Mother Teresa's Darkness and Light

The world is still trying to recover from shock, disillusionment , even devastation. Mother Teresa, world renowned figure, Nobel Peace Prize awardee, Ramon Magsaysay Awardee, and yes, the Living Saint when she was still alive, spent decades in spiritual emptiness!

This is revealed in her letters compiled in the book “Come Be My Light” edited and published by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, one of her spiritual advisers. He is also the nun’s postulator. (For the enlightenment of non-Catholics like me, a postulator is the principal petitioner for the canonization or recognition as saint of a Roman Catholic Church faithful.)

In one letter, the revered Mother Teresa said “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 another, she said, "If there be no God - there can be no soul. If there is no soul then Jesus - You also are not true. Heaven, what emptiness."

Mother Teresa’s journey to doubt must have begun in the late 1940’s when, then a cloistered nun teacher, she asked to be released by the Loreto sisters to set up the Missionaries of Charity. To do that, she had to struggle with her vow of obedience. With other nuns, she lived among the poor in Calcutta’s slums where she faced and battled against the curse of hunger, pain and desolation. Shortly after living among the poor, the demons of doubt started to torment her.

It is easy for me to understand her.

There was a time when in one day, I learned from the papers that an American woman drowned her babies to death, a man was hailed to the police station for raping his daughter who was his sex slave for year, and a typhoon left hundreds dead. And I wrote a poem that ended with the lines: “Did God flee from this world? Or did He go on a long vacation?” I will not print the poem here because it is so angry. My Mom whose faith in God is so deep will be saddened and, knowing her, she will worry over my spiritual health. She has enough worries over my physical health already.

I have not even seen one-third of the horrors Mother Teresa witnessed. Her smile, she said in one letter, was often a mask. The ironic thing is that while she was being tortured by doubts, people’s faith in God was drawing nourishment from her unparalleled work to alleviate the misery of Calcutta’s scourged. Other people preach the Gospel and talk about the existence of God; she opted to make her life colossally significant for others and by doing so, affirmed the presence of a Being higher than us. And yet in some of her letters, she referred to God as the Absent One. There she was- giving light to those whose lives were submerged in utter darkness. But within herself, she was wandering in spiritual limbo. In one letter, she said, “If ever I become a saint, I will surely be one of “darkness." That’s coming from the person who was a beacon of hope in a world of hopelessness.

None of us is competent to stand as judge of Mother Teresa’s spiritual salvation. That is for God to decide. But we can say that her life was the torch that kept the world from totally stumbling in its own darkness, the darkness forces within it created, the darkness from which we wrestle to be free.
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