The canonization of Mother Teresa of Kolkota last Sunday grabbed the attention of believers and non-believers across the planet. Millions extolled her unselfish sacrifice for the destitute and the dying, establishing her Sisters of Charity with a singular mission: to bring the love of God to the most unfortunate in society, who are on their last days or gasps in utter poverty and abandonment.
St. Mother Teresa’s holy service stands in stark contrast to the greed and exploitation recounted in the mass readings today.
“Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land!” thunders the Prophet Amos in the first reading. The Gospel of Saint Luke, meanwhile, recounts the dishonest steward who schemes to win favor with his master’s debtors by fraudulently marking down their debts.
Sadly, for all the adulation and reverence expressed worldwide for Mother Teresa’s love and caring for the destitute, much of the world shows little concern and much disdain, if not heartless oppression toward the poor.
Indeed, many of the saint’s admirers may be venerating her as a way of making up for their own lack of charity and justice toward their unfortunate brethren.
Selfishness fuel global threats
Which brings us to the headline topic of this column: The self-sacrifice demonstrated by Jesus Christ and emulated by His saints, isn’t just for human sanctity, but indispensable for humanity’s survival.
For many threats to humankind today, from crime, drugs and terrorism to war, disease, financial ruin, and natural catastrophe, owe much of their decimating power to the failure of so many to set aside self-serving interests for the good of others, especially the least fortunate.
The purveyors of lawlessness and narcotics obviously put their own craving for money and power above the lives, livelihoods and souls of their victims. Yet no less selfish and uncaring are those who sow violence purportedly for selfless national or religious ends. They, in fact, bash the very personal rights and social harmony which must be universally safeguarded for all nations and faiths to flourish.
War also signals the triumph of selfish patriotism or factionalism, igniting conflicts that have time and again bloodied man with no real gains, just rows of graves. Today, three generations after the end of history’s most deadly and destructive conflict, we again see global powers in intensifying rivalry with ever-increasing weaponry.
In the years before the Second World War, Britain and France, later joined by Russia and America, that challenged the rise of Germany, Italy and Japan. Today, America and its Western and Japanese allies face off with Russia in Europe, China in Asia, and Islamic nations and forces in the Middle East.
And all sides can see only their own perceived righteousness and just causes, for which they will all condemn thousands, if not millions to another world war with far more fearsome weapons.
And the pronouncements and policies of government after government and leader after leader — from Britain bolting the European Union, to Donald Trump proposing to shut out the world — share the spirit of Nazism’s battlecry: “Germany Above All.”
As for the planet’s finances, health and environment, the self-serving free market ideology of unleashing and harnessing each person’s quest for material gain purportedly for the good of all, has spawned impoverishing asset debacles, the eruption of lifestyle ailments and cure-resistant diseases, and unprecedented calamities created by global warming.
To address these ills, humankind must again find the will to sacrifice present comforts and partisan ambitions to forestall a devastating future for coming generations.
In sum, when Christ died on the cross, it was not just to open the gates of heaven for us. It was also to show us how to shut the gates of hell on earth.
Letting man punish himself
Today, nearly a century after Our Lady of Fatima warned humankind in 1917 to reform or face great chastisements, including World War II, there are a growing number of Marian believers recounting her prophecies as divine punishment.
But rather than acts of God to whip mankind into line, today’s planetary threats are, in truth, the results of human selfishness allowed by heaven to wreak their full havoc, from rampant crime and destructive lifestyles, to extremist violence, war, financial ruin, and environmental catastrophe.
Fatima’s warning may well be that God would unleash not divine retribution, but destructive human sinfulness.
And that may well be the way to awaken our modern age, which all but worships human intelligence and will, to the need for God in our world.
For only when things go horribly wrong with human designs, from the Tower of Babel down to the geopolitical, economic, scientific, technological, and environmental systems of our time, might we remember that we never created this world we’re tinkering with.
And that only by the Creator’s selfless love can our world and our humanity be recast and redeemed into the heavenly greatness He destined it and us to be.