Our search for Gods presence
Volume 18, Issue 19
The cover story in a recent edition of Time Magazine (September 2007) featured an investigation into a reputed 50 year crisis of faith in the life of Mother Teresa. The enquiry was prompted by the recent publication of Come Be My Light, edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk, which included much of her personal correspondence to various spiritual directors.
Despite the fact that she left instructions that her letters were to be destroyed, her requests were not followed, and her letters have now passed into the public domain. While such an approach is regrettable from the confidentiality point of view, providentially the revelations that have taken place can prove helpful to many of us who struggle with considerable difficulty along our journeys of faith.
The general perception of the wider community throughout the final decades of Mother Teresa’s long life was that she was a person who was rock solid in her faith. Though it might not have been spelled out in words, the common consensus seems to have been that she had a strong sense of the presence of God, and that life for her would have been a bed of roses rather than a crown of thorns.
Despite these conceptions, her living experience was far from such notions. Being one of the best known icons of Christianity across the world whose whole mission was to show Jesus’ love to the poor and the rejected, Mother Teresa felt bereft of His presence. As she wrote to Michael van der Peet:
“Jesus is very special for you, as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, – Listen and do not hear – the tongue moves, but does not speak…”
The state that she described was not merely a passing phase: it afflicted her for endless years, even though she never abandoned her faith nor her mission.
I don’t know how you respond to all of this. Does it come as a surprise to you? Does it shake your sense of belief in any way? Only you can answer these questions for yourself, but quite frankly they tell me a great deal about my own journey of faith, though it never reached the same intensity nor lasted for such an extended period as it did this Albanian, born Agnes Bojaxhiu. She had been granted approval to leave the Loreto Sisters, of which she was professed member, to found the Missionaries of Charity to work in the slums of Calcutta.
What happened to her is something that can happen to any one of us who endeavours to be a faithful follower of Jesus, who said: “Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:3) In writing to the converts at Colossa, St Paul saw such hardships as those encountered by Mother Teresa this way: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His body, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24)
Various spiritual writers who encountered trials such as those described by Mother Teresa in their own lives or in the lives of those with whom they were working labelled them with the term ‘The Dark Night of the Soul.’ The 16th Century Carmelite monk, St John of the Cross, devoted a whole book, entitled The Dark Night, to this important aspect of the process of purification that the soul can be called upon to suffer in preparation for a deeper union with God.
Mother Teresa’s undying commitment to Jesus was a shining light that inspired those of us who took the time to witness the selfless endeavours of herself and her sisters not only in India but in our very own city of Melbourne. Now, with these recent revelations about the barrenness of her spiritual journey, we who are interested enough may learn from her journey through darkness. As a consequence, you and I may be able to survive and cope better when any darkness or pain besets our path towards eventually meeting our loving Father, who waits to embrace us at the end and to allot us the place that His Son, Jesus, earned for us by His own suffering and death undergone on our behalf.
As broadcast during the Family Counsellor Program over Radio Sport 927 on Sunday, 7 October 2007.