be blamed for that. Another fact is that the King of Spain appointed Las Casas as his representative to help defend the rights of the Indians, who were considered his subjects and he recognized his duties towards them. Where in the British colonies in North America were the Indians treated decently? Rather the authorities paid money for their skin once dead. Have you seen anyting like the great Baroque Cathedrals and Churches in Mexico, Guatamala, Ecuador and Peru in any other part of America? The missionaries defended the rights of the Indians and were able to write directly to the King of Spain and seek redress for them. Spain dictated laws in favor of them. Did you know that in Peru, inn the fight for independence, the Indians were in favor of the royalists, and for good reason. After the independence from Spain achieived by a small minority imbued with the idea so Free Masonery and the French Revolution, much of the culture of the Indians and their languages were lost. Several wars were fought between those countries when during the Spanish period there was peace, somthing which never happened before Spain arrived there?

    • kelso

      So true, Mr. Hennigan

  • Alicia

    I loved Mother Theresa from the moment I knegw about her. I have an app in my phone with a collection of her sayings. Beautiful ! Every week I post one or two of her sayings on Facebook. We were priviledged to hear and see a walking, living saint with us. I’m sure there are many others but we don’t know them.
    Those sayins and advice are amazing in their simplicity, humility and beauty.

    • GaryLockhart

      No “h” in Teresa.

  • Alba Dona

    When I first heard Christopher Hitchens castigate Mother Teresa in his book “The Missionary Position”, I dismissed it as just another of his famous cynical and bigoted rant against the Catholic Church. However, having heard similar denouncements from others, some ho were eye witnesses, my skepticism somewhat subsided. My opinion is that, before the Church makes her a Saint, she should take these allegations seriously and make a thorough investigation in these matters.

  • DLink

    Excellent article. I would only note that under Modi there has been some backsliding among majority Hindus. Persecution of Christians and other minorities has increased under his BJP government as he refuses to crackdown on extremists. Marginalization of Dalits has increased as noted and considering their large share of the population, offers a breeding ground for more extremist behavior. As much good as Mother Teresa did, it is unlikely her example will be enough to prevent widespread disorder that will surely come if these policies continue.