In Defense of a Saint

There is something very basic about people who have no home. Homelessness is frequently not just the absence of roof, warmth and relationships but a state of mind. It is often the very bottom of poverty, the depth of despair. People with no roof have a sense of hopelessness, resignation and powerlessness.

Poverty does not of itself ennoble and there is little romantic within it. Sometimes however it does enable you to see people anew in a strong stark light which takes away all the trappings. When everything is taken away, or more especially given up, some begin a journey which can become an Odyssey, into themselves.

When it comes to homeless I feel women have a shattering knowledge of themselves. They have been compelled, like tortoises, to carry absolutely everything important with them. They have been compelled to come to terms with fundamental and disturbing experiences which can both impoverish and uplift.

One person I assess as having had experience in these Odyssey is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Her life work caring for the homeless, sick and dying is well documented. Both and religious and secular reports confirm the (I won’t say selfless) love she demonstrated in her compassion towards others less fortunate men, women and children in India.

On the other hand Christopher Hitchens, in his book The Missionary Position takes a different view. Hitchen’s opinion of Mother Teresa is a scathing and critical view of her motives. Hitchen’s also refers to the saint as a “poster girl” for the Religious Right and fundamentalist Protestants as a symbol of religious holiness with which to beat secular humanists.

I find myself, reluctantly, in disagreement with Hitchens on this issue. I feel his analysis of Mother Teresa sadly misses the point to her life. She ‘lived’ the spiritual teachings that her organisation claims to represent. Of course I accept Christianity does not have exclusion rights to the values of compassion and forgiveness, but its not to be overlooked when it happens.

Whilst I respect and admire Hitchens for his intellectual rigour, my counterpoint is that anyone who can diverted money derived from the Catholic coffers towards housing and caring for the sick and homeless in society, is worthy of applaud. And let’s not forget some great spiritual leaders have been restless homeless wanderers. In fact it provides a bedrock to the narrative within faiths such as Christianity.

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