Saturday, December 19, 2015

Thoughts on Mother Teresa's Impending Canonization

Mother Teresa is on her way to being declared a "saint" by the Roman Catholic Church.

Such a famous figure hardly needs any introduction. She was a RC missionary to India who worked with the poorest of the poor, and founder of the Missionaries of Charity. For her work she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, and more importantly, the respect of the world and the veneration of many Roman Catholics.

Two Purported Miracles

Within the past thirteen years, two miracles have been attributed to her by the Church, each of which has led to her further exaltation in the minds of Roman Catholics.

The first purported miracle occurred in 1998 (on the anniversary of her death), when the Missionaries of Charity prayed for her intercession behalf of Monica Besra, an Indian woman with an abdominal tumor. According to Besra, "the nuns just started praying and kept a Mother Teresa medallion on my stomach. The pain subsided, and the tumor vanished." This paved the way for Mother Teresa's beatification (one step short of "sainthood") in 2003 in Rome.

The second miracle involved, according to one report, "the inexplicable cure in 2008 of a man in Brazil with multiple brain abscesses who, within a day of being in a coma, was cured". This was attributed to the intercession of Mother Teresa, and has now qualified her for "canonization" (being made a Roman Catholic saint).

According to the Missionaries of Charity, "people have sought her help and have experienced God's love for them through her prayers. Every day, pilgrims from India and around the world come to pray at her tomb, and many more follow her example of humble service of love to the most needy, beginning in their own families."

What Evangelicals Need to Know

Since many Evangelicals are unfamiliar with Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, there are a few things we need to clarify.

Firstly, "Beatification" and "Canonization" are both issued by the Pope, and declare a certain person to have been accepted into heaven, and to be able to intercede for people still living. The difference between the two is one of force and scope. Beatification is the Pope's granting of permission for a certain person (now called "blessed") to be venerated locally. Canonization, on the other hand, is a command by the Pope for all Christians everywhere to venerate the now-saint.

The definition of canonization reminds us that the Roman Pontiff continues to claim that he is the Vicar of Christ and the supreme and universal pastor of all Christians, including non-Roman Catholics.

Secondly, the Roman Catholic Church has a long history of venerating saints and relics, and encouraging their people to rely on apparitions, visions, miracles, and subjective experiences (instead of Scripture) to bring them closer to God.

Third, while they claim to believe and teach the Scriptures, in practice, they put much more value in religious tradition and the authority of the Papacy and bishopric. They continue to insist that the Bible is insufficient for Christians, and must be supplemented (read: superceded) by Church teaching.

How Evangelicals Should Respond (In a Nutshell)

I hope to spend more time discussing this in another article, but here's the short of it. If I may make a few suggestions about how we can talk about Mother Teresa's impending canonization with Roman Catholics.

First, let's acknowledge the admirable qualities of Mother Teresa. She sacrificed much and endured much for the benefit of the most downtrodden and vulnerable. There's much about what she did that evangelicals can praise and admire. At the same time, we musn't forget that there are plenty of evangelicals who also worked among the poor, but simply didn't get as much media attention in their day (the Wesley brothers, George Muller, William Carey, and Amy Carmichael come to mind).

Second, let's point to the sufficiency of Scripture, and be ready to show our Roman Catholic friends that the Scriptures themselves insist on this fact. (See, for example, 2 Tim. 3:16; Psalm 19:7; and Psalm 119:1)

Third, let's point out certain aspects of this news that shows the falsehood of the Roman Catholic "gospel".
  • Christ is the only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and we don't need the mediation and intercession of anyone else, be it Mother Teresa, or Mary, or any of the Saints.
  • Salvation is by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), not by works that merit grace, as Rome asserts. (But grace, by definition, can't be merited.)
  • God wants all believers to be assured of their salvation (1 John 5:13), but Rome anathematizes (i.e., cuts off from the possibility of salvation) anyone who claims that one can be assured of salvation. Mother Teresa, we now know, struggled with an absence of faith throughout her life.
Finally, let's urge them to put their complete trust in Christ's righteousness, and reject the false gospel of grace-plus-works. Let's warn them that to continue to claim to believe the gospel while continuing to submit to an institution that denies the gospel is not to believe the gospel at all.

Philippine Daily Inquirer, "Mother Teresa on way to sainthood".
John Feister & Julie Zimmerman, "The Road to Official Sainthood".
Amanda Bower, "Mother Teresa's First Miracle?".
New Advent, "Beatification and Canonization".

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