FUNERAL MASS FOR MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA
HOMILY BY H.E. CARD. ANGELO SODANO
13 September 1997
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
The hour has arrived for us to say a final farewell to the late Mother Teresa. We have come here from many corners of the world to demonstrate our affection and gratitude and render a fitting homage. From the cold bier, the unforgettable, dear Mother continues to speak to us and seems to repeat the Lord's words:
"It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).
1. Herein lies the heart of the Gospel, the evangelical message of God's love for us, his creatures, and of our love for him - a love which demands to be made real and effective in our dealings with one another. Mother Teresa of Calcutta understood fully the Gospel of love. She understood it with every fibre of her indomitable spirit and every ounce of energy of her frail body. She practised it with her whole heart and through the daily toil of her hands. Crossing the frontiers of religious, cultural and ethnic differences, she has taught the world this necessary and salutary lesson: "It is more blessed to give than to receive".
2. At the close of a century which has known terrible extremes of darkness, the light of conscience has not been altogether extinguished. Holiness, goodness, kindness, love are still recognized when they appear on history's stage. The Holy Father Pope John Paul II has given voice to what so many people of every condition have seen in this woman of unshakable faith: her extraordinary spiritual vision, her attentive and self-sacrificing love of God in each person she met, her absolute respect for the value of every human life and her courage in facing so many challenges. His Holiness, who knew Mother Teresa so well, wishes this funeral ceremony to be a great prayer of gratitude to God for having given her to the Church and to the world.
3. The story of Mother Teresa's life is no mere humanitarian exploit, as she would be the first to declare. It is a story of biblical faith. It can only be explained as a proclamation of Jesus Christ by - in her own words - "loving and serving Him in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor, both materially and spiritually, recognizing in them and restoring to them the image and likeness of God" (Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity, I, 1). It has been said that Mother Teresa might have done more to fight the causes of poverty in the world. Mother Teresa was aware of this criticism. She would shrug as if saying: 'while you go on discussing causes and explanations, I will kneel beside the poorest of the poor and attend to their needs'. The beggar, the leper, the victim of AIDS do not need discussions and theories; they need love. The hungry cannot wait for the rest of the world to come up with the perfect answer; they need effective solidarity. The dying, the handicapped and the defenceless unborn, who are without a constituency in the utopian ideologies which, especially in the last two hundred years, have been trying to model the perfect world, need a loving human presence and a caring hand.
The spiritual legacy which Mother Teresa leaves us is all contained in those words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Matthew: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me" (Mt 25:40). In silence and contemplation, in prayerful adoration before the Tabernacle, she learned to see the true face of God in every suffering human being. In prayer she discovered the essential truth which underlies the Church's social teaching and her religious and humanitarian work in every age and in every part of the world: Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made flesh, the Redeemer of mankind, has wished to identify himself with every person - especially the poor, the sick and the needy - "you did it to me".
4. Mother Teresa of Calcutta lit a flame of love, which her spiritual daughters and sons, the Missionaries of Charity, must now carry forward. The world badly needs the light and warmth of that flame. The homage we are paying to the memory of this humble woman religious, whose great love for India and for this city of Calcutta did not make her less a citizen of the world, will be in vain if we - believers and men and women of good will everywhere - do not take up where she left off. The poor are still with us. And because they are the reflection of the Crucified Son of God, they must be at the very heart of our personal concern, of political action, of religious commitment.
Speaking at the Angelus prayer on Sunday last, the Holy Father recalled these other words of Mother Teresa: "The fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is peace". Let us begin to change the world for the better by turning in humble prayer to God, the Creator of all that exists. Let us be renewed in faith. Let our hearts be filled with genuine love. Let each one personally do something useful and demanding for those in need. Only when we learn to see others, no matter how different and removed from us, as our beloved brothers and sisters will humanity learn the ways of peace. Then truly we will have done "something beautiful for God".
As we commend our sister to her heavenly reward, may all who have admired this extraordinary woman strive to learn the compelling lesson which she has given the world, a lesson which is also the path of our human happiness: "it is more blessed to give than to receive".
5. Dear Mother Teresa, the consoling dogma of the Communion of Saints allows us to feel ever close to you. The entire Church thanks you for your luminous example and promises to make it our heritage.
Today on behalf of Pope John Paul II, who sent me here, I offer you a final earthly farewell and in his name I thank you for all that you have done for the poor of the world. They are favourites of Jesus. They are also the favourites of our Holy Father, his Vicar on earth. It is in his name that I place on your coffin the flower of our deepest gratitude.
Dear Mother Teresa, rest in peace.