Mother Teresa has long been revered by Catholics as a model of Christ’s love, especially toward the poor and destitute of the world. However, she was not without her critics, both from the secular world and sometimes other Christians. One criticism she received from some Christians was that she referred to those she cared for as “children of God” even though they were not Christian. This criticism would seem to have valid Biblical roots, as Galatians 3:26 (KJV) tells us that “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.” The catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this idea in CCC1243 when it states that it is by our baptism into Christ that we become a child of God, which entitles us to say the prayer of the children of God, “Our Father.” Why baptism? When read in context with the next verse, Galatians 3:26-27 says that “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (KJV).
So did Mother Teresa err in stating those in her care who were not Christian were children of God? How does the idea that she was wrong stand up when we test it against our understanding that God is immutable? (Part 1, Part 2)
If God truly does not change, we have to understand that any change in the relationship we have with God is always due to a change in us, not God. From God’s perspective, we cannot become children of God only when we become part of the body of Christ. That would mean he changes His view of us – He moves from a state of not considering us as His children to a state of accepting us. As James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Rather, the change that occurs has to be in us. Because of our union with Christ, we are now able to experience His Fatherhood, as we are now in Christ. So Scripture and the Catechism refer to us as children of God not because we were not His children and then some action on our part changed Him and He now accepts us as His children. Rather, by His grace we are now able to receive what He always has been – our Father.
This is why the Catholic Church is insistent to uphold the dignity of all human persons, throughout all stages of life, regardless of any particular circumstance. This dignity is rooted in our creation in the image and likeness of God, our Father. Mother Teresa recognized this better than most of us, and her concern was to uphold the dignity of all people as created in God’s image, not a dogmatic theological statement. From God’s perspective we are indeed all His children, and in this Mother Teresa was not wrong. By her life, she teaches us how to see people as God sees them rather than through the eyes of the world.
That doesn’t mean that all experience His Fatherhood in the same way. Union with Christ is the only way to open our minds, our hearts and our very being to accepting God as our Father, and to experience His perfect love for us.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray that we come to see all people through the eyes of our Father!