Recent news reports on the impending publication of the private journals and letters of the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta caused a stir when excerpts showed that she may have doubted the existence of God. Orthodox Catholics speculate that this fact could block her path to sainthood. Now known as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, she is one step away from being declared a saint. The Pope has the final say on this.
In 1946 Sister Teresa, already teaching for many years in Calcutta, India, experienced her “call within a call,” which she considered divine inspiration to devote herself to caring for the sick and poor. She then moved into the slums of Culcutta and founded the order of the Missionaries of Charity. The order built hospices where the terminally ill could die with dignity as well as centers serving the blind, the aged, and the disabled. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.
At the time of Mother Teresa’s death, the Missionaries of Charity had a presence in more than 90 countries with some 4,000 nuns and hundreds of thousands of lay workers. The order continues to grow. Her legendary works of charity earned her near-universal acclaim as a “living saint” during her lifetime. That she doubted God’s existence comes as a surprise to
The book entitled “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light “ reveals a very human side of Mother Teresa, which might not jive with Catholics’ idea of saints as being perfect in their faith, untroubled by doubts or fears. She wrote in 1959:
“In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss,of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not existing.”
In a letter addressed to Jesus, she agonizes:
“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. Where is my Faith – even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness. My God, how painful is this unknown pain. I have no Faith. I dare not utter the words & thoughts that crowd in my heart & make me suffer untold agony.
I am told God loves me and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”
Mother Teresa experienced what St. John of the Cross (1541-1597) called “the dark night of the soul”, when one feels abandoned by God and adrift in a sea of doubt, worry and despair. God is hidden within the shadows and we cry out “Why do you hide your face? ”(Psalm 44:24)
It is not an uncommon experience, especially among those who have developed a strong prayer life and have consistently shown devotion to God’s will.
But it is because of her anguish and doubt that her humanity shines through. Most, if not all, of us will, sooner or later, undergo a “dark night” in one form or another. I find it comforting to know that Mother Teresa shared this experience with us and, because of her example, we may know the transformative power of a dark night. As psychologist and author Thomas Moore points out:
“The dark night may be profoundly unsettling, offering no conceivable way out, except perhaps to rely on pure faith and resources far beyond our understanding and capability. The dark night calls for a spiritual response xxx. It pushes you to the edge of what is familiar and reliable, stretching your imagination about how life works and who or what controls it all. The dark night serves the spirit by forcing you to rely on something beyond human capacity. It can open you up to new and mysterious possibilities.”
Thus, Mother Teresa wrote:
“If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ ”
Of darkness, yes. But also of hope. Hope in the abundant mercy and grace of God that allows us to transcend our limitations. Truly, Mother Teresa is a (future) saint for these dark times.