Was Mother Teresa Really ‘Saintly’? – The Daily Beast

One of the counterpoints:

So Mother Teresa’s friendship was for sale—but that wasn’t the worst that could be said about her. Hitchens’s hostility to religion could cross over into hysteria, even idiocy: he once reproduced in print the urban legend that Orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in a sheet, so that their bodies don’t touch. But he got something essentially right about Mother Teresa’s theology when he noted that she wanted those in her care to suffer. Why else did she—despite the unaudited millions that her order brings in donations—provide her homes’ dying residents with thin cots, instead of proper hospital beds? Why did she deny them adequate narcotic pain relief? And why did she treat their pain as a beautiful thing? Because she believed that suffering brought the sick closer to Jesus Christ.

“The point,” Hitchens wrote, after adducing careful evidence, “is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection. Mother Teresa (who herself, it should be noted, has checked into some of the finest and costliest clinics and hospitals in the West during her bouts with heart trouble and old age) once gave this game away in a filmed interview.” Describing a person in the last agonies of cancer, she “told the camera what she told this terminal patient: ‘You are suffering like Christ on the cross. So Jesus must be kissing you.’ Unconscious of the account to which this irony might be charged, she then told of the sufferer’s reply: ‘Then please tell him to stop kissing me.’”

The Catholic Church, of course, does not canonize people for their moral perfection. For Catholics, all human beings are fallen and sinful in nature; canonized saints are not perfect beings but simply people who led lives worthy enough to receive special recognition in their afterlives (as a technical matter, saints are those whose names can be invoked in the liturgy). So Mother Teresa could be as bad as Hitchens said she was, and yet in relevant ways good enough to deserve sainthood. And therein lies a problem. For while the Church never claimed that saints are necessarily super-human, our popular perception of saints requires them to be, and so we develop historical amnesia about who they really were.

Some of the Catholic saints, even some of the real biggies, were perfectly dreadful. For starters, a startling number were anti-Semites. “How dare Christians have the slightest intercourse with Jews, those most miserable of all men,” asked St. John Chrysostom, the fourth-century church father. In Jesus’ time, the Jews’ “evil ways corrupted the morals of the people,” according to St. Thomas Aquinas. “Jews are slayers of the Lord, murderers of the prophets,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa. If it seems bit unfair to hold men ancient and medieval to our modern ideals of toleration—after all, to be a European Christian was, once upon a time, to be taught do despise Jews—then consider all the saints who were bloody crusaders, or cruel catechizers of unwilling native peoples. One begins to see that there’s something unnerving about the whole category. 

Of course, Wolf, the philosopher, would immediately recognize that Catholic saints were not supposed to be moral saints, not as she understands the term. The Catholic Church has historically looked to canonize people of grandeur—institution builders, martyrs, self-flagellators, mystics, and of course miracle workers—but not always men and women of particular kindness or generosity. Contemporary Americans have tacked on a third expectation of saints, the Winfrey expectation, that they publicly perform warmth and love, if possible after encountering, in their own lives, great suffering. By brushing against evil—Mother Teresa in the Calcutta slums, Wiesel in the Holocaust, Winfrey and Angelou in their own childhood abuse—and then emerging as beacons of love and optimism, they shore up our wishes for the perfectibility of the world.

It is our shortsighted, and very modern error, that we want Mother Teresa to be a saint by all these definitions. She was a shrewd operator, one of the great institution builders of our time. And she was a kind of witness to depravity. But she wasn’t always kind, and only by suspending our honest judgment could we find her easy to love. 

Source: Was Mother Teresa Really ‘Saintly’? – The Daily Beast

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: