Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
– Prayer of Mother Teresa
The first time I heard of Mother Teresa was the result of a punchline. I’m sure many of you have heard it before:
“Oh, you think you are a goody-two-shoes, huh? Who do you think you are, Mother Teresa?”
I had no idea who the, now, Saint Teresa was, but I knew she was someone who was deemed good, almost perfect. As time went on, I would see images of this little Albanian-Indian woman praying for those who were sick, impoverished, whom the scriptures would refer to as “the least of these”, worldwide. I would see images of people moved to uncontrollable tears while in her presence. It had a deep impact on me. I would dig deeper and find out what it meant for her to be a “Mother” and a nun. My Baptist upbringing did give me a good foundation to start from, with our cultural use of the term “Mother” in regards to an elderly woman who has had a tremendous impact on the local church community. Mother Teresa had an enormous impact on the world as a whole. She was often referred to as the “living saint.”
However; as to be expected in our increasingly anti-religious, Western society; there were critics afoot. People who could not stand having someone, an unabashedly religious person, who was deemed “saintly” revered worldwide. So, the critics started digging for dirt, and when you dig for dirt, you are bound to find some mess.
Critics of St.Teresa address primarily two issues, financial transparency and proselytizing of patients. In 1994, questions arose regarding the fact that her charity raises “millions of dollars” however her facilities are not in the best condition and her patients did not receive the best health care, according to western standards (including medication, treatment and the like). Also, that some of the money in which her charity received, may have been dirty (from dictators, embezzlers, mobsters, etc).
Prominent self-described “anti theist” Christopher Hitchens has been critical of the above, but his main critique is St. Teresa’s unabashedly Catholic message. He exposed Mother Teresa and her sisters baptizing dying patients (with or without their knowledge), her conservative stances (anti-abortion, anti-contraception, etc) and her embrace of suffering being a measure and test of faith.
Some Indian historians/authors, such as Chitrita Banerji, Aroup Chatterjee and Vijay Prashad have stated that St. Teresa is the representation of European paternalism on people of color in developing nations. There are accusations that she desired fame and the spread of the Catholic faith more than the health and well-being of the people of Calcutta. That in actuality, the city of Calcutta, its image, has been sullied. That its reputation is synonymous with being poor and destitute while St. Teresa is revered as a saintly woman.
All of these criticisms are warranted, however, I do wonder about the intent of those yielding the critiques. It is one thing if the criticism is done in a manner that is highlighting the flawed nature of humanity. As Congregationalist minister/theologian Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III refers to this as prophetic contradiction; a person who has a prophet voice or calling, while also being flawed. If this is the intent, then I understand. However, it is an another thing when intent of the criticism is to besmirch the name or reputation of the subject. It is as if to say that their contributions and achievements are invalid because of their past mistakes. It seems to me that in our Western context, that seems to be the order of day.