Catholics all over the world were waiting eagerly for the beatification of Mother Teresa. October 19th Vatican had authenticated her sainthood. Now we who used to know and love her as “Mother” got her as “Saint”. Ironically, the Catholics are bound by their quaint tradition, to wait in uncertainty to welcome the dead Mother to be proclaimed a saint. The rest of the world, cutting across religious barriers, however, has been free for years to hail her a saint long before her death. The Vatican and the Missionaries of Charity have done their best to assemble the prescribed number of miracles to clinch the issue in the Mother’s favour. In this process they seem to have forgotten the fact that the Mother is the greatest of all miracles; and that none else really matters.

If only the Vatican had the eyes to see this transparent fact, the current unsavoury controversy about the miraculous healing of Monica Besra could have been averted. Did the healing of this erstwhile patient of ovarian tumour and tubercular meningitis, result from medical treatment, as the rationalists in Kolkotta allege? Or is it attributable to the spiritual mediation of the Mother, as the Missionaries of Charity claim? According to the Vatican version of the episode, on October 5 1998, Monica’s pain left her soon after she prayed to Mother Teresa at Missionaries of Charity home in Kolkotta. It is a fact, though, that Monica was under treatment for a period of time under three doctors. On that basis the rationalists insist on ascribing the credit solely to the efficacy of the treatment that Monica received. Accordingly, they smell a rat in the invitation that the Vatican has extended to two of Monica’s physicians: Dr. Tarun Biswas and Dr Ranjan Mustafi. They derive further mileage from the allegation by Dr. Manzur Murshed, the third doctor who treated Monica, that he has been approached by some interested parties to persuade him to endorse the cure as a miracle wrought by the Mother.

This controversy unveils a host of issues pertaining to religion, reason and public morality that need to be addressed. That is of greater importance in the long run than deciding whether or not Mother Teresa merits sainthood. The first of these is the over-dependence on the miraculous and the corresponding de-valuation of reason and common sense in the practice of religion. It is a tragic and archaic misconception that faith is proved or enabled by miracles. It is an even more senseless and unbiblical assumption that the miraculous is an essential ingredient of saintliness. The craving for miracles proves the infantile nature of faith at the popular level. It signals not religious maturity but spiritual bankruptcy. A faith that needs the crutches of the miraculous is no faith at all. And those who care for spirituality should desist from popularizing such tastes. Popular religiosity, conditioned miraculously, is indeed the opium of the people. It exiles reason from religion and renders the masses vulnerable to manipulation by religious charlatans and god-men. Once the aura of religion and, especially, miracles is conjured up around a person, the masses accept and venerate him, even if he is a scoundrel or worse. As the great German philosophers of religion, Immanuel Kant and Hegel, warn us the miraculous suppresses the ethical in the development of religion.

Allied to this is the gross misunderstanding of miracle itself. The key miracle, according to Jesus Christ, is not healing the sick or even raising the dead to life. It is, instead, the appropriation of “life in all its fullness” and living out its glorious potential both for oneself and for others. A life well-lived, as Mother Teresa’s was, is the foremost miracle. It was this miracle that mesmerized the world in the person of Mother Teresa. This, and not any papal stamp of approval, endeared her to the global community. She has been, rightly, acclaimed as one of the two greatest persons of the 20th century; the other being Mahatma Gandhi. The Catholic Church does the Mother an unwitting injustice by focusing its attention on a couple of posthumous miracles, in a way that occludes the great miracle that the Mother was. Those of us who have met and interacted with her can vouch for this: no other miracle imaginable is greater than her life was. It is unfortunate that the Vatican has to put together a case and prove her sainthood, as though her life and mission were not adequate for this! When I visualize the consecrated bureaucracy of the Church sitting in judgment over the authenticity of the Mother’s spiritual status, I cannot help feeling a trifle amused.

This notwithstanding, the abundant caution the Church wants to exercise in stamping sainthood on someone is indeed commendable. That is because religion is a twilight zone in which sham and spirituality co-exist in a state of sublime confusion. From the beginning of times till now, enlightened ones and charlatans, true prophets and false prophets, wolves and lambs, have abounded in this region. The sense of the sacred is at the root of human consciousness; and it stands in perpetual danger of being manipulated and exploited. The common man is poignantly vulnerable to the wiles of religious wolves. It is enough to record a recent event with which the present author is personally familiar. An ambitious and clever religious person (never mind his religion), tried for a few years in vain to make a big break into popular religiosity. Having failed and beginning to be desperate, he had his chelas to spread the word that a tile with some religious markings emerged from the floor of his place of worship. This had a most salutary effect on the influx of devotees and, consequently, his personal income.

So we are grateful to our rationalist friends. But we would have been obliged to them all the more if they were reasonable, not less than rational. What is their rationality worth if it only makes them blind to the blessing that the Mother had been to their city, transformed by her into the City of Joy? Do they have to deny the truth, in their very eagerness to defend it? The truth, they cannot but know, is that the Mother was a living saint. Does the verity or otherwise of the Monica event belittle that blessed truth? Purblind rationalists of this kind -fundamentalists of rationality, if you like- are the country cousins of their counterparts in religions. The task of reason is not only to expose counterfeit religiosity, which is a laudable thing to do. Reasonable rationality must also be an acknowledgement, indeed a celebration, of what is great and glorious in our midst. And that includes among other things the empowering fact that every human being is a potential saint. I do not have much use for the Mother as a saint. But, despite the Vatican, she will continue to challenge me as an exemplar of what I too can be, if only I would respond to the call of true spirituality. A rationality that fights shy of this will never know when its skepticism degenerates into soulless cynicism. The words of G. K. Chesterton are eminently relevant here, “A mad man is not one who has lost his reason, but one who has lost everything else except his reason”.

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