If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up. —Daniel 3:17–18
In the book of Daniel, we read of the great Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, who holds captive at his court the young Judean prince Daniel, along with his three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The young men are devout Jews, and God hears and answers their prayers in remarkable ways.
In today’s first reading, God spares the young men’s lives after the king has them cast into a fiery furnace for refusing to bow down to his golden idol. Faced with an unjust and powerful sovereign, the faithful men turn to the Lord for deliverance, and he does not forsake them.
We see a similar dynamic of advocating for the Lord’s mercy and justice with secular powers in the early religious life of Mother Teresa, who was living in Calcutta as the principal of St. Mary’s School for girls during the “Great Calcutta Killings.”
On August 16, 1946, riots broke out between the Hindu and Muslim factions in the city due to a combination of famine and governmental corruption. According to Mother Teresa: A Life Inspired, within three days more than four thousand people had been killed, their bodies piling up in the streets, and more than one hundred thousand had been left homeless.
Venturing out to find rice for her students, Mother Teresa witnessed the carnage—and it was less than a month later that she heard Jesus give her the “call within a call.” Up until that time she had belonged to an order that served the girls from the Indian middle and upper classes; now she would be reaching out to the most needy and living among them in an unprecedented vision of missionary service.
What made the tireless efforts of St. Teresa and her Sisters most remarkable is the fact that St. Teresa was neither a cog in a political or an ecclesial institution nor, strictly speaking, part of the resistance movement for social or political change—though she recognized that things did need to be changed.
Rather, her sights were firmly set on alleviating the suffering of those she and her Sisters encountered every day on the streets; the women were “warriors in saris” fighting not the institutional incompetence and corruption that produced such suffering, but the suffering itself:
We are called to make our lives a rivalry with Christ; we are called upon to be warriors in saris, for the church needs fighters today. Our war cry has to be “fight not flight.” The church of God needs saints today. We shall go freely in the name of Jesus, to towns and villages all over the world, even amid squalid and dangerous surroundings, with Mary the Immaculate Mother of Jesus, seeking out the spiritually poorest of the poor with God’s own tender affection and proclaiming to them the Good News of salvation and hope, singing with them His songs, bringing to them His love, peace, and joy.
What can we learn from the way of life and mission of Mother Teresa and her Sisters during that early time of tremendous political and social turmoil?
First, we must take to heart her challenge to be warriors without armor, resisting the temptation to look for governmental solutions to what is at heart a personal problem and using love as a force for good in the world. Second, we must look to the Blessed Mother and imitate her maternal care in our own intercession and hidden labor. And third, we must be ready to cooperate with the Lord not just to relieve temporal suffering, but to draw those we encounter closer to God.
Did you encounter any opportunities today to meet a human need by offering a personal solution to what most people consider an institutional problem?
What is one way you can be a “warrior” in your own circle of influence in your community, parish, or neighborhood?
Holy Spirit, in your creativity and goodness you work in the hearts that are open to your leading to bring the light of Christ even to the darkest corners of the world. Help me to shine my light a little more brightly today.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!