Denver, Colo.—It happened on the most ordinary day, in the most ordinary of places.
A woman stood by herself in the back of an airport lounge, flipping distractedly through a magazine while she waited for her flight. Suddenly, she was approached by a 5’0” woman in a blue and white sari.
“Hello. My name is Mother Teresa. I just wanted to give you my card.”
The religious sister passed her a business card and gave her hand a gentle squeeze before turning and boarding a flight. The woman stared at the card. And then, a smile.
This is one of hundreds of testimonies about the life and holiness of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta included in the new book “A Call to Mercy” (Image, 2016). The 384-page book published just weeks ahead of the Calcutta sister’s Sept. 4 canonization.
The book gives an exclusive peek into the first and secondhand oral and written testimonies that built Mother Teresa’s cause for sainthood. In total, the sainthood cause for the Missionary of Charity foundress included 17 volumes — or nearly 7,000 pages — of testimonies.
Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause and editor of “A Call to Mercy,” told CNA that such testimonies are typically unavailable to the public for decades following a canonization.
“This is the first time we’re using testimonies like that in such an organized manner and such a large number,” said Father Kolodiejchuk. “All that material will be available maybe in another 50 years. But in the meantime, if you read the examples you’ll see just what Mother did.”
“Some of them are extraordinary, but for the most part Mother is doing ordinary things. Like she herself used to emphasize; Ordinary things with extraordinary love.”
Since Mother Teresa’s canonization coincides with Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy, “A Call to Mercy” also has a special focus on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The book is divided into 14 chapters covering the 14 works of mercy. Each chapter includes a selection of Mother Teresa’s writings and testimonies related to a specific work of mercy.
“People will see — or have a good idea — firsthand or at least secondhand about how Mother herself lived the works of mercy,” Father Kolodiejchuk said.
A chapter on bearing wrongs patiently includes the testimony of a Missionary of Charity sister who was tasked with bringing Mother Teresa to the airport. The sister had just managed to usher Mother Teresa to the car when another sister ran to Mother Teresa and informed her that one of the children in their care was dying. The Missionary of Charity recalled being flooded with impatience.
“I’m not saying anything, but my body language, my tutting and sighing, says it all,” the sister recalls. “Mother … didn’t tell me off at all or point out my dreadful behavior. She just lovingly put her hand on my arm and said, ‘I will come, but I need to see this child’.”
Mother Teresa went to the child, a young baby, and prayed before tucking a Miraculous Medal into the child’s shirt. She then proceeded to the car to go to the airport.
“She didn’t point out how rude I was being; she embraced me and held me in my rudeness,” the sister reflected. “With all my faults, in that moment, she took care of me too.”
For many, the simplicity of this testimony and many others may come as a surprise. But not to Father Kolodiejchuk.
“Most of the examples … are just very ordinary,” Father Kolodiejchuk told CNA. “Almost all of them — we can do those kinds of things. The little thoughtfulness to your neighbor, paying attention to those in need, beginning in your own family.”
For Father Kolodiejchuk, the testimonies also paint a fuller picture of the simple affectivity of the future saint, whom he knew personally and worked alongside for nearly two decades.
“Someone would meet Mother just once and it would change their life,” he told CNA. “Or they saw her walking by and it was a moment of conversion. She had this graced capacity to really affect people.”
“She radiated holiness and she had the witness of her life behind it.”
By Kate Veik / Catholic News Agency
L’Osservatore Romano: Mother Teresa, 1980.