on September 3, 2007
Mother Theresa began her missionary work in the late 40s and has become one of the most beloved figures of the twentieth century. Her compassion for the poor and her devotion to the cause has brought her great admiration from believers and non-believers alike.
For the first time we are able to get a glimpse of the inner workings of her brain and heart. "I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she writes in one of her letters that help shed light into her plight to feel the presence of God. Mother Theresa suffered for her faith. "There is nothing but emptiness and darkness," she declared. They say suffering is needed for Sainthood. She definitely passed that test. Some may find it disappointing that a person as holy as Mother Theresa struggled with her faith. I personally found it rather consoling. It helps me relate during those moments of doubt and questioning.
She might have questioned her faith; she might have felt the emptiness of God's presence, from time to time, but she never questioned her mission to serve and to do God's will. These types of dichotomies abound the entire book. Here is a perfect example: "But when I was eighteen, I decided to leave my home and become a nun, and since then, this forty years, I've never doubted even for a second that I've done the right thing; it was the will of God. It was his Choice."
Although Mother Theresa had asked that these letters, that spanned decades, be destroyed upon her death, they have been published in this book that will inspire millions to live her example of faith; to live her example of sacrifice and to get closer to God. She didn't want her writings to divert attention from Jesus, that's why she wanted them destroyed. The result, however, is quite the opposite.
Many people have made the struggle of her faith the cornerstone of this book. I feel, however, that they have missed so much of the inspiration; the beautiful writing; her poems; her dedication and her beautiful heart.
As an aside note, I really enjoyed the way Mother Theresa ended her letters. Here is one, addressed to Father Michael, which spoke on her desire to be an instrument of Jesus: "I pray for you that you let Jesus use you without consulting you. Do the same for me."
This is a very inspirational book that I will read again, for sure. Enjoy!
on October 21, 2007
"I am told God loves me--and yet the reality of darkness and coldness
and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul."
I wrote this quotation on the white board at the beginning of a recent Sunday School lesson on the Israelites' wilderness wanderings and asked the kids who they thought had written it. Their guesses ranged from Kurt Cobain to Alanis Morissette to Sylvia Plath...people we associate with acute depression or drugs or angry rejections of the world. No one supposed the meek, humble, seemingly always-at-peace saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This response from my junior and senior highers mirrored the response of Christians all over the world when these private letters and journals of Mother Teresa were made public for the first time a couple months ago.
For those who have not yet seen the book, it offers a remarkably candid and penetrating insight into the depth of Mother Teresa's spiritual life, revealing a surprising and tragic absence of any sense of God's presence or comfort with her for most of the final 50 years of her life. I have found myself reading her letters and diary entries with a mix of voyeuristic curiosity, heartwrenching concern, and a desire to glean wisdom from this luminary of Christian history.
Many times Mother Teresa begged that these papers be destroyed, and I can't blame her for desiring that; I would be mortified if my deepest thoughts and feelings-- intended for myself, for God, or for my closest confidants-- were made public. And there would be an added sense of betrayal, as opposed to, say, posting something on a myspace page that eventually made its way to unintended eyes. Ultimately, the Catholic Church decided that Teresa's own spiritual experience belonged not to herself, but to the Church. And, in spite of feeling like part of the betrayal when I immerse myself in her descriptions of the depths of her soul, I do have to agree that the potential benefits of Mother Teresa's personal writings for the spiritual development of every Christian outweigh other concerns.
Some of the valuable lessons from Mother Teresa's words:
A Deeper Understanding of Spiritual Darkness
"There is no God in me--when the pain of longing is so great--I just long & long for God--and then it is that I feel--He does not want me--He is not there..."
Although the darkness and sense of abandonment that Mother Teresa suffered was, it seems, more profound than that which most of us are likely to experience (corresponding to her unusually high calling), her words will connect powerfully with anyone who has gone through a period of doubt, darkness, or depression, as well as enlightening everyone's understanding of the complexities of such a spiritual state. Too frequently those in the Church rush to interpret spiritual dryness as a sign of spiritual failure or unfaithfulness; indeed, Mother Teresa initially regarded her own feelings of being abandoned by God as resulting from her own sinfulness. But there is not always such a simple, formulaic explanation for these "dark nights of the soul"--would it not seem rather naïve and foolish to conclude from Mother Teresa's spiritual condition that she was not praying enough, or that she wasn't being faithful enough to God's call?
As surprising as the revelation of Mother Teresa's spiritual darkness may seem to us, it is consistent with the Apostle Paul's understanding of the Christian's sharing in Christ's sufferings. But rarely do we accept this suffering as the call of a modern-day Christian--and never do we expect this suffering to include Christ's anguished cry from the cross: "My God--why have you forsaken me?!"
This is not to imply that those in spiritual anguish--Mother Teresa included--are free of sin, but that there is not a set correlation between our faithfulness and the happiness--or even the joy--that we experience.
And yet these feelings of spiritual darkness are often compounded exponentially by feelings of guilt and failure..."I'm not a good enough Christian," "I'm not faithful enough," "It's all my fault that I can't seem to experience the joy of Christ right now."
Mother Teresa reminds us that there is an element of mystery to suffering in this age, that its causes cannot be identified the way we diagnose the roots of lower back pain or of a toothache.
An Extraordinary Model of Faithfulness
"I know there have been things which could have been better, but in all sincerity I have tried to refuse nothing to God to answer His every call."
So often we want to know what God desires of us--so long as that calling does not interfere with the plans we have already made for our life, or draw us into a place where we would feel uncomfortable, or where we would have to give up things or freedoms we are unwilling to surrender. Even things as simple as rearranging our schedules, repairing a relationship, or making small sacrifices in our standard of living we tend to reject as too difficult--as if God were asking us to go evangelize a colony of single-celled organisms on Mars.
Mother Teresa voluntarily spent decades of her life in utter poverty, without even the comfort of God's presence with her--and she did not leave her mission field to seek the limited pleasures and comforts the world could offer, all because she knew that she was doing what Christ (or "the Absent One," as she came to call Him) had called her to do. Her faithfulness--with so few spiritual comforts and supports--is both humbling and inspiring.
A Powerful Witness to Hope
"The joy of loving Jesus comes from the joy of sharing in His sufferings...In all of our lives, as in the life of Jesus, the Resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn."
It seems particularly cruel that Mother Teresa's darkness did not ultimately lift before she died in 1997. Even the most famous of the spiritually desiccated, St. John of the Cross, suffered in his similar condition for a mere 40-some years before finally experiencing God's presence again in his final years. How could Mother Teresa love so deeply while feeling so abandoned? How could she keep going for half a century? How could she experience any joy at all? Mother Teresa lived her life in a condition of pure faith and hope, trusting that God's reality was greater than her sensation of His absence, that the hope of resurrection was a concrete certainty, that "the Absent One" would indeed return, as He had promised in the scriptures. Her life defines "hope"...a life built on Christ's promises, and not on her own experiences. Her witness can be heard as a word of hope to all who suffer, have suffered, or will suffer from the agony of Christ's absence--there is a greater reality than what we can perceive, there are mysteries that we cannot comprehend, and there is a hope that transcends our understanding.
on October 2, 2007
I am an Evangelical pastor of nearly 25 years. Nobdoy has spoken of the spiritual dryness that we SO reluctantly admit to, as Mother Theresa. No wonder she wanted her letters burned, we may still not be ready for the reality of Christ. She approaches only the Apostle Paul in doing so. She teaches that if we aproach the benefits of following our risen saviour only in terms of self-gratification, we miss the whole point. Our Lord will withhold it, to test and clarify our desire to follow him for no other reason than to gain Him. I do not claim to have grasped the things she testifies to, only to see at a distance that she is correct and the things she suffered where not punishement for sin, but the course of growth in Christ which, as Augustine ponted out, is only achieved for it's own sake, with no regard to present benefit. She moved forward, without regard to personal gain, because she grasped the overwheleming reality of Christ our Saviour. Buy the book when you are ready to be drawn into Christ centered spiritual maturity that no seminary,Sunday School, nor Sunday preaching could have prepared you for.
on May 17, 2008
Saint John of the Cross initiated the term 'Dark Night of the Soul.' It essentially refers to an arrid period in our spiritual journey - one whereby we feel somewhat abandoned by God. God is always there however; we just feel as though He has left us to our own devices.
Many of the great saints and mystics experienced this dark night and Blessed Mother Teresa was no exception. She has been unfairly criticized by many, especially some media sources. They paint a picture of someone who actually did not believe but simply went through the motions - a kind of faith facade. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read this book and see for yourself what she really experienced and how she managed to overcome her anxieties. The Lord Whom she loved and served saw her through it all until the end.
One has to ask themselves logically why a woman of her age and length of service to humanity years would even go into the areas she did. What drives someone to leave a relatively comfortable life and embark into areas totally foreign to them being subject to all manner of inconvenience and potential dangers? Why would anyone ever 'volunteer' for such work as Mother Teresa chose picking up and carrying maggot-infested people from the gutters and taking them to a shelter, albeit a warehouse she was able to obtain, and clean the maggots from them, give them food and drink, comfort and assurance so they could die with dignity?
Critics abound everywhere and do so from the comfort of their air-conditioned dwellings sipping a latte' and knowing that their next meal is in their grasp. They shower with imported soaps, get facials and manicures...yet, they are able to criticize an elderly Nun who is out in the world remaining free of its attractions so as to see in all men and women the Christ she so loved and served. Dark night's incidentally are actually a sign that God has favored someone. It is a test of sorts and in my judgment and that of millions of others, Blessed Mother Teresa passed that test with flying colors.
Read this book and see for yourself the strength and character that was Mother Teresa.
on June 14, 2008
This book was picked up on a whim, it was on sale and I, frankly, had never read a book on Mother Teresa. The movie "Madre Teresa" is dynamic and full of hope, but it looked more at the movement than the "pencil in the hand of God" as she called herself. After about one chapter I was hooked. This is a book of sharp contrasts--Mother Teresa knows God is there, she sees His hand, she knows His love, but He seems so silent to her. It was hard to read at times as we walked with her through the "Dark Soul of the Night" (taken from her own letters and the reading by St John of the Cross). You almost wanted to reach into the book and tell her "God is there!" but then you are awakened to the very fact that many of us live the same walk with God. God's silence is so loud, yet we know He is there, even in the darkest corners of our life.
The amazing parts were her "spunk." While she took every answer as a "Yes" or "No" from God, she was not one to let others decide the answer without her sending volumes of letters explaining her rationale for every project, every idea...she almost pestered her superiors, but pester is not the right word. She exhibited passion--a trait not as evident today.
The one thing that I walked away with comes very late in the book and it will really change your life. It deals with a passage she hears read during a sermon or presentation from Psalm 68.21 (or Psalm 69.20 in the Protestant version). Read it in the NRSV...it is a powerful essay in one verse on the state of (or lack of) caring in our world. Her answer to all the sisters (and to the reader) is "Be The One." Be the one for the hurting, be the one who stands in the gap (Ezekiel), be the one for the poor man (Eccl.) and more.
As Mother Teresa reaches the end of her life the book quietly winds down to one simple story at the end. It takes place in a simple village and a simple home (I won't spoil it) but it sums up the entire book and it gives the reader a challenge for a changed life to be lived among the poorest of the poor. Every page is rich in detail. It is amazing so many people ignored her admonition to burn her letters and they kept all the correspondence...which now gives us a legacy. As a non-Catholic myself, I had heard so much rumor of her faith being more Hindu than Christian, more secular than sacred. This book sets the story straight as it takes the very words from the very letters she wrote and she received. An amazing book to have our kids read, too.
on April 18, 2008
I had not read these reviews before opening this book because it was given to me by a friend. It was obvious from the opening pages that Mother Theresa was a saintly person whose life in the world and her interior life were a spiritual path she was called to by God. Her willingness to sacrifice and devote everything for her beloved Jesus brings tears to one's eyes. As I read on it brought a different kind of tears to realize how deeply she was betrayed by her trusted advisors and confessors. Her letters begging to be allowed to serve the poor are bad enough-- but then the letters begging to have her private thoughts destroyed and burned only to be denied are even more distressing. It is clear that her whole life, every thought, every word, every deed was about Jesus and glorifying God-- she wanted to remain an anonymous no one -- and here is a book that glorifies her in spite of her objections. I could not finish it and felt such remorse having even read the part I did read. It is unfathomable how anyone could contravene the wishes of this saintly woman in this way and make money doing so. I cried indeed when I realized the final indignity perpetrated in her name. I strongly recommend that others respect her wishes and not buy this book.
on October 5, 2007
When the desert monastics of fourth-century Egypt fled the bustle and business of the cities to survey the geography of the human heart, they discovered that the outward journey in the noisy world was a lot easier than the interior journey of the soul in the desert solitude. Without exception they recommended the sage advice of Saint Anthony the Great (251-356) : "expect trials until your last breath." To the shock and dismay of many admirers, and the criticisms of some detractors, this volume of Mother Teresa's private correspondence shows that she was no exception to the monastic rule. Published to coincide with the tenth anniversary of her death (1910-1997), letter after letter documents the deep darkness that plagued her for fifty years.
Mother Teresa describes her interior struggle in many ways, but most of all as an absence of God's presence-- as an emptiness, loneliness, pain, spiritual dryness, or lack of consolation. "There is so much contradiction in my soul, no faith, no love, no zeal. . . . I find no words to express the depths of the darkness. . . . My heart is so empty. . . . so full of darkness. . . . I don't pray any longer. The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal. . . . I have no faith, I don't believe." And what about her angelic demeanor that so many people experienced? "The smile is a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains. . . . my cheerfulness is a cloak by which I cover the emptiness and misery. . . . I deceive people with this weapon." And yes, time and again she admitted to her confessors that she felt like a "shameless hypocrite" by teaching and preaching one thing but experiencing something far different in her own life.
But Mother Teresa was never bereft of an intense longing for God, and this was an important telltale clue. Along with her confessors she explored the reasons or explanations for her interior turmoil: maybe it was punishment for sin, a trial to purify her faith, a temptation of satan, or a consequence of her hasty personality and physical fatigue. Eventually, she determined that her darkness was not an obstacle to her call from God to serve the poorest of the poor but instead part and parcel of that call. In her darkness she identified with the poor and shared in the sufferings of Christ himself.
Non-Catholic readers will be mystified by some of the jargon in this book. When she left Loreto after twenty years should Mother Teresa have sought an "Indult of secularization" (to be freed from her vows) or an "exclaustration" (to leave Loreto but keep her vows)? Many who place a premium upon the inviolability of personal conscience will take exception to a spirituality that calls for obedience that is "cheerful, prompt, simple, and blind" (Mother Teresa practiced this herself and expected it of her sisters). Most irritating of all, though, were the editorial comments by Kolodiejchuk, the effects of which felt like a sales job or promo piece for canonization as a saint--Mother Teresa's wisdom is profound, her zeal outstanding, her integrity remarkable, etc. This has the unintended but tragic consequence of removing Mother Teresa from the realm of everyday mortals who struggle as Christians with their own darkness, and who might have received genuine consolations from the saint of Calcutta, and elevating her to the heroic realm of unattainable virtue. Finally, there's an interesting ethical issue raised by her correspondence in this book. Mother Teresa repeatedly begged that these private letters be destroyed. The Catholic Church overruled her request and I suspect that many Christians will benefit as a result.
To anyone familiar with religious autobiography, there's nothing unfamiliar nor scandalous about Mother Teresa's spiritual dryness documented in Come Be My Light. The experience of being abandoned by God, which sometimes leads to agonizing despair and at other times to a paralyzing indifference, can be traced all the way back to Jesus' cry of horror from the cross. The desert hermits called it acedia, the noontide demon. St. John of the Cross famously called it the dark night of the soul. Another Teresa, the Little Flower, died in spiritual dryness. It's not an uncommon phenomenon, especially when a believer is under intense and steady psychological and/or physical pressure. Can there really be any Christian who's never experienced it to one degree or another?
Moreover, dryness, when understood in spiritual terms, is often a period in which one's relationship with God is deepening and enriching, even though it certainly doesn't feel like it. Mystics and "ordinary" Christians who've suffered from it attest to the need to endure the spell in the hot desert sun as best one can, recognizing that there are times when the soul just needs to lie fallow. The sense of being abandoned by God isn't a cause for abandoning one's trust in God, even though one is sorely tempted to do so.
The letters collected in this book which reveal Mother Teresa wrestling with her dryness are heartbreaking, then, but not a cause for scandal. Curiously, though, their publication has brought a charge of hypocrisy from secularists: if Mother Teresa felt abandoned by God, it was sheer hypocrisy on her part to "put up a good front." She ought to have thrown the religious thing over. That's would've been the honest thing to do.
What a strange but typically postmodern criticism. As if one throws over a lover because one is going through a period of emotional tepidity. As if a dark night of the soul is clinical and needs to be healed quickly instead of entered into deeply. As if doubts automatically entail rejection. As if there mighn't be any meritorious participation in the sorrows of God, in suffering.
on January 29, 2013
I understand that the purpose of this book was to offer comfort and consolation to people in their own personal struggles, however, it is doubtful whether this particular publication is at all successful in achieving this goal.
It seems that from the beginning Mother Teresa's experience was simply "accepted" as normal and was described as a "dark night of the soul". There was absolutely nothing she or anyone else could do as this was the result of God's own divine will and intervention and all that could simply be done was to wait upon God.
References are made to similar experiences in the lives of other saints such as St John of the Cross, St Paul of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila and St Therese of Lisieux. However, while such spiritual aridity may have existed in the lives of others it appears that a significant point of difference is that there was a terminus to this which was usually followed by a more profound mystical experience and greater spiritual consolation something that appears to be absent in the life of Mother Teresa.
I can't but help feel that her experience was a failure on the part of her spiritual directors. She turned to so many yearning for guidance, direction and consolation and it appears that she was never fully able to receive this adequately. She seems to have been a saintly woman that was completely spent physically, emotionally and spiritually as a result of her indefatigable activities and relentless service. She was a woman who was constantly on the go and she denied herself the ability to rejuvenate or rest. She was exhausted and we can see that this was most likely the cause of her condition as her spiritual aridity coincided precisely with the commencement of her mission and all of the ensuing responsibility that were attached to this ministry.
She was offered no retreat on her own, no spiritual program to address her condition, no special readings, no particular prayers, no helpful devotions. It was simply work, work, work and she was consumed by her work. I think the most resilient and strongest of people would most likely have felt the same had they been in her position. I think in serving others Mother Teresa completely forgot about herself and the needs of a frail humanity.
In my eyes despite this book Mother Teresa is still the greatest testament to Christianity in the 21st century, however, I don't believe this book does any honour to her memory. In requesting that her notes be burned I don't think that it was for herself that Mother Teresa made this request but rather for me and you.
It seems to me that Mother Teresa's life was much more than the darkness she experienced however for some strange reason the author of this book decides to focus solely on this point throughout her life.
I think there are other books that reflect on the wisdom, love, work and deep spirituality of Mother Teresa that would do better to someone searching for inspiration and an insight into this holy life.
I hope the publishers would consider not reprinting this book in respect of the memory of Mother Teresa.
Unless you are Christopher Hitchens you can find a lot to admire in Blessed Mother Teresa. The new book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta will only make you admire her all the more.
The book is written by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. who knew her for 20 years and is the postulator for her cause for sainthood. Fr. Kolodiejchuk has given us a book that will surely be a classic on the spritual life. The book mainly contains letters that Blessed Mother Teresa wrote starting from the period she received her "call within the call" along with private letters from her Bishop, spiritual directors, and quotes from other people. Fr. Kolodiejchuk weaves his own commentary to give us both background and to better understand her writings.
The first third of her book deals with correspondence that originate from when she first heard her new call riding a train to Darjeeling on the way to make a retreat in 1946 to when she was allowed to carry out her call on Dec 21, 1950. The book reveals much more about her original call and what Jesus was asking of her than has been previously released. We also get information on a private vow she had made prior to this new call that informed much of how she responded. The media has reported in connection with this correspondence and how she had requested that her letter be destroyed. Much has been made of this in a negative connection, but the reality is that she wanted hidden her original call from Jesus since she always wanted the Missionary of Charity to be about God's work and not her own. During this time she was thoroughly tested both by her spiritual director and her bishop and in all things she was totally obedient. Her letters show a "holy impatience" to get started prompted by Jesus asking her originally "wilt though refuse?" During this period she wrote many letters to her bishop begging him to let her go. Her bishop though acted quite properly in making sure that her call was God's will until he was quite confident that this was so. Her pleading letters are quite beautiful and give you a real insight in how she would totally give of herself to save just one soul.
One thing that really came out in this book is the role of the various spiritual directors in her life. She was truly blessed in having good and holy spiritual directors that guided her in the spiritual life. This has been certainly true throughout history, but it is rare that we give the spiritual directors their due such as in the case of Saint Claude de la Colombière who was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque spiritual director and of course St. John of the Cross who gave such excellent spiritual direction to Saint Teresa of Avila.
She had been with the The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) for 19 years when she heard her new call and the letters reveal how happy she had been with them and how difficult it was to leave them when she went to the slums. From her spiritual director we learn that she was already in a high degree of union with Jesus in her prayer life while still with the Loreto Sisters and we learn of a new spiritual journey after she leaves them. The second major part of the book deals with the aspects that have been so played up in the media regarding her spiritual darkness. Through John of the Cross the Dark Night of the Soul has been thoroughly detailed of the time of spiritual dryness and feeling of total absence of God where prayers and spiritual reading have no effects. The extent of Blessed Mother Teresa's dark night though is rather extensive since it deals with close to fifty years of her life with the Missionaries of Charity. Her letters reveal the depth of her hidden suffering where she could not feel God's presence at all and they also show the depth of what became blind faith in Jesus and her truly inspiring love in the face of total darkness. The media is scandalized by this because they can not imagine acting on something that was not solidly built on feelings. They think it is hypocrisy to smile and radiate joy while at the same time to be so empty. Though to be fair this was also a worry of Mother Teresa that her spiritual directors ably handled for her. Her darkness was only relieved for about a month of time after ten years in her new call where she was given extraordinary graces and once again felt the presence of Christ as she had done before. Her darkness is often alluded to in her letters to her spiritual directors and to her bishop and she hid nothing of her spiritual life. Though because of the good advice she was given she was eventually able to embrace and to love her darkness and had even written that if she ever became a saint that she would be a saint of darkness. Her letters really give you an amazing peek into this darkness and her response to it that can do nothing but make you love her all the more. Her absolute love for Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, and her love for each individual she came in contact with certainly made me feel that yet I have put no trust in Jesus or responded as I should. Her words can certainly make you reevaluate everything about your prayer life in how to respond despite your circumstances.
The last part of the book deals with her latter years before her death and while the subject of her darkness still appears but her concerns are mostly about the problems of continuing pouring herself out and the other demands made on her time due to her celebrity. Her celebrity and public speaking were truly crosses to her and she did them out of obedience and not out of any desire to bask in the limelight. Her prolonged darkness makes you wonder about God's motives in giving her such a prolonged dark night. Though in God's plan we can see how this might have strengthened her humility and made her immune to the problems of celebrity so that for her everything was God's work. This was one of her major concerns that her weakness as she saw it would get into the way of God's work. In reality she didn't just see herself as a pencil in God's hand, mostly she only saw God's hand. This aspect of her really shines throughout the whole book. The main part of the book before the appendices runs 340 pages that really puts flesh onto her life.
I had an appreciation for Blessed Mother Teresa before reading this book, but not a devotion towards her. This book has totally changed my idea of her from a much shallower (though positive) understanding of her and I will be certainly spending much more time asking this "Saint of darkness" for intercessory prayers. I consider this a "must read" book and one that will be valuable for everyone.