When Mother Teresa was canonised as St Teresa of Calcutta last month by Pope Francis at the Vatican, there was much discussion of the work she carried out during her lifetime. She is known for establishing the Missionaries of Charity in two rooms in a Calcutta side street, to minister to “the poorest of the poor”, caring for abandoned children and the truly desperate. These were the people among whom she lived until her death in 1997 at the age of 87.
But in Rome, where the ceremony took place – and which I was honoured to attend – more significance was placed on Mother Teresa’s works after her death. Before someone can be considered for sainthood, the Roman Catholic Church demands a thorough assessment of their life and work, and notably any miracles which are reported to have taken place as a result of intercessionary prayers.
In this case there was no shortage of reports. Canadian priest Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, who was charged with acquiring and examining the evidence, received almost 900 reports of “graces and favours” attributed to Mother Teresa. Most were answered prayers – in connection with simple things such as an exam or a new job. Three stood out.
One concerned a sister of the Missionaries of Charity in India paralysed from the waist down after a hernia operation. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, two days after Mother Teresa’s death, a friend of the nun had prayed before her body and touched it with a piece of white cloth. This cloth was pinned to the paralysed body of the nun, and she was cured.
The second miracle concerned an eight-year-old girl in Palestine who was suffering from bone cancer, and who was said to have recovered after Mother Teresa appeared in her dreams and declared, “Child, you are cured.”
The most significant miracle affected a 30-year-old mother of five from west Bengal who had an ovarian tumour. On September 5, 1998, the first anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, a medallion which had touched the body of Mother Teresa was placed on the woman’s body, and prayers offered for her life. Eight hours later, the tumour had vanished. It was this case which was ratified as a miracle by the Pope last December.
That Mother Teresa’s life conformed to the Church’s standards of “heroic Christian virtue” is in no doubt. But why should we also need to see proof of something beyond human virtue? Why do we need miracles?
Perhaps it is to do with our need for wonder, to experience the joy of the inexplicable and extraordinary, which in turn mean anything is possible. Regardless of faith, humans have always dreamed of and yearned for more than what they see day to day.
Yet we do not have to be passive recipients of the phenomenal. The lucky ones manage to relish the impossible and unbelievable in every moment. As Albert Einstein said: “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; or you can live as if everything is a miracle.” And that is a wonderful way to exist.