Today, the Feast of Mother Teresa, we walked through the streets of Calcutta at 5:30am for the early Mass at Motherhouse, where she spent most of her life. The streets are extraordinarily dirty by western standards. The motherhouse is extraordinarily clean by any standards. We slipped off our shoes at the door and padded over immaculately-swept floors to the chapel. It is the custom in Missionaries of Charity houses to put off ones shoes before entering the chapel, and so even the Archbishop today said Mass in bare feet. We do not fear infection, because the convent is immaculate, reflecting the souls of these sisters, who receive the healing sacraments of penance weekly and the holy Eucharist daily.
After Mass we made our way through the dirty streets again, with Sr. Lynn, to the very first convent of Mother Teresa’s order. She began her work alone in 1949 by renting a room on the fourth floor of a building on Creek Lane from Mr. Michael Gomes and his family, who lived below. For the first four years, until she had grown to 26 young sisters with only one bathroom, Mother Teresa lived at 14 Creek Lane. The surrounding warren of streets still bear the dirt and sweat of thousands of human beings packed together in East Bengal’s stifling heat. And so, encased in this slum of human dirt, Mother Teresa consecrated her new society to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her priest, Fr. Celeste, gave the first image of Our Lady to the new community, a simple lithograph of Mary offering her pure heart to the viewer, with the inscription, “Mary, Cause of Our Joy.” Only the pure heart is truly joyful, Mother wanted to tell her sisters. To be happy in the confining dirt of this city and of this world, we must be clean of heart and pure of soul. Mary’s immaculate heart, pure of even a trace of sin, leads us to perfect joy.
Before I left the United States a few days ago, someone said to me “Calcutta is a good place for you right now.” Indeed, the dirtiest city in the world is a good place to be as the filth of the Church in America is being exposed. As always, every crisis of the Church is a crisis of saints. Do we learn from them how to live cleanly in the dirtiest places on earth, or do we settle for the dirt? Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us. Mother Teresa, pray for us.