The National Catholic Review
This past Saturday night I was invited to take part in a show on WCCO radio in Minneapolis. The topic for the hour was the recent revelation and publication of Mother Teresa’s private correspondence concerning her long periods of spiritual darkness regarding the presence of God. The host of the show seemed genuinely to be puzzled by the idea of such a well-known religious figure struggling with God’s presence in her life. She seemed particularly struck by the fact that the Catholic Church did not see Mother Theresa’s struggles as something to be hidden and that it was her postulator for beatification, Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who gathered these documents and had them published. The words that kept coming to the radio host’s mouth in trying to make sense of Mother Theresa’s spiritual life in light of her public persona were "fraud" and "hypocrite." She did not seem to me to mean these words in a particularly condemnatory manner; in fact it seemed that she thought that a great spiritual figure ought not to struggle with faith. I understood her confusion. I was raised in a Mennonite family and church, full of faith and love and devotion to the scriptures, but also with a sense of perfectionism about the nature of the Christian life. It seemed to me that doubts were not welcome and certainly not to be considered. I recall how difficult this was to me as someone forming his own faith as a teenager growing up in Vancouver, B.C in the ’70’s--though I do think forming faith in the ’70’s was difficult at many levels. Why was it difficult? I grew up with friends who were Hindus, Sikhs, Shinto, and even Catholic! I can recall the Shinto shrine my neighbors the Kitagawas’ had for their recently deceased grandfather and father; I remember the shock of seeing a Ganesh poster in my friend Shinder Kirk’s home. My questions in light of knowing and caring for these people of other traditions were simple: is it only Christians who are saved? This was not only an innocent question, but an essential one. No one seemed to want to answer the question in my church. I began to feel that any of my questions regarding theology or the spiritual life were not welcome. There were more: How do we discern God’s will? How do we understand the authority of scripture? Why is it scripture? Why does God not respond to my prayers? Where is God? As my questions and doubts grew, I found myself increasingly drawn away from my church, as I began to feel that my questions themselves reflected a lack of faith. How could I be a Christian if I had so many questions and so often felt God’s absence? How valuable Mother Teresa’s experience of darkness will be for so many of us who struggle with the reality of faith lived out on a day to day level, though she is by no means the first of those who have doubted. When I came to be educated in the Catholic tradition I found the Desert Fathers and Mothers, St. Augustine, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. John of the Cross. I also found the scriptures, in all of their perplexity, reality and humanity. I have come to love the scriptures for the spiritual wrestling that we see by the great historical figures of the faith--Abraham, Jacob, Hannah, Peter, Paul, and, yes, Jesus, as he approaches his great sacrifice in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can see this great perplexity and depth in the Gospel for the coming week, the parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-13). Why is the dishonest steward commended for reducing the amount owed by his master’s debtors? Are we to understand this as spiritual debt? Is the steward to be understood as a church leader who has unjustly treated the master’s debtors by not "forgiving" debt? Are we being told to use earthly wealth not as an (earthly) end but as a means to (eternal) salvation? Why else are "eternal dwellings" mentioned? I have struggled to understand this parable, and am not certain that I have grasped it in full, but the struggle to understand this particular text is only a small example of the constant struggle to faith that we all face. Mother Teresa’s final and great example is that she continued to act out her faith of love of God and love of humanity while at the same time yearning to see the fullness of God in her interior life. I suppose I do not see her life properly described as fraudulent or hypocritical; I guess the word I am looking for is "faithful." John W. Martens

Comments

Anonymous | 10/4/2007 - 3:23am
I look at the "dark night of the soul" as St.Theresa of Calcutta speaks about and many Saints have, as a relationship with "God". Of any relationship we have with anyone, we have "dark night of the soul" within ourselves. This is when we question in great measure of who we are and who the other is. With Teresa of Calcutta and many other beautiful people like the mystics. They so loved "God", they served, not to be served. Their love was genuine and deep. God's love. This is the truest of relationships of the doubting process and wonderment of love. Any measurement of love is God's love and we have times of darkness and questioning. The time God gives us many gifts.
Anonymous | 9/26/2007 - 11:14am
Dear Mother Teresa was working within a gift of God called "pure faith"--not an empty tank, as I have tried to describe on the Amazon.com website. The earlier vision she experienced was so nourishing she had the strength to go on in agony for the length of time she did--and it was all gift of God... this is not to denigrate her courageous part in it--but to underline her ongoing "yes" to the ONE she loved--Jesus. When we continue with these moment-by-moment "yes's" we are rewarded by seeing jesus in those around us--which Mother Teresa, herself, said she did. That gave her ongoing strength--and THAT is her model for us...
Anonymous | 9/20/2007 - 10:51pm
Here is what my friend, Dr Jerry Moye, professor of Church History and Old Testsment at Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in a personal correspondence after reading about the recently published journal of Mother Teresa: Is not this struggle like dark night of St. John of the Cross? For me, she now really is a saint. earlier descriptions made her such a simple peasant child. now she really is connected to the pain of modern society where belief in God is not as easily affirmed, so easily explained away as neurosis, projection, illusion etc. etc. She may have named herself after the little flower, simple faith of Therese of Lisieux, but perhaps she is even closer to the other Teresa of Avila who certainly knew the darkness of many years of spiritual dryness before God gave relief. I suppose at one level, every situation is a gift--gift of dark night and pain given to some and gift of days of light and facility for others--gift of having opportunity to trust God, no matter what the outward circumstances. Jerry Moye