Writing a homily for All Saints Day can be a real challenge for a priest. Many have labored unsuccessfully for a proper analog. Regarding the Church's canonized saints as the Catholic equivalent of electing a baseball player to itsHall of Fameis one sports analogy that seemed to have worked. The saints are the Church's spiritual athletes, who played the game of life with the practiced skills of faith, hope, and charity. The Catholic Hall of Fame
Mother Teresa is just one step away from entering the Catholic Hall of Fame. The hagiography of writing about the saints, even in today's cynical climate, tends to sanitize their lives so that they bear little resemblance to real people. Some writers make the canonized so holy that they appear more like plastic versions of real people.
This is in stark contrast to writers in the Middle Ages, who took a more candid approach to writing about the Church's heroes. Thomas J. Craughwell's 2006 book, Saints Behaving Badly,(see Sept. '07 Mindszenty Report) follows in their footsteps. He exposes the sins and crimes of dozens of canonized saints before divine grace intruded in their lives. The libertine activities of St. Augustine are already legendary in the Church. Obscure saints with sordid pasts include St. Olga who unleashed a bloodbath on her husband's assassins in the 9th century.
Hollywood's approach to its glitterati is similar. Its columnists wait anxiously for the starlet of the month to fall victim to the seductive attractions of living life on the wild side. With the publication of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light,the secular keepers of the cultural flame believe they have found the religious equivalent of a night on the town for Paris Hilton or Britney Spears. Her book of private letters revealed that this saintly woman suffered from terrible doubts and feelings of spiritual dryness and loneliness that plagued her most of her adult life.
Her dark revelations created a feeding frenzy among those who are wont to seize any excuse they can for denigrating the Catholic Church and its public figures. Secularists and atheists alike have misinterpreted Mother Teresa's private thoughts as irrefutable proof that the Church's most visible holy woman was a hypocrite who lacked faith in God. Militant atheist Christopher Hitchens called the future saint a fraud, a fundamentalist, and even a crypto-atheist. In fulfillment of her worst fears, Hitchens had the temerity to call Mother Teresa amedia darling who did charity works for the praise it brought her. In a screed for Newsweek,he said Lightproved that she was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person. A Call Inside a Call
Mother Teresa, who died on September 5, 1997, was the daughter of an Albanian grocer. She joined the Loreto Order at age 18 and began working in the Calcutta slums. On September 10, 1946, the day celebrated by the Missionaries of Charity as Inspiration Day, while riding a train to Darjeeling to make a retreat, Sister Teresa heard a call within a call. She was to give up her life with the Sisters of Loreto and follow Christ into the slums to serve him among the poorest of the poor.
In 1947 she started the Missionaries of Charity, which care for the blind, aged, lepers, crippled and the dying. Hers was a simple faith that resided in her deep desire to see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself this is hungry Jesus. I must feed him. This is sick Jesus . . . I serve because I love Jesus.
English convert Malcolm Muggeridge observed that when the eighteen-year-old Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu left her family to join the Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto, it was the end of her biography and the beginning of her life. On October 19, 2003, Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997) was beatified in Rome. During the three-and-a-half-year investigation into her cause, every aspect of her life was studied for evidence that she was worthy of canonization. With the revelations of her letters, it appears that her biography resumes. A Posthumous Ministry
Her letters have shed new light on the intensity of her religious devotion. The book was compiled and edited by Mission of Charity's Father Brian Kolodiejchuk. It promises to rank with The Confessionsof St. Augustine and Thomas Merton'sThe Seven Story Mountainas an autobiography of spiritual depth. The Jesuit author Father James Martin cited the book as a written ministry of the interior life for Mother Teresa. He predicted that hers would be a posthumous ministry to all Catholics who have experienced doubts about the faith and God's love for them.
Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, a member of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, reminded the world that Christ experienced a similar spiritual trial in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the Cross. Her moments of weakness are definitive proof of the greatness of faith of Blessed Mother Teresa and take nothing away from her holiness.
Mother Teresa accepted her doubts as part of God's Divine will for her. The irony behind her letters is that the world has watched in awe of her lifelong devotion to the poor with little hint of her internal suffering. Mother Teresa worked so closely in a world of abject poverty that she often was overwhelmed by the temptation of how a kind and loving God could allow such suffering to exist. The more of their sufferings she assumed, the more she felt that she was without God. In the face of her doubts, she adopted a blind faith that allowed her to persevere in her service to God and the poor. Her doubts became the wood of her interior cross. The Chalice of Pain
It is not difficult to understand the source of Mother Teresa's spiritual suffering. The old adage warned the faithful to be careful of what they prayed for because they might get it. In 1951 Mother Teresa fervently prayed to join in Jesus' suffering on the Cross. She wrote that the Passion was the only aspect of Jesus' life in which she wanted to fully partake. She wanted to drink from his chalice of pain. Jesus answered her prayer with some of the dark feelings of loneliness and abandonment that had accompanied His own suffering on His Cross.
Years after her doubts had started, Mother Teresa asked Father Joseph Neuer, a noted theologian whom she met in the late 1950s for his counsel. He told her that there was no human remedy for her spiritual condition and she should not feel responsible for her feelings. He advised her that her feelings of abandonment mirrored Jesus' feelings in the Garden and on the Cross. Her craving for God was a sure sign of His hidden presence in her life. Mother Teresa had never realized that sharing His Passion would include the mental anguish He suffered on the Cross when He cried out to the Father, My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me. Father Neuer reminded her that all saints experience a Garden of Gethsemane. Like Jesus they all beg to be spared this agony of the soul.
Mother Teresa's mental anguish as evidenced in her book is best explained through the idea of the dark night of the soul. In the dark recesses of her troubled soul, she was hounded by terrible thoughts that God seemed absent, heaven empty, and bitterest of all, her own suffering seemed to count for nothing. A Dark Cloud
Mother Teresa was not alone in her spiritual darkness. In the history of Christian mysticism there have been many accounts of divine darkness. It is an ancient doctrine that God dwells in inaccessible light, a light so blinding that it veils the divine glory in a dark cloud of unknowing. Some of the greatest saints have endured what St. John of the Cross called the dark night of the soul. The dark night of St. Paul of the Cross, an 18th century monk, lasted 45 years. St. John of the Cross saw his dark night of the soul, not as Divine abandonment but as a purgative expression of God's love. Like Mother Teresa, St. Catherine of Siena and St. Teresa of Avila realized that the agony of doubt and desolation is a way of sharing in Christ's Passion.
Saint Therese of Lisieux, Mother Teresa's patron saint, serves as an interesting parallel. She entered a Carmelite cloister at 15 and died only nine years later of tuberculosis. Her spiritual reputation, according to Newsweek,was based on her spiritually cheerful biography, published posthumously, The Life of a Soul.Later the truth came out that her own sister Pauline, the head of the convent, had expunged all the sickbed entries where Therese had described her spiritual dryness and how she feared the loss of her faith.
Like another saint in the making, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, Mother Teresa fought a lifelong battle with pride. It was more a fear than a temptation because she said,I am happy to be nothing to God. Her letters revealed that she desired none of the acclaim her work with the poor brought her. In April of 1959, she instructed Archbishop Picachy to destroy any letters or anything I have written. She was rightfully afraid that her troubled musings would be misunderstood by a secular society or even by her fellow Catholics who had some idealized version of itssaints. A Genuine Mystic
Among the monastic writers who flourished during the twelfth century, divine darkness was a cheerful idea. William of St. Thierry relied on love to make good the deficiencies of his feeble intellect. Later generations of Christian mystics dwelt upon the more desolate kinds of darkness in which all modes of prayer and spiritual practice become arid, and all consolation in the love of God seems lost. Even in the desolate dark night of the soul, St. John of the Cross taught God is present, purifying the soul of all passions and hindrances, and preparing for the inconceivable blessedness of divine union. Along with dark knowing, there is dark loving. Mother Teresa wrote movingly of the dark tunnel and dark hole that disturbed her soul.
Mother Teresa was a genuine mystic, who longed only for the presence of Jesus. She was one of a small group of saints who sought a union with God that was so intense it exhausted their spirit and shook the foundations of their faith. Hers was a distinctively Catholic expression of solidarity with Christ. In her life-long service to Christ, Mother Teresa tried always to be open to Christ. Beneath her transparency she hid her mystic interior suffering.
Mother Teresa was not just a holy woman but also a public icon. A materialistic world that gladly accepted the profoundly human images of her lifting up babies or caring for the dying, has been slow to understand that her inner turmoil was a necessary minefield on her path to sainthood. The Paradox of Light
Mother Teresa's path was a living paradox. Every day she practiced the enduring words of one of her favorite poems The Paradoxical Commandments,by Dr. Kent Keith. People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway!
Another paradox that characterized her saintly life was her widespread use of images of light and darkness. But hers was not some Manichean duality. Like Socrates she realized that people were often so confused by the light that they turned away from its source. She once said, If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness. I will continue to be absent from heaven to light the earth of those in darkness on earth. While Mother Teresa was one of the few people who could light up a Church with her sheer presence, her letters disclose her fear that her own light was being extinguished. My Lightreflects this identification with illumination. In one letter Mother Teresa thanked Jesus for sending her the darkness because I have come to love the darkness for I believe now that it is a very small part of Jesus' darkness and pain on earth. In another entry, she wrote of her deep joy that Jesus can't go anymore through the agony — but that He wants to go through it in me. Some have interpreted that to mean that God rendered her empty inside in order to find Him in the needs of others. But no matter how long the darkness lasted Mother Teresa accepted her emptiness as a part of her interior cross because she was confident Jesus would fill what He had emptied. The World's Antidote
The judgments of the secular world are far too simple. They failed to understand that her internal suffering was an. inevitable consequence of her fervent love for God. The world's failure is another illustration of the wide gap that exists between Mother Teresa's religious faith and a secular faith that longs for what theologian H. Richard Niebuhr described as a God without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross. My Lightcan serve as a viable antidote for a materialistic society that is slowly poisoning itself with its spiritual denial, moral relativity, and prurient pursuits. Mother Teresa can be a beacon of light to people who only believe in material progress. For a personal example of her inner spirit, the world need only look to convert Malcolm Muggeridge who made Mother Teresa an international sensation with his 1969 film, Something Beautiful for God. Muggeridge was a restless agnostic when they met in Calcutta in 1968 for the film. She advised him that his longing for God was forcing Himself to keep away from him because He loved him so much.
Despite her doubts, Mother Teresa's love for others never wavered. As Father Kolodiejchuk emphasized, Mother Teresa could have shut down her religious devotion in the face of her interior darkness, but she continued to rise every morning at 4:30 to praise Jesus. Sister Nirmala Joshi, director of the Missionaries of Charity, said the letters show, not a failure of faith, but only that having one's faith tested has always been an integral part of the Catholic faith. The world needs to understand this.
William A. Borst, Ph.D., is the author of Liberalism: Fatal Consequences and The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy which are available from the author at P.O. Box 16271, St. Louis, MO 63105 or write BBPROF@shcglobal.net. This item 7955 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org
A humble response to “Her Agony” by David Van Biema, Time Magazine 9/3/07
J. David Toler, D.D.
As I read the thought provoking article “Her Agony”, by David Van Biema several times, I began
realizing there is much more going on here, with this dear lady, than most of us have noticed.
Many have looked only at the surface and thought her to be a magnificent symbol of servitude.
When the news of her “difficulty” came to the surface, many thought “What kind of hypocrite was
she?” After reading the article, many might have mixed emotions and various attitudes about her
and the accolades that have been laid upon her.
I am not a Catholic, but I am a Christ Follower and have always had a deep appreciation for
Mother Teresa. I became convinced, we must not “throw the baby away with the bath water”,
after reading David Van Biema’s wonderful article in Time Magazine, published September 3rd,
2007. If we do, we will all miss the true “Light” she bore in the trauma of her personal darkness,
pain, and suffering.
The footprints she leaves behind her seem to indicate, the greater the suffering the deeper the
compassion. Is it possible Christ’s vacancy of “Presence” with her intensified the strength of her
determination to fulfill His purposes? What was it He knew that she did not understand? What
had He learned from His “Cross” experience that she must endure to exact His call upon her life?
Jesus went through more than meets the eye while coming to His surrender to the purposes of
the Father, in the Garden of Gethsemane. Is it possible there is something missing in the “traditional” interpretation of the Garden of Gethsemane scene? Is it possible we have missed a
valuable source of love and empowerment in what really happened that night?
Christ left the disciples behind and walked farther into the grove of olive trees He found that
familiar spot where He had apparently been numerous times when spending “alone time” with the
Father. He does not call Him Jehovah or El Shaddai. He does not call on Him Mighty Deliverer.
However, He refers to the Eternal Father as “Abba”…a term of endearment, “Daddy”. He speaks
as an adoring child looking into the eyes of a compassionate “Dad” and pleading his case.
It is not the horrific crucifixion and dying that plagues Him. As the eternal “Lamb of God”, He
knew there was no escape from His sacrificial status if He were to become the bridge of “righteousness” by which the whole of mankind could cross the abyss of sin and come into the
Kingdom of God. The “cup” He begs off is much deeper than that of blood and suffering alone.
The darkness of man’s sin is more demanding on him than public humiliation. The truth is,
should He surrender to the “cup” He would, for the first time in all of Eternity, be separated from
His Abba. His Abba would have to turn His back from him, disallow relationship with Him, and
disown him as He took the sin of the whole of mankind upon Himself and became that sin on the
Cross. He who is our “righteousness” had to become our “sin” in order to redeem us to the heart
of the Father from the clutches of Satan. He had to be torn from the Father, ripped at the source
of divine relationship if we were to ever be redeemed to a relationship with Him.
Never had the “only begotten of God” been, for one moment. separated from the Father. Even as
the Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, He was no less the Son of God. Abba was in His DNA.
He had been conceived in the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, not man.
There is utter desperation in the garden that night. The strain, for that relationship He had with
His Abba to not be broken, was so deep, the very capillaries under the surface of His skin began
erupting and He, as it were, sweated blood. The flow of redemption began in the Garden as He
surrendered to the reality of having to lose His “relationship” with Abba so we might regain what
Adam had lost in the Garden of Eden. Unless Jesus Christ gave up His relationship with the
Father, we would never be able to have one. It is paradoxical to say the least; however, He could
not save us if He saved Himself. Relationship is “family”. Without His retrieving for us what
Adam had lost in the Garden of Eden, we would not be able to be “Born again”. We could not be
born of the Spirit, which means we would never be able to become “heirs of God and joint heirs
with Jesus Christ.” Without His sacrifice of the Father’s Presence we would never be able to
know the reality of the “miracle” of that Presence in our lives.
The darkness in Gethsemane and on Golgotha was more than surrender to death and dying, it
was separation from the One with Whom He had been, for all Eternity. His obedience to the
Divine Plan, through His surrender and sacrifice, His dying and death secured Him the
“resurrection” and the Father giving Him “a name that is above every Name, that at the Name of
Jesus, every knee would bow…and every tongue would [one day] confess that Jesus Christ is
Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Christ’s truest “Light” and perhaps greatest miracle, was in
the “carry through” with the Father’s will; despite the price, despite the separation, despite the
pain and agony. Is it possible we have taken for granted His response because of Who he was;
while Who He was causes the separation to be even more severe and miraculous toward us.
Mother Teresa’s “carry through” translates, “the greater her adversity, the brighter the Light of His
glory”, through her. For years she walked where angels dare to tread, given to the Lover of her
Soul, yet absent of His voice, His touch, and even the essence of His Presence. Alone, in the
darkness, Mother Teresa is the miracle of His “Light” to a hopelessly lost and dying people. She
becomes the avenue through which His love would touch them. She would become the arm by
which He would embrace them. She would become the voice through which they would know His
care. She would be “Jesus with skin on” to them…the reality of His Presence before them. How
ironic, the Presence she could not find, she became, to “the poorest of the poor”.
In 1946 Mother Mary Teresa embarked on a journey with the Lover of her soul to the ghetto
gutters of Calcutta to be His hand extended to the sick and dying, the poor and needy, to the
children of a lost and dying nation. He asked her to take “one more step”! She responded “I am
only Thine---I am so stupid---I do not know what to say but do with me whatever you wish---as
you wish---as long as you wish.”
Her letters to Archbishop Ferdinand Perier, as related in the subject article from Time Magazine,
illustrated two linked characteristics; “her extreme tenacity and her profound bond to Christ”.
She was asked to go to a people rejected by their own, lost in the bewilderment of disease and
poverty, groping in the ravages of idolatry and religious darkness, hurting beyond measure, and
both hopeless and helpless. The sacrifice of the “sense of His Presence” intensified her tenacity “to be, rather than seem to be”. It stripped away the “religiousness” of her mission and allowed
the Christ who lived in her to touch each one through her extended hand, to speak to each one
through her heart and tongue, to care for each one through her sense of compassion. Is it any
less Christ? No, and a thousand times “NO”. It is all the more Christ! It is “Jesus”, the anointed
of God reaching to helpless man, through a surrendered Mother Teresa, and saying, “I have
always loved you”.
We are often so attached to the “organization” of religious structure that we are disassociated
with the “organism” of the Christ-Life. Perhaps that is what she missed. Being so close to the
trees of “organization”, she missed the forest…the “organism” of His life in her, through her, and
around her. She missed the purpose of His sufferings in her, the realism of “His chalice of pain”.
Perhaps she did “love Jesus as He had never been truly loved before”, in that she gave herself to
Him, though she was absent of feeling Him, but, with the demonstration Rev. Brian Kokodiejchuk
speaks about; one of “commitment, fidelity, and vulnerability”.
There is certainly no atheism in this woman, any more than Jesus Christ became atheist when He
cried, “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” The eternal purposes were intensified
and more greatly fulfilled by His accepting the separation that was necessary to regain for us
what Adam had lost.
That little wisp of humanity we have known as Mother Teresa was not a tiny strand of filament
eeking out a faint glimmer of light. On the contrary, she was a tiny lamp shining a mighty beam,
dispelling the darkness of aloneness and hopelessness everywhere she went. Christ Jesus was
with her. He was the Light she radiated. He was the Hope she gave each person. He was the
Love she delivered to all she encountered. He was the Compassion she personified before us all.
She may not have understood it because of her humble sense of unworthiness, but it seems He
truly did, “give Himself” to her; for He was more of her “presence” than even she!
J. David Toler
The ĎAtheismí of Mother Teresa Fr. Cantalamessa She became poor to serve the materially poor — did she similarly share the sufferings of the spiritually poor?
What happened after Mother Teresa said her Yes to the divine inspiration that was calling her to place herself at the service of the poorest of the poor?
The world knew well all that happened around her — the whirlwind development of her charitable activities — but until her death, no one knew what happened within her.
That is now revealed by her personal diaries and her letters to her spiritual director, published by Doubleday, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of her death, under the title: Mother Theresa. Come, Be My Light.
Some have completely misunderstood the nature of these writings, thinking that they oblige us to reconsider the personality of Mother Theresa and her faith and holiness. Far from undermining the stature of Mother Theresa’s holiness, these new documents will immensely magnify it, placing her at the side of the greatest mystics of Christianity.
Jesuit Father Joseph Neuner, who knew her, has written, “With the beginning of her new life in the service of the poor, darkness came on her with oppressive power.”
A few brief passages suffice to give an idea of the density of the darkness in which she found herself: “There is so much contradiction in my soul, such deep longing for God, so deep that it is painful, a suffering continual — yet not wanted by God, repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal. ... Heaven means nothing to me, it looks like an empty place.”
Jesuit Father Joseph Neuner, who knew her, has written, “With the beginning of her new life in the service of the poor, darkness came on her with oppressive power.”
It was not difficult to recognize immediately in this experience of Mother Teresa a classic case of that which scholars of mysticism, following St. John of the Cross, usually call “the dark night of the soul.” Tauler gives an impressive description of this stage of the spiritual life:
“Now, we are abandoned in such a way that we no longer have any knowledge of God and we fall into such anguish so as not to know any more if we were ever on the right path, nor do we know if God does or does not exist, or if we are alive or dead. So that a very strange sorrow comes over us that makes us think that the whole world in its expanse oppresses us. We no longer have any experience or knowledge of God, and even all the rest seems repugnant to us, so that it seems that we are prisoners between two walls.”
Everything leads one to think that this darkness was with Mother Teresa until her death, with a brief parenthesis in 1958, during which she was able to write jubilantly:
“Today my soul is filled with love, with joy untold, with an unbroken union of love.”
If, from a certain moment, she no longer speaks about it, it is not because the night was finished, but rather because she got used to living with it. Not only did she accept it, but she recognized the extraordinary grace it held for her.
“I have begun to love my darkness for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part, of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.”
The Silence of Mother Theresa
“I have begun to love my darkness for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part, of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth.”
The most perfumed flower of Mother Teresa’s night is her silence about it.
She was afraid, in speaking about it, of attracting attention to herself. Even the people who were closest to her did not suspect anything, until the end, of this interior torment of Mother.
By her order, the spiritual director had to destroy all her letters and if some have been saved it is because he, with her permission, had made a copy for the archbishop and future Cardinal T. Picachy, which were found after his death. Fortunately for us, the archbishop refused to acquiesce to the request made also to him by Mother to destroy them.
The most insidious danger for the soul in the dark night of the spirit is to realize that it is, precisely, the dark night, of that which great mystics have lived before her and therefore to be part of a circle of chosen souls.
With the grace of God, Mother Teresa avoided this risk, hiding her torment from all under a constant smile.
“The whole time smiling — sisters and people pass such remarks — they think my faith, trust and love are filling my very being. ... Could they but know — and how my cheerfulness is the cloak by which I cover the emptiness and misery,” she wrote.
A Desert Father says: “No matter how great your sufferings are, your victory over them is in silence.”
Mother Teresa put this into practice in a heroic manner.
Not Just Purification
But why this strange phenomenon of a night of the spirit that lasts practically the whole of life? (The same happened to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina: he was convinced throughout his life, that stigmata were not a sign of predilection or acceptance on the part of God but, on the contrary, of his refusal and just divine punishment for his sins!)
A Desert Father says: “No matter how great your sufferings are, your victory over them is in silence.”
Here there is something new in regard to that which teachers of the past have lived and explained, including St. John of the Cross. This dark night is not explained only with the traditional idea of passive purification, the so-called purgative way, which prepares for the illuminative and the unitive way.
Mother Teresa was convinced that it was precisely this in her case; she thought that her “I” was especially hard to overcome, if God was so constrained to keep her such a long time in that state.
But this was not true.
The interminable night of some modern saints is the means of protection invented by God for today’s saints who live and work constantly under the spotlight of the media. It is the asbestos suit for the one who must walk amid the flames; it is the insulating material that impedes the escape of the electric current, causing short circuits.
St. Paul said: “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
The thorn in the flesh that was God’s silence preserved Mother Teresa from any intoxication, amid all the world’s talk about her, even at the moment of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
“The interior pain that I feel,” she said, “is so great that I don’t feel anything from all the publicity and people’s talking.”
How wrong author and atheist Christopher Hitchens is when he writes “God is not great. Religion poisons everything,” and presents Mother Theresa as a product of the media-era.
But there is an even more profound reason that explains why these nights are prolonged for a whole lifetime: the imitation of Christ.
This mystical experience is a participation in the dark night of the spirit that Jesus had in Gethsemane and in which he died on Calvary, crying: “My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?”
Mother Teresa was able to see her trial ever more clearly as an answer to her desire to share the sitio (thirst) of Jesus on the cross: “If my pain and suffering, my darkness and separation give you a drop of consolation, my own Jesus, do with me as you wish. ... Imprint on my soul and life the suffering of your heart. ... I want to satiate your thirst with every single drop of blood that you can find in me. ... Please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for you for all eternity.”
It would be a serious error to think that the life of these persons was all gloom and suffering.
Deep down in their souls, these persons enjoy a peace and joy unknown by the rest of men, deriving from the certainty, stronger than doubt, of being in the will of God. St. Catherine of Genoa compares the suffering of souls in this state to that of purgatory and says that the latter “is so great, that it is only comparable to that of hell,” but that there is in them a “very great contentment” that can only be compared to that of the saints in paradise.
The joy and serenity that emanated from Mother Teresa’s face was not a mask, but the reflection of profound union with God in which her soul lived. It was she who “deceived” herself about her spiritual status, not the people.
By the Side of the Atheists
The world of today knows a new category of people: the atheists in good faith, those who live painfully the situation of the silence of God, who do not believe in God but do not boast about it; rather they experience the existential anguish and the lack of meaning of everything: They too, in their own way, live in the dark night of the spirit.
Albert Camus called them “the saints without God.” The mystics exist above all for them; they are their travel and table companions. Like Jesus, they “sat down at the table of sinners and ate with them” (see Luke 15:2).
This explains the passion in which certain atheists, once converted, pore over the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, the two Maritains, L. Bloy, the writer J.K. Huysmans and so many others over the writings of Angela of Foligno; T.S. Eliot on those of Julian of Norwich.
There they find again the same scenery that they had left, but this time illuminated by the sun. Few know that Samuel Beckett, the author of Waiting for Godot, the most representative drama of the theater of the absurd, in his free time read St. John of the Cross.
The word “atheist” can have an active and a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also one who — at least so it seems to him — is rejected by God. In the first case, it is a blameworthy atheism (when it is not in good faith), in the second an atheism of sorrow or of expiation.
In the latter sense, we can say that the mystics, in the night of the spirit, are “a-theist,” that Jesus himself on the cross was an “a-theist”, without-God.
They remind the honest atheists that they are not “far from the Kingdom of God”; that it would be enough for them to jump to find themselves on the side of the mystics, passing from nothingness to the All.
Mother Teresa has words that no one would have suspected of her: “They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God. ... In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing. Jesus please forgive the blasphemy.”
But one is aware of the different nature, of solidarity and of expiation, of this “atheism” of hers:
“I wish to live in this world that is so far from God, which has turned so much from the light of Jesus, to help them — to take upon myself something of their suffering.”
The clearest sign that this is an atheism of a completely different nature is the unbearable suffering that it causes to the mystics. Normal atheists don’t torment themselves because of the absence of God.
The mystics arrived within a step of the world of those who live without God; they have experienced the dizziness of throwing themselves down. Again, Mother Teresa who writes to her spiritual father: “I have been on the verge of saying — No. ... I feel as if something will break in me one day. ... Pray for me that I may not refuse God in this hour — I don’t want to do it, but I am afraid I may do it.”
Because of this the mystics are the ideal evangelizers in the post-modern world, where one lives etsi Deus non daretur (as if God did not exist).
They remind the honest atheists that they are not “far from the Kingdom of God”; that it would be enough for them to jump to find themselves on the side of the mystics, passing from nothingness to the All.
Karl Rahner was right to say: “Christianity of the future, will either be mystical or it will not be at all.” Padre Pio and Mother Teresa are the answer to this sign of the times.
We should not “waste” the saints, reducing them to distributors of graces or of good examples. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
Father Raniero Cantalamessa. "The ‘Atheism’ of Mother Teresa." National Catholic Register (September 9-15, 2007 issue).
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Ofm Cap, is preacher to the Pontifical Household.
As if anyone needed further proof that the frequently-cited claims of the "hostile, God-hating, anti-Catholic secular culture" are an excuse that's as wrong as it is lazy/convenient/poor/blind, TIME's extended serial on the five-decade long "dark night of the soul" of Bl. Teresa of Calcutta has been the most-viewed piece on its website since its Thursday release....
...and, though its pub-date is still 10 days off (4 September, the eve of the 10th anniversary of her death), Come Be My Light -- the book containing the in-depth chronicle of the spiritual struggle of the "Saint of the Gutters" -- is at #3 on Amazon's list of top-selling books.
In death as in life, The Little Nun Who Could just keeps on doing that which the great powers can't bring themselves to muster...
Nothing astonishing, that -- it's just the sign of the faithful witness. Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
— Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979
On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."
Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."
The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.
And in fact, that appears to be the case. A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."...
The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process...READ MORE >>>>
If I ever become a Saint — I will surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven — to [light] the light of those in darkness on earth."
So much for sanctity not making the covers of magazines....
As shown at left, TIME's extended look at the spiritual trials of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta has been revealed as the cover story of its upcoming edition, on newsstands tomorrow.
Underscoring the global awe and admiration that surrounds the apostle of the poor even a decade after her death, the sub-hed caption refers to the Missionaries of Charity foundress as a "beloved icon"; "even CNN was completely positive," exclaimed one observer of the last few days' coverage on the upcoming book of the letters of the saint-to-be, edited by the postulator of her cause for canonization.
It's worthwhile to note that, while Mother Teresa's departure for the Father's house ten years ago next week was overshadowed at the time by the intense public outpouring of grief at the loss of Diana, Princess of Wales, it seems that this anniversary has witnessed a turning of the tables that is a commentary in itself. A short essay on Diana is buried near the back of the pages, asking whether the "age of emotionalism" which climaxed in the week leading up to the princess' funeral has, in fact, "come to a close."
It could be said the cover-choice and story-emphasis have answered the question.
Blessed Teresa's posthumous spiritual memoir, Come Be My Light is holding at #3 on Amazon's list of best-sellers more than a week before it's release. Given all the exposure it's received -- an amount only set to increase as its 4 September pub-date nears -- the figure likewise looks set to only go upward.
...In one of her letters, Mother Teresa wrote: "There is so much contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God -- so deep that it is painful -- a suffering continual -- and yet not wanted by God -- repulsed -- empty -- no faith -- no love -- no zeal. Souls hold no attraction. Heaven means nothing -- to me it looks like an empty place."
Father Cantalamessa explained that the fact that Mother Teresa suffered deeply from her feeling of the absence of God affirms that it was a positive phenomenon. Atheists, he contended, are not afflicted by God's absence but, "for Mother Teresa, this was the most terrible test that she could have experienced."
He further clarified that "it is the presence-absence of God: God is present but one does not experience his presence."
Father Cantalamessa contended that Mother Teresa's spiritual suffering makes her even greater.
He said: "The fact that Mother Teresa was able to remain for hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament, as many eye-witnesses have testified, as if enraptured … if one thinks about the condition she was in at that moment, that is martyrdom!
"Because of this, for me, the figure of Mother Teresa is even greater; it does not diminish her."READ MORE >>>>
As a respected Boston lawyer once remarked of recentbiographies, "It's tough times for the dead." A case in point was the cover of last week's Time magazine. Splashed across the front page ran the headline "The Secret Life of Mother Teresa," accompanied by the gloomiest picture you ever saw of the saintly nun.
With its sensationalist title, Time magazine not only descended to the level of tabloid journalism, but betrayed a woeful ignorance of the meaning of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta's spiritual journey.
Capitulating to the fad of finding the sordid behind the glitter, where titles like "Britney's Breakdown" or "Lindsay in Crisis" are guaranteed to boost sales, the article itself feeds into the mentality that things are never as pretty as they seem. In our age of masking our own shortcomings by pointing out the flaws in others, it suggests that Mother Teresa's joyous love of the poor hid a darker, almost sinister side.
Recent interest in the extraordinary founder of the Missionaries of Charity stemmed from the recently published book "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light." Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, postulator for the cause of canonization of the saintly nun who died in 1997, compiled her letters and writings, including a number that revealed Teresa's spiritual trials.
By releasing these documents, Father Kolodiejchuk sought to grant readers a window into the intimate spiritual life of Mother Teresa, and to offer inspiration and hope by recounting her challenges in following Christ.
Instead, some have twisted her doubts about her faith, which she confided in letters to her spiritual director, into an indictment of her sincerity and personal holiness. Time author David Van Biema writes, "Perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain."
These terms relate Mother Teresa's life to that of a comic actor, suggesting that her professional persona and her private self were separate. Yet Teresa did more than just smile for cameras; she demonstrated joyous love, through her every action, gesture and expression.
The predatory glee with which news services leapt upon word of Mother Teresa's "dark night of the soul" resembled the same relish with which they report celebrity arrests. Questions such as, "Can she still be made a saint?" demonstrated an utter lack of knowledge regarding the Church's idea of sanctity while attempting to sow division by casting doubts on her holiness.
As a side note, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is blessed, which means that she is officially recognized by the Church as being in heaven. When she becomes a saint, worldwide devotion to Mother Teresa will be permitted, i.e. church dedication, invocation during the liturgy etc.
A different standard
The standards of the media are not those of saints. While Teresa herself feared falling into a sort of spiritual hypocrisy, the fact was that she, like many saints, possessed an especially keen sensitivity to how she fell short of Christ's example.
Celebrated atheists leapt to recruit the nun to their cause. Christopher Hitchens, who penned a vicious biography of Mother Teresa, was quoted extensively in the article. Seizing the opportunity to reach millions, Hitchens eagerly made his bid to turn Teresa into a poster child for nihilism.
Time also consulted psychologists to posthumously analyze Mother Teresa from her letters. It seems strange that so many people who do not believe in the soul felt themselves qualified to probe that of Mother Teresa's.
Although many have already rushed to quell these sparks, Mother Teresa obviously needs no defense. Happily situated in heaven along with other doubters like, well, St. Thomas, she is probably beseeching Jesus with her characteristic compassion to forgive Hitchens and the others "for they know not what they do."
Paradoxically, the divisive aspect of the stories has done what many Church synods couldn't. Liberal and traditional Catholics have joined forces to correct the record and to recognize Mother Teresa as an example for all people who suffer spiritual loneliness.
Her doubts and suffering, far from being a source of shame for those who love and admire this great woman, should make us proud to discover that she is an even greater hero than we thought.
For anyone seriously interested in the cause of Teresa, her spiritual difficulties come as no surprise. They were made known after her beatification in 2003. Discussing the subject at Roman dinner tables at the time, people spoke with awe of Mother Teresa's exceptional perseverance in the face of what would have crumbled anyone less attuned to God's grace.
Mother Teresa's experiences are not scandal, but a mirror of our own lonely age. While people today try to dispel feelings of loneliness with analysts, medications or pop spirituality, Teresa embraced her loneliness and clung to her faith in Jesus, which, though often devoid of feelings, was solid and profound. What many have failed to notice, in fact, is that a good number of her expressions of solitude are addressed to Jesus himself.
Carole Zaleski in "First Things" wrote that Teresa converted "her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God."
In many ways, her own sense of marginalization from God helped Mother Teresa to recognize loneliness in others. She proclaimed that there was "more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread." She realized that rejection and abandonment was not only the province of lepers, but present even in the inner life of those who appear to be successful and privileged.
How many times have we gone to Mass, not "feeling it," as modern speak would put it. Our lips moving, our gestures mechanical, but we remain distant from the reality of God and his love for us. In that emptiness, temptation raises its head, suggesting that rather than practice this "hypocrisy," we should forego Mass and go out for a round of golf instead.
Mother Teresa lived her doubts, not for an hour on Sunday, but every day as she tended the poor and dying in utter, relentless squalor. Her example reaches across from Christians to non-Christians.
Benedict XVI, as Father Joseph Ratzinger, made the interesting point in his 1963 "Introduction to Christianity" that "both the believer and the unbeliever share each in his own way, doubt and belief." That led him to notice that doubt could be a possible "avenue of communication" between the two.
Time and time again, saints show us that when they suffer, the solution is to look outside oneself, not further within. St. Alfonso Liguori and St. John of the Cross both overcame their own troubles by focusing on their calling. As one religious sister acutely observed, when Teresa couldn't find Jesus in her prayer life, she found him in the faces of her fellow human beings.
Teresa eventually came to give a meaning to her trials. She saw them as a privilege, the gift of sharing in Christ's loneliness on the cross.
In his film "The Passion," Mel Gibson painted a wrenching image of Christ's agony in the garden of Gethsemane. Amid oppressive darkness, the sight of Jesus, abandoned by his apostles, struggling to continue with his mission, confronts viewers with the sense of desolation that accompanied his sacrifice.
Saints like Blessed Teresa, who faced loneliness in their self-sacrifice, experienced a unique sharing in the mystery of Christ's passion. Like the purest gold, they have been forged in hotter fires.
Particularly in our era that gives more weight to feelings than facts and to sensation rather than sense, Mother Teresa teaches the world to persevere through doubt, pain and loneliness. In the dark spiritual night of the 21st-century, Mother Teresa of Calcutta's example is a shining beacon to us all.
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian Art and Architecture at Duquesne University's Italian campus. She can be reached at email@example.com
A book reveals to the general public what the cause of her beatification had already verified: her interior solitude, her sense of having been abandoned by God. In this way, she was even more the companion of the poor, in every way. A commentary by the preacher of the pontifical household, Raniero Cantalamessa
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, September 4, 2007 – Three days ago, speaking to three hundred thousand young people gathered in Loreto, Benedict XVI recalled that even a woman as holy as Mother Teresa, "with all her charity and the power of her faith," nonetheless "suffered from the silence of God."
And he added: "A book has been published containing the spiritual experiences of Mother Teresa, in which what we already knew is displayed even more openly."
The book to which the pope refers is entitled "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light." It is on sale as of September 4 in its English edition, edited and with an introduction by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, the postulator of the cause of Mother Teresa's canonization.
It presents some of the letters that the religious sister, who died ten years ago and is now beatified, wrote at various times to her spiritual directors. These letters attest to the long period in her life during which she experienced the "night of faith."
The mere announcement of the book's pending publication, even before it was released, stirred up a hornet's nest of debate in various countries throughout the world, as if it contained unprecedented revelations shocking enough to demolish Mother Teresa's image.
But everything in it was already well known, as Benedict XVI pointed out. The letters now published, together with other similar writings, were already contained in the eight volumes for the cause of Mother Teresa's beatification. And when she was proclaimed blessed , on October 19, 2003, these were the exact words printed in her official biography released by the Vatican:
"There was an heroic side of this great woman that was revealed only after her death. Hidden from all eyes, hidden even from those closest to her, was her interior life marked by an experience of a deep, painful and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with an ever-increasing longing for His love. She called her inner experience, 'the darkness.' The painful night of her soul, which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life, led Mother Teresa to an ever more profound union with God. Through the darkness she mystically participated in the thirst of Jesus, in His painful and burning longing for love, and she shared in the interior desolation of the poor."
Mother Teresa recounted this interior darkness, which lasted half a century – just as the entire world was admiring her radiant Christian joy – to no one but her spiritual directors, instructing them to destroy her letters after reading them. But they didn't.
This darkening of faith marks the lives of many other saints, even the greatest. But there's always something unique in each of them. In Mother Teresa, too.
In the commentary that follows, an outstanding author tries to address Mother Teresa's uniqueness, precisely in relation to her doubts on the faith. He is Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, an historian of early Christianity and the official preacher of the pontifical household.
His commentary was printed in the Sunday, August 26 edition of "Avvenire," right in the thick of the discussions following the announcement of the book.
In it, Fr. Cantalamessa maintains a bold hypothesis: he identifies in Mother Teresa the ideal companion for the many "atheists in good faith" who inhabit today's world. He calls them the most beloved of Jesus, who on the cross experienced abandonment by God more than anyone else.
What happened after Mother Teresa said 'yes' to the divine inspiration that called her to leave everything in order to serve the poorest of the poor?
The world learned a great deal about what happened around her – the arrival of her first followers, ecclesiastical approval, the dizzying expansion of her charitable activities – but until her death, no one know what happened inside her.
This is revealed by her personal diaries and the letters she wrote to her spiritual director, now published by the postulator of the cause of her canonization. I do not believe that the custodians of these letters, before deciding to give them over to be printed, had to overcome the fear that these might disturb or even scandalize their readers. Far from diminishing Mother Teresa's stature, they instead increase it, placing her beside the greatest Christian mystics.
"With the beginning of her new life in service of the poor," writes Jesuit Fr. Joseph Neuner, who was close to her, " an oppressive darkness came over her." A few brief passages are enough to give us an idea of the weight of the darkness in which she found herself: "There is so much contradiction in my soul, a deep longing for God, so deep that it hurts, a constant suffering – and with this there is the feeling of not being wanted by God, rejected, empty, without faith, without love, without zeal... Heaven means nothing to me; it seems a hollow place."
It is not hard to recognize immediately in Mother Teresa's experience a classic case of what the scholars of mysticism, after Saint John of the Cross, usually call the dark night of the soul.
Johannes Tauler gives a startling description of this state: "Then we are abandoned in such a way that we no longer have any awareness of God, and we fall into such anguish that we no longer know if we were ever on the right path, nor know if God even exists, or if we ourselves are alive or dead. And so an anguish besets us that is so strange, it seems as if everything in the entire world were joining together to afflict us. We no longer have any experience or awareness of God, but everything else seems repugnant to us as well, and it seems we are trapped between two walls."
Everything indicates that this darkness stayed with Mother Teresa right up until her death, with a brief pause in 1958, when she was able to write triumphantly: "Today my soul is full of love, full of inexpressible joy and an uninterrupted union of love." If at a certain point she almost does not speak of this night anymore, it is not because it was over, but because she had learned to live within it. Not only had she accepted it, but she recognized the extraordinary grace that it held for her. "I have begun to love my darkness, because I now believe that it is a part, a tiny little part, of the darkness and suffering in which Jesus lived on earth."
The silence of Mother Teresa
The most fragrant flower of the night of Mother Teresa is her silence about it. She was afraid that by talking about it she would draw attention to herself. Even the people closest to her suspected nothing, right until the very end, of her interior torment. According to her instructions, her spiritual director was supposed to destroy all of her letters, and if some of these were spared, it was because with her permission he had made a copy of them for the archbishop and future cardinal Trevor Lawrence Picachy, and these were found among his papers after his death. Fortunately for us, the archbishop refused to comply with the request to destroy them, which was even made to him personally by Mother Teresa.
The most insidious danger for the soul that is in the dark night is that of realizing that she is, in fact, in the dark night, in what the great mystics before her had experienced, and that she is therefore part of a circle of privileged souls. With the grace of God, Mother Teresa avoided this danger, hiding her torment from everyone under an ever-present smile. "Always smiling, is what the sisters and the people say of me. They think that inside I am full of faith, trust, and love... If they only knew how true it is that my joyfulness is nothing but a cloak I throw over my emptiness and misery!" A saying of the desert Fathers says: "However great your sufferings may be, your victory over them lies in silence." Mother Teresa put this into practice in an heroic way.
Not just purification
But why did this strange phenomenon of the night of the soul last practically her whole life? Here there is something new compared with the experience and accounts of the spiritual masters of the past, including Saint John of the Cross. This dark night cannot be explained solely through the traditional idea of passive purification, what is called the "purgative way', the preparation for the illuminative and unitive way. Mother Teresa was convinced that in her case, her ego was particularly hard to overcome, since God was constrained to keep her for so long in this state.
But this was certainly not the case. The endless night of some modern saints is the means of protection that God has invented for the saints of today who live and work under constant media attention. It is the suit of asbestos for those who must walk amid the flames; it is the insulation that prevents the electric current from surging and causing short circuits.
Saint Paul said: "Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me" (2 Cor. 12:7). The thorn in the flesh that was the silence of God was shown to be extremely effective for Mother Teresa: it shielded her from any sort of elation in the midst of the great noise the world was making about her, even at the moment she received the Nobel peace prize. "The interior suffering that I feel is so great," she said, "that all the publicity and all the talk of the people has no effect on me." How far from the truth is Christopher Hitchens in his vituperative essay "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" when he makes Mother Teresa out to be a product of the media age!
And there is an even deeper reason that explains these nights that extend through an entire life: the imitation of Christ, participation in the dark night of the soul that enfolded Jesus in Gethsemane, and in which he died on Calvary, crying: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" Mother Teresa came to see her trial more and more clearly as a response to her desire to gasp, together with Jesus on the cross, "I thirst": "If my pain and suffering, my darkness and separation from you give you even a drop of consolation, my Jesus, then do with me what you will... Impress the suffering of your heart upon my soul and my life... I want to quench your thirst with every last drop of blood you can find in me. Don't be concerned about returning soon: I am ready to wait for you for all eternity."
It would be a grave mistake to think that such people's lives are nothing but gloomy suffering. In the depth of their souls, they enjoy a peace and a joy that are unknown to the rest of mankind, arising from the certainty - stronger in them than their doubts - that they are living according the will of God. Saint Catherine of Genoa compares the suffering of souls in this condition with that of Purgatory, and says that it "is so great that it can be compared only to that of Hell," but that there is in it a "tremendous contentment" that can be compared only to that of the saints in Paradise. The joy and serenity that radiated from Mother Teresa's face was not a mask, but rather the reflection of the profound union with God she experienced within her soul. She was the one who was "deceived" about her condition, not the people.
At the atheists' side
Today's world has hatched a new category of people: atheists in good faith, those who experience the silence of God as a painful burden, who do not believe in God and yet do not boast of this, experiencing instead existential anguish and an absolute lack of meaning; they too, in their own way, live in a dark night of the soul. In his novel "The Plague," Albert Camus calls them "saints without God." The mystics exists above all for them; they are their companions on the road and at table. Like Jesus, they "have sat at table with sinners and have eaten with them" (cf. Luke 15:2).
This explains the passion with which certain atheists, once they have converted, have thrown themselves into the writings of the mystics: Claudel, Bernanos, Jacques and Raïssa Maritain, Leon Bloy, the writer Joris-Karl Huysmans, and many others plunged into the writings of Angela da Foligno; T.S. Eliot, into those of Julian of Norwich. Here they found the same landscape that they had left behind, but this time illuminated by the sun. Few know that the author of "Waiting for Godot," Samuel Beckett, read Saint John of the Cross in his free time.
The word "atheist" can have an active or a passive meaning. It can indicate someone who rejects God, but also someone who is rejected by God - or at least feels himself to be. The first case is one of culpable atheism (when it is not in good faith), while the second is an atheism of suffering or expiation. In the latter sense, we can say that the mystics, in the night of the soul, are a-theists - without God – and that on the cross Jesus, too, was an a-theist, one without God.
Mother Teresa wrote words that no one would have expected from her: "They say that the eternal pain that souls suffer in Hell is the loss of God... In my soul, I experience precisely this terribly pain of damnation, of a God who does not want me, of a God who is not God, of a God who in reality does not exist. Jesus, I beg you to forgive my blasphemy." But one realizes that her a-theism was of a different character, marked by solidarity and expiation: "In this world that is so far from God, that has turned its back on the light of Jesus, I want to help the people by taking on some of their suffering." The clearest indicator that this atheism is of a completely different nature is the inexpressible suffering that it provokes in the mystics. Ordinary atheists do not go through this kind of agony because of their atheism!
The mystics have come within a step of the world where people live without God; they have experienced that dizzying plunge. Mother Teresa again writes to her spiritual father: "I was on the verge of saying 'No'... I feel like one of these days something inside me will have to snap." "Pray for me, that I do not reject God in this hour. I do not want this, but I am afraid I could do it."
For this reason, the mystics are the ideal evangelizers in the postmodern world, where people live "etsi Deus non daretur," as if God did not exist. They remind the honest atheists that they are not "far from the kingdom of God," that in just one leap they could be on the side of the mystics, passing from nothing to everything.
Karl Rahner was right when he said, "In the future, Christianity will be mystical, or it will not exist at all." Padre Pio and Mother Teresa are the response to this sign of the times. We must not underestimate the saints, reducing them to channels of grace, or merely good examples.
The newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, which published the commentary by Fr. Cantalamessa:
What are we to make of Mother Teresa's letters, collected in a new volume
called " Mother Teresa: "Come Be My Light" which reveal decades of
spiritual depression, loneliness and doubt? Should this console us or disturb us?
The pious answer is that these sentiments humanize the distant saint, showing that even the great have their struggles. But this underestimates the rawness and intensity of the letters themselves, which are in fact disturbing.
In the 1950s she wrote: "Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The child of your love -- and now become as the most hated one -- the one You have thrown away as unwanted -- unloved. I call, I cling, I want -- and there is no One to answer -- no One on Whom I can cling -- no, No One. Alone . . . I am told God loves me -- and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul."
This is clearly not an intellectual skepticism, a normal crisis of faith. It is a profound sense of abandonment. In September of 1946, then-Sister Teresa had heard a voice calling her to serve the poorest of the poor -- what she interpreted as the voice of Jesus, asking her: "Wilt thou refuse?" But not long after this mystical encounter . . . nothing. In the long obedience that followed, there were no more spiritual consolations, no rewards of divine closeness, just interior darkness and silence. "I long for God," she wrote, but find "longing and no love." Having tasted the divine -- like a single day with a vanished lover -- God's absence seems to her beyond the tortures of nihilism. Only a believer would feel this divine departure so deeply. Martin Buber called this kind of experience the "eclipse of God" -- and it was made more terrible by Mother Teresa's vivid memory of the sun.
All of this was shocking to many who knew her, because she was constantly cheerful and smiling -- a manner she called "the cloak by which I cover the emptiness & misery." Rather than being hypocritical, this seems to have been peasant toughness. She often told others: "Pull yourself up," "Just be cheerful" and "Keep smiling" -- advice she followed herself. Such cheerfulness was not false but willed. And there is a kind of courage in losing hope without losing heart.
Eventually, on the evidence of the letters, Mother Teresa made peace with her darkness, identifying her own anguish with the suffering of her Savior and the suffering of the poor. "Now it does not really seem so hard," she eventually concluded. But she never regained the subjective religious experiences of her youth. "If ever I become a saint," she said, "I will surely be one of 'darkness.' "
There are lessons in this complicated spiritual life -- that holiness has more to do with obedience than spiritual feelings; that faith can coexist with suffering and doubt; that sainthood can be harsher and more difficult than we imagine.
But Mother Teresa's sense of abandonment raises a deeper issue. Assuming, for a moment, that she was not self-deluded in her calling, what kind of God would set such a difficult path -- ministering to lepers and outcasts for a lifetime -- and then withdraw his presence? Mother Teresa herself seemed to struggle with this unfairness: "What are you doing My God to one so small?"
There is no easy answer here, but the question is central to the Christian faith. Other noble religious traditions promise serenity, detachment from striving and release from the suffering of the world. Christianity, in contrast, teaches that grace is found in the worst of that suffering, and through a figure who despairs of God's presence in his parting words. This anguish is not convenient -- "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" is hardly the best religious marketing slogan. But for millennia this abandonment has offered hope that God might somehow be present even in shame, loneliness and betrayal, even on the descending path of depression, even in the soul's hardness and doubt, even in the silence of God himself -- and that all these things may be the preface to glory.
Through her pain-filled letters, Mother Teresa offers this assurance: Even when all we have to offer is ashes, and all we feel is emptiness, something beautiful may come of it in the end. But her decades of lonely sorrow are not an easy source of comfort. And Graham Greene might have been speaking of this abandoned mystic when he wrote: "You can't conceive, my child, nor can I or anyone the . . . appalling . . . strangeness of the mercy of God."
Father Langford told ZENIT how Mother Teresa clung to Our Lady throughout her dark night, and how we can grow closer to Mary by following Mother Teresa's example.
Q: What made you decide that now would be a good time to tell this part of Mother's story?
Father Langford: The decision to publish "In the Shadow of Our Lady" and to reveal more of Mother Teresa's inner life grew out of the convergence of two events: the 10th anniversary of her passing, and the recent controversy over her "dark night" of soul.
Given the confusion being created around Mother Teresa and her legacy, it seemed important to reveal another dimension of the true light and beauty of God's work in her soul -- a light that shone all the more brightly through her heroic faith.
Q: How would you describe Mother's periods of darkness, and what do you think about the recent controversies over her "dark night?"
Father Langford: Contrary to reports in the press, Mother Teresa did not suffer a "crisis" of faith. In fact, her struggle was not with faith at all, but with the "loss of feeling" of faith, with the loss of a felt sense of the divine. As she stepped out of the convent and into the slums of Calcutta, what had been her usual consolation in prayer abruptly ended.
Though she would not understand it until later, she was being asked to share the same inner darkness, the same trial of belief suffered by the poor and destitute -- and to do so for their sake, and for the love of her Lord.
She was allowed to feel as though God was absent, and at first she agonized at the disconnect between her emotions and her belief -- though never did her lack of feeling become lack of faith.
In fact, her dark night revealed the hidden depth of Mother Teresa's faith in a way that any lesser challenge could not. Her darkness not only allowed her to exercise her extraordinary faith to the full, it allowed us -- modern disciples too often of "little faith" -- to discover the true dimensions of which faith is capable, even under duress, even in the night.
She would want to encourage us to do the same in our own Calcutta, in our own dark night: Instead of allowing our trials and pain to become a prison, we can, as she did, make our pain a bridge into the pain of others, a bond of solidarity, a catalyst for charity.
Q: How did her relationship with Mary assist her in these times of trial?
Father Langford: Just as the Israelites were given a column of fire to lead them by night, so Mother Teresa was given her own guiding light through the night of faith, in the person of the Virgin Mary.
The gift of Jesus' mother -- given to St. John on Calvary, and to disciples and saints through the ages -- strengthened Mother Teresa in carrying her own pain, and in tending to the pain of the poor.
Our Lady would help her to not only believe in the night, but to love in the night -- to transform the mystery of the cross, both within her and around her, into seeds of resurrection.
As it was Our Lady who brought St. John, alone among the Twelve, to stand faithfully at Calvary, so it was Our Lady who would bring Mother Teresa through the sea of suffering opened before her, that she might shine the light of God's love on the poor.
Q: What did you learn about the Blessed Mother from Mother Teresa?
Father Langford: The book is a compendium of what I learned of Our Lady over the years, from watching and listening to this Saint of the Gutters. It is a simple apologia for Our Lady's role, wrapped not in polemics, but in the humble sari of one of the gospel's most credible and approachable witnesses.
It is impossible to observe Mother Teresa's faith without being reminded of the faith of Our Lady. Though her darkness bore other names and other dimensions, Mary of Nazareth lived her own night of faith.
Consider Joseph's months of doubt; finding no room in Bethlehem; the flight into Egypt; the years of Jesus' absence from Nazareth; the hours of his agony on the cross; and her own agony as he lie in the grave. From these came the lessons of faith she shared with a young Mother Teresa.
Mother Teresa's own life, and her sense of the role of the Mother of God, was that of "an ongoing Visitation," a "going in haste" to bring God to others. This Marian vision was based on Mother Teresa's own experience, but also firmly rooted in scripture.
The Gospel account of the Visitation in the first chapter of Luke shows obvious echoes of the "visitation" made by the Ark of the Covenant to David, also "in the hill country of Judea." No one disputes that the Ark carried a special anointing of grace and divine presence, that it was itself a "theotokos" ("God-bearer"), though only made of wood.
Can God not do the same and more, in a latter Testament, with a new and better Ark? Are we scandalized that God can make of flesh what once was? Or has our generation understood "neither the scriptures nor the power of God?"
In the end, Mother Teresa would not be one to argue, but simply to say of this Marian mystery, as she so often did of the mystery of Christ hidden in the poor: "Come and see."
Q: How did Mother Teresa's visions as a young woman affect her Marian devotion?
Father Langford: Sometime in 1947, after months of extraordinary grace in which Jesus explained in detail the mission she was to undertake, Mother Teresa was granted a vision which represented the major elements of her new call.
She was shown a "large crowd" of poor of every kind, "covered in darkness" -- a darkness she herself would soon share. Our Lady was standing in the midst of them, claiming them as her children.
Mother Teresa saw herself "as a little child," standing directly in front of Our Lady, so close as to seem one thing with her, literally enveloped by her presence. What Mother Teresa saw in vision that day would indeed come to pass, as her mission became a kind of "extension of Our Lady" at the Calvaries of this world.
When asked by her spiritual advisor how she intended to accomplish the impossible task Jesus had asked of her, Mother Teresa replied simply that she was placing "all her confidence" in the presence of Our Lady.
She never doubted, inspired by the same faith that sustained Our Lady in her darkest hour on Calvary, that the Son of God was hidden beneath the "distressing disguise" of those who shared his Passion. As Jesus proclaims in Matthew's Gospel, and as Mother Teresa loved to repeat: "Whatever you do to the least … you did it to me."
From her life-changing vision of 1947 until her death, Our Lady would be Mother Teresa's constant reference, her model, and her unflagging support.
Q: In your book, you talk about the four important "attitudes of soul necessary for Our Lady to intervene in our lives." Can you briefly describe these, and how Mother radiated these in her life and work?
Father Langford: The first prerequisite in our relationship with Our Lady is an attitude of littleness and poverty of spirit, an attitude that opens the gates of the kingdom. As the Gospel insists: "Unless you change and become like children" (Luke 18:17).
This was a keynote of Mother Teresa, and of those chosen by Our Lady in all her apparitions.
The second prerequisite is an attitude of trust, of simple faith in the presence, the power, and role of Our Lady in God's plan, relying on her intervention and intercession with the trust of a child.
Thirdly, Our Lady, who proclaimed "Let it be done to me according to your word," asks the same humble obedience, the same docility and suppleness of spirit of all her children that we see in Mother Teresa, and in those who lived in intimacy with Mary.
The fourth prerequisite in coming closer to Our Lady is a contemplative attitude, both in prayer and in life -- a sense of childlike wonder at the majesty of his being and the beauty of his creation, and an ability to marvel at his gifts and blessings.
Q: How did the Blessed Mother bring Mother Teresa, and how can she bring us, closer to Christ?
Father Langford: Mother Teresa discovered that Our Lady's presence alongside her in the slums purified things, no matter how sullied, and beautified things, no matter how uncomely. She opened the blackest of horizons to the light of God's grace.
For Mother Teresa, Our Lady was like the cloud that came down on the meeting tent in the Old Testament, bringing with it a sacred atmosphere filled with God's presence, offering a refuge that purifies and transforms everything, divinizing us and preparing us for the encounter with God.
Mother Teresa was convinced that in this sacred space all that God wanted from her would be realized. In Our Lady, Mother Teresa found a privileged path into the mystery of Trinitarian love, given in Jesus.
For her, Our Lady represented mankind's "maximum response" to God, our highest and fullest answer to his invitation to love and be loved. As Our Lady became St. John's solution to the dilemma of human weakness, as he scaled the mount of Calvary, so Our Lady was Mother Teresa's solution to the same dilemma, as she plumbed the depths of Calcutta's slums.
Mother Teresa would invite us, as she invited her Sisters, to allow Our Lady to become our solution as well, as we face the trials and demands of following Jesus, "picking up our cross every day," in our own hidden Calcuttas of the heart.
With her whole heart -- and with what extraordinary results -- Mother Teresa heeded, and encourages us to heed, Jesus' solemn invitation "Disciple, Behold your Mother.-READ the whole Articel >>>>
Brilliant, brilliant editing by Father Kolodiejchuk who painstakingly sifts through bushels and bushels of personal letters written by Mother Teresa to the great clerics of India since 1946. No author to date has better distilled Mother Teresa's essence and interior life than Kolodiejchuk, the current Director of the Mother Teresa Center and the Postulator for her canonization. This book is nothing less than breathtaking and well worth Kolodiejchuk's journey through this Saint's holy, passionate, miraculous, yet excruciatingly painful walk with Jesus. Kolodiejchuk insightfully shapes the life of Mother Teresa as if she were a crucible of gold being fired and shaped by the love of Jesus. First ecstasy, then unrelenting torment, and then her final transformation into this flame of love that the world could not get enough of! Alas, Mother Teresa, you will continue "to light the light of those in darkness on earth."
Today, September 10, is the anniversary of Christ's miraculous call to Mother Teresa in 1946, pleading, "Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light." "Will thou refuse?" How could Mother Teresa refuse? For in 1942, she had made a personal, secret vow to Jesus, "Ask Jesus not to allow me to refuse Him anything, however small, I [would] rather die -- a "folly of love," according to Kolodiejchuk, that ultimately came to haunt Mother Teresa throughout her painful, yet joyous life.
To unlock the mystery of this book, the reader must first view the relationship of Jesus and Mother Teresa within the framework of Matthew's Gospel 25:45, as alluded to by Kolodiejchuk, where Jesus admonishes, "Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me." The least being the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the ill, the prisoners -- Mother Teresa's Calvary, a prayer of love walking among the poor. Secondly, the reader must analyze Mother Teresa's love of Jesus, as expressed through the last Words of Jesus on the Cross of Calvary: "[W]hy have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) and "I thirst" (John 19:28), as well as Psalm 22, the Prayer of an Innocent Person -- the life and blood of Mother Teresa's letters to the bishops and priests of India.
When Mother Teresa made her private vow to Jesus, she ennunciated, "I wanted to give God something very beautiful" and "without reserve," "to drink the chalice to the last drop." Unfortunately, the last drop was Christ's abandonment of Mother Teresa (through His silence) during His mission with her on earth, incarnating within Mother Theresa His words from the cross, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." (Matt. 27:46) In her early years, at the time Mother Teresa made her vow to drink the chalice to the last drop, she did not fully appreciate the significance of what she had asked from Jesus; however, later in life, she recognized that God had granted her this suffering as a gift, and that is why she kept the faith and continued onward with the poor, despite feeling totally abandoned by God. Mother Teresa truly walked the plight of Calvary, completely obedient, as she ministered to the lepers of Calcutta. Ironically, it is this feeling of total abandonment by God that enabled Mother Teresa to empathize with the poorest of the poor, and that is why God chose her to be his light. Had Mother Teresa not requested to be abandoned by her lover, God, she would have never comprehended the absolute suffering of the poor.
After finishing the book "Come Be My Light," I recognized that Christ was actually living inside Mother Teresa. Her very steps were those of Christ. I do not believe Mother Teresa suspected that she had been consumed by the love of Jesus. In essence, she was oblivous to her personification of God's thirst. The testament to this miracle occurs when a priest in Rome, having never met Mother Teresa, heard a strange voice coming from a crucifix, commanding him to relay the following message to Mother Teresa: "Tell Mother Teresa: I thirst." Upon her receiving a letter from this priest about his uncanny experience, Mother Teresa grapsed the significance of these words (the last words of Jesus on the cross in the Gospel of John). These Words were the secret Words that had tormented Mother Teresa for over 40 years, coming from a messenger to confirm the miracle of her purpose: to quench God's inifinite thirst to love and be loved.
by James Calorient.
Mother Teresa Center
524 West Calle Primera,
San Ysidro CA 92173