Sunday, September 09, 2007

One of Us, After All

I am encouraged by something that some might find as discouraging.

This is an image of arguably one of the most recognizable spiritual models in the past century. A Nobel Peace prize winner, she has been adored as a model of depth of faith.

But it turns out, not all as it seems. A new book, under the interesting title of
"Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light", reveals a lonely and troubled soul inside of this saintly woman.

She is quoted, in her own hand, as feeling "darkness and coldness and emptiness so great that nothing touches my soul", and "Heaven means nothing to me".

However, as noted by Kenneth L. Woodward in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, a number of commentators have concluded from the letters that Mother Teresa lost her faith. They seem unaware that Vatican judges cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith. That figures: What the church looks for in a saint is not just good works -- for that there are Nobel Prizes -- but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization was transformed, inwardly and utterly, by God's grace.

Woodward goes on to observe that Mother Teresa was a special breed of saint: a genuine mystic; men and women who seek to experience union with God in this life. Wanting this experience doesn't mean that God will gratify that desire. In any case, the experience is often short-lived. Mother Teresa tells us in her letters that she once felt God's powerful presence and heard Jesus speak to her. Then God withdrew and Jesus was silent. What Mother Teresa experienced thereafter was faith devoid of any emotional consolation.

I find this presence and then long absence fascinating. This seeming abandonment by God of one of the most famous of saints would not go well in many congregations here in the US, where God seems to be constantly, almost relentless, chattering to the elect about nearly everything from what He wants you to do with your money, to where the good parking spaces are.

It seems there is something else that is crucial in the life of a mystic: They need the council of others, usually those less spiritually advanced, for direction. No one becomes a saint all by herself, though we Americans like to think anyone can find God unaided. In the case of Mother Teresa it was a theologian, Father Joseph Neuner, who showed her how her sense of abandonment mirrored the experience of the crucified Christ himself, who felt the Father had forsaken him. Afterwards, she wrote, "I came to love the darkness."

Imagine that. Loving darkness. In the end, Mother Teresa had to rely on faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues expected of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite.

Notes Woodward of the Journal - "She was one of us after all."
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