Is Your Mother Holier than Mother Teresa?
This month, on newsstands and in bookstores, you'll find a terrific new book, which I highly recommend. To coincide with the centennial of the birth of Mother Teresa, Time has published Mother Teresa at 100: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint.
It's a fantastic introduction to her life, written by the veteran religion reporter David Van Biema, and includes an unlikely but moving introduction from the mega-pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren. Filled with gorgeous full-color photographs spanning her life, the book is that rare combination of a great read and a beautiful look. It's perhaps the best short introduction to the life of the "Saint of the Gutters" around.
There's just one tiny problem. In the middle of an essay called "Teresa of Jesus," about her entrance into a religious order, her life as a Catholic sister, and her amazing spiritual experiences, you'll stumble upon a surprising sentence:
For the vast majority of sisters, brothers, and priests, a "call" manifests itself as a simple heartfelt desire, much as someone else might be attracted to the life of a physician or a lawyer. Yet a call to become a Catholic sister does imply a somewhat higher level of commitment.
That means that being a Catholic sister is a "higher calling" than being a physician or a lawyer. And that's something that I categorically reject.
Ironically, that sentence comes in an essay authored by "Father James Martin, S.J." I could say, "Reader, I wrote that," but that would be false.
Apparently, an overzealous soul, after reading my comment about the "call" being similar in many lives, added the notion of the "somewhat higher level of commitment." By the time I spied what was probably thought to be a benign addition, it was too late. The hardcover edition had already winged its way to the printer.
The irony is that this is not only something that I don't believe (and have written about at great length in several books); it's also something the Catholic Church doesn't believe in. Since at least the Second Vatican Council, which convened in the 1960s and stressed the "universal call to holiness," Catholics have been reminded that everyone has a vocation. Everyone's call is to be holy -- no matter who you are.
To be blunt, that means that the work of a Catholic sister is no holier than the work of your sister -- who might be a mother, a lawyer or a physician. (Or all three.) That doesn't mean that your sister is necessarily a saint, but that she could certainly become one!
That's not to detract from the manifest holiness of Mother Teresa, who I consider to be one of the greatest saints ever. (She vaults into that category because of her unshakeable fidelity to her call even in the midst of her "dark night" of prayer, when God felt absent to her for years and years.) Rather, it's to remind people that the young mother who wakes up in the wee hours of the night to care for her child is every bit as saintly as the Catholic nun who spends hours and hours teaching children in an inner-city school.
Your own mother might be just as holy as Mother Teresa.
My experience, both my own and observing others, tells me that this call is just as ''high'' as that of a sister, brother or priest, and requires no less a commitment.
The passage cited in the post compares the call to the vocation of sisterhood to the call to one's vocation, e.g. doctor or lawyer. Comparing the level of commitment to these vocations, only sisterhood requires vows of c, p, o.
Perhaps the real error in Fr. Jim's statement is not the level of commitment required of the various occupations; the error is comparing the call to sisterhood to the call solely to one's job or career. It would be more appropriate to compare/contrast the call to sisterhood with the call to live a life other than that of sisterhood. a call which encompasses not only one's job, but the many other aspects such as marriage, childrearing, charitable works, etc....
Your point is well taken.
You'll never have the latter without the success of the former.
Some day I will invite you to come with me to see SOME Catholics spitting at abuse survivors before or after mass, treating us as the scum of the earth.
But there are always people who bring tears to my eyes, especially very elderly people. One older woman walking into the church asked if she could hug me, to show her support. A man who told me he was 85 stopped after mass and said he was sexually abused by a priest too and cried.
I personally know and experience deeply the holiness in people who experienced abuse. I don't really get what's going on when Catholics spit. It's good to be reminded about the universal call to holiness.
Just sharing some thoughts inspired by your blog post.
I must say, though, that the lifetime vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience are a pretty high commitment compared to other callings, especially in American society where money, sex, and personal freedom are of paramount importance.
Thanks so much for your response.
However, I can't help but think the common use of the word level implies "depth" or another unit of measurement that detracts from the notion that you are trying to convey. I'm still not sure if you mean a different "species" or "type" of commitment, which I believe is to be true, since the commitment in those vows and into a congregation or order (or even to a diocese and bishop for secular clergy) requires and calls forth something different. It is not the idea of diference which I am questioning, only the implication that comes from the word "level." But perhaps I am nit-picking...
At any rate, thank you for your reflection and response.