In her 87 years on earth, Mother Teresa, born Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, faithfully lived out her calling to serve the Lord. Moving away from everything and everyone she knew, she moved to India, first joining the convent of the Loreto Sisters and later moving into Calcutta’s slums. Here she loved and served the poorest of the poor for the remainder of her years. Almost 20 years after she was called home, the Catholic Church will officially canonize Mother Teresa as a saint on September 4, 2016. As we reflect on the figure of soon-to-be Saint Teresa, here are three important things we can learn from her life:
1. To Love the Outcast
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, not only descended from the heavenly realms to save us, but during His time on earth lived among the tax collectors and sinners, considered some of the morally depraved people of the day. Additionally, he spent time healing the sick, those with leprosy and blindness, complete social outcasts. Here, our faultless and perfect Savior, the spotless Lamb, loved everyone, even those who staunchly opposed him.
Looking to her Savior’s example, Mother Teresa also spent her life helping those much different than herself. She found herself called to live in the poorest slums of India among the greatest outcasts of society. At the age of 36, she felt certain of this calling and spent the remainder of her years attending to those wracked by diseases like AIDs, tuberculosis, and leprosy, feeding the hungry, and caring for orphans. Her organization, Missionaries of Charity, now 4500 sisters strong, continues to carry out her mission of reaching the world’s most downtrodden. We are reminded by Mother Teresa and her legacy of our call to love others, even those different that ourselves.
2. not to Focus on the Material
In the U.S., when we are forced to move to a new home, it becomes more apparent to us how weighted down we are by the material things of the world. Moving proves stressful because we have to make decisions about what to do with our overabundance – do we continue lugging it with us, or do we let it go? This was not an issue for Mother Teresa, or for the thousands of sisters who have taken the vows of the Missionaries of Charity. In her life, Teresa obeyed a calling to live among the destitute in the slums of Calcutta. She fully immersed herself in their world, living as one of them, even trading in her normal habit for a simple white and blue sari. Today, sisters are called to follow Teresa’s example of living simply. The typical Missionary of Charity has just a few material possessions to her name:
Two or three cotton habits
A pair of sandals
A set of cutlery
A cloth napkin
A canvas bag
A prayer book
All of these items could easily fit in a single box.
In caring so little for earthly possessions, Mother Teresa reminds us of the calling of Colossians 3:2, which says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Our culture’s obsession with material possessions in the here and now easily clouds our eternal mindset. Mother Teresa knew that by living more simply she could be more faithful in her spiritual callings. At her death, she is said to have had just three material possessions – a bucket and two saris.
3. To Feed the Hungry
In the Western world, we have been so materially blessed that few of us have to consider where we’ll get our next meal. In fact, in the U.S., where more than 2 in 3 adults is considered overweight or obese, food is not only taken for granted, it has become sickeningly indulgent. Not only do we have drive-thrus at every corner, you can now have pre-portioned ingredients delivered to your doorstep so you don’t have to bother trekking to the grocery store. If Mother Teresa were to read the posts on sites like Blue Apron review, she would likely be aghast at the sheer indulgence and waste of the modern Western world. The lowest of the meal delivery boxes starts at $10/plate, a figure that Mother Teresa probably could have used to feed an entire orphanage for a day.
Mother Teresa made it a point to care for people’s physical needs before embarking on curing their spiritual ones. She once said that by feeding and helping the downtrodden, she was “feeding and helping Jesus, for that is what he commanded, to help the poor”. In looking to Mother Teresa’s example, we are reminded of the importance to recognize people’s most fundamental human needs. Through food, we can offer the hungry hope, dignity, and health. Possibly then will they see the message of God’s love lived out.
Pope Benedict XVI made quite the buzz when he became the first Pope to make his debut on social media back in 2012, setting up a Twitter account under the handle @Pontifex. In a matter of six weeks, his account had over 1.5 million followers. Pope Benedict continued tweeting throughout the remainder of his papacy, even sending out a final tweet to his followers right before he left the Vatican in February of 2013. His predecessor, Pope Francis, took over not only Benedict’s position at the Vatican, but also acquired the papal Twitter handle. Today, @Pontifex sends out tweets to more than 22 million followers in 9 different languages, with some claiming he is the most influential world leader on Twitter.
Witnessing to the New “Digital Continent”
The Church’s successful use of social media tells us a couple of things.
First, by using social media, the Pope is able to bridge a gap between the Church and the people, bringing faith-driven messages to those who may not otherwise hear them. Pope Benedict XVI referred to social media as the new “digital continent”, emphasizing the importance of using this new platform to evangelize and share the gospel. Archbishop Claudio Celli, leader of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, indicated that the Church must adopt social media to reach the “fish…outside the aquarium”, or else risk missing an entirely reachable demographic. Moonraker Marketing, an Austin marketing agency, seconds the opinion of Archbishop Celli. “Businesses and brands these days must have a social media presence in order to survive and thrive. Engaging with the most current technology platforms enables people to find you and makes you harder to forget about.” They suggest that the Church is just like any other brand and should utilize social media as a tool to stay relevant with current believers and even attract a new following. This is especially true in the wake of the number of scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent years.
Secondly, the Pope’s large number of Twitter followers indicates the relevancy of the church in an increasingly secular world. Our broken world craves words of hope, joy, and comfort, which the Pope is able to deliver with his daily dose of 140-characters. Here are some examples of his most popular tweets to-date:
“Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan.” –June 5, 2013
“I cannot imagine a Christian who does not know how to smile. May we joyfully witness to our faith.” –January 30, 2014
“The family is the greatest treasure of any country. Let us all work to protect and strengthen this, the cornerstone of society.” –January 16, 2015
These nuggets of papal wisdom get retweeted thousands of times by the Pope’s followers, spreading Christian tidbits to thousands of others around the world who may not otherwise might not regularly be exposed to the Good News.
Social Media in Local Parishes
It’s interesting to note that, although the Pope has garnered quite the Twitter presence, the Vatican has presently opted out of pursuing other official social accounts for the Pope. While Facebook would be the obvious option, Pope Francis does not have a Facebook account because officials say it would be too difficult to “clean” potentially obscene posts made by visitors to the page. This brings to light the question of how and which social media platforms should be used by local parishes.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops put together an entire set of guidelines on social media that apply to church personnel. In this document, they outline three major challenges and opportunities posed by social media:
Visibility: Social media is widely used, so it makes sense that it would be used as a communication tool. However, selecting the appropriate social channel to match the needs of a given situation is critical.
Community: Use of social media, while beneficial for fostering a sense of community, cannot come at the loss of face-to-face, real engagement.
Accountability: Social media must be used responsibly, bearing in mind that social communication is a two-way conversation.
The guidance goes on to give more specific recommendations on how to set up social media, defining boundaries of social media, and adhering to the Church’s Codes of Conduct in using social media. In summary, social media is a valuable tool for the entire Church, from the Pope to the local parish, when used appropriately. The Pope’s pioneering use of social media has given local churches and Catholics around the world an example of how social media can be used effectively to convey light and truth.