Time to drop an E, Mother Teresa

It's never too late to abandon sainthood, says Jack O'Sullivan
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There is still time for Mother Teresa. The word from Calcutta is that she's wobbly but should be out of intensive care shortly. She has a chance then, however remote, to avoid impending sainthood. Mother Teresa should grab it with both those gnarled Albanian hands. Otherwise she will never get a moment's peace again.

In the past, good souls such as herself, worn out by a lifetime of selflessness, had plenty of time to recover before the next step: it took nearly three centuries for the 40 English Reformation martyrs to be declared saints in 1970.

These days, though, the process is becoming indecently quick. No longer are two miracles needed for beatification and then another couple for sanctity. Now one suffices on each count. And the old "devil's advocate", appointed to dig the dirt on a would-be saint, has been abolished.

This amounts to a fast track to sainthood. Escriva de Balaguer, founder of the religious order Opus Dei, died in 1975, but he has already been beatified. Who knows when this Pope, who has canonised more folk than all his predecessors combined, will grant him the ultimate accolade? As for Mother Teresa, given her record, she may barely get through Purgatory and past the Pearly Gates before duty calls again.

And of duty, there is plenty. Being a saint is not just about playing a bigger harp than everyone else. You have to intercede with Himself for us lesser mortals. The work load can be very heavy. Think how many people consult St Anthony, patron saint of lost property. Given her CV, Mother Teresa would no doubt be given a portfolio covering the poor, a remit currently held by two 13th century saints - Anthony of Padua and Ferdinand III of Castille.

The trouble is that, once a saint, you never know when the call to duty will come. St Bona lived in the 12th century and was famed for enjoying pilgrimages. Imagine her surprise when Pope John Paul XXIII made her the patron saint of air stewardesses. Or the confusion of St Fiacre, a seventh century Irishman who now finds he's patron saint of taxi drivers. St Jude had the toughest deal. For nearly two millennia, the worst thing that had happened to him was being martyred. Then in the 1920s he was given the "hopeless causes" brief in a ruse to raise money for a church in Chicago.

Of course, it isn't easy to undo a blameless life at this stage. Once past 80, promiscuity and excessive drug-taking are out. Mother Teresa can't rev a souped-up Ford Capri, pop a few "E"s and and let the wimple fly. She's stuck now with the sins of old age - gluttony, pride, avarice, complaining about the nurses, that type of stuff. It'll be tough to be bad. But Mother Teresa should weigh up her options carefully. Sainthood sounds like hell.