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Mother Teresa’s Final Gift

As soon as I heard about the TIME (8-23-07) article, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” I commented to my husband that the publication of her personal letters telling of this decades-long “crisis” might very well become her greatest legacy. Then I read the article, which I discovered included a similar statement from Rev. James Martin, an editor of America, a Jesuit magazine. Speaking of her crisis, he comments: “It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives.”

The TIME article is taken from Brian Kolodiejchuk, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday, due out next month).

In her private letters (that she asked not be published), Mother Teresa bares her soul, as the following quotes (spread over decades) attest: I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling . . . there is nothing, but emptiness & darkness. . . . What do I labour for? If there be no God — there can be no soul — if there is no Soul then Jesus — You also are not true. . . .I utter words of Community prayers — and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give — But my prayer of union is not there any longer — I no longer pray. . . . Jesus: the Absent One. . . . I have come to love the darkness — for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness & pain on earth.

I wish this TIME article would have been published two weeks ago when I flew to Denver to be the speaker at a one-day in-service for most of fifty staff members under the Vice-President of Student Affairs at Colorado Christian University. I was asked to address issues relating to my book, Walking Away from Faith and the very real faith struggle many college students endure.

I’ve had some great reviews of that book, but its influence pales in comparison to the influence I expect this new book will have. Indeed, I predict it will become a classic in Christian literature. No one, dead or alive, has a platform like Mother Teresa does when it comes to sacrifice and service and spirituality. People around the world will read her words and will come away with a new understanding of doubt and unbelief.

Atheists, of course, have pounced on these letters as proof that even the most spiritual saint can’t really believe in God. But that is not the message we should take away. This book will reveal that there is a deep Christian spirituality that includes doubt and darkness and unbelief. There were times when Mother Teresa was tormented. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can come to terms with the belief and unbelief that coexists in our lives and know that we are not alone. Our prayer is simple: Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

6 Responses to “Mother Teresa’s Final Gift”

  1. Here’s another take on Mother Teresa’s dark night of the soul, or at least
    some questions that have been running through my mind. What if Jesus
    didn’t seem to be there for her because he actually wasn’t? I have read
    several quotes of her’s from several different sources such as speeches she
    gave or interviews people had with her where she basically said that she did
    not try to “convert” anyone but tried to help a Hindu to be a better Hindu or a
    Muslim to be a better Muslim and so on. Who was the Jesus she served all
    her life? Was it a Jesus who “worked” for her but was not necessary for the
    poor and dying in India and other places to hear about? Is this the Jesus of
    history; of the Bible? Would she want a Jew to be a better Jew and what
    would that look like? When evaluating someone should we only look at the
    deeds they do or also the words they say? If only the deeds count then
    should Ghandi be made a Saint as well? Of all the comments I have read from
    Christians who admire her, I have yet to find someone who tries to deal with
    these comments she has made, which I simply can’t get past when I look at
    her life.

  2. I’ve heard quite a bit lately about this book, and I may just have to get it myself.

    I’ll get in trouble for this comment as is usual around here, but I have to say that during my most recent trip to India last month something got me thinking specifically about Mother Theresa.

    During a Sunday of touring Delhi I went to the Indira Ghandi museum where I saw newspaper articles of Ghandi with Mother Teresa(that’s how she spelled it). This got me to thinking about Mother Teresa, and wondering what lasting effect she had on the country, which seemed to be surprising little.

    It seems to me that the people of India themselves don’t really regard her as anything more than a good woman who helped the poor. And the Indian culture doesn’t seem to place a lot of value

    Since I was in Delhi, I thought perhaps that maybe Mother Teresa’s influence was more localized, and that her impact in Calcutta (Kolkata) would be much greater. Now, I didn’t get to go to Calcutta, but from the limited research I’ve done, it doesn’t seem there is any lasting effect there either.

    I guess the big issue I have is that while Mother Teresa was a great humanitarian, she does not seem to have been a very good evangelist. I know that sounds cold, but for all the reverence she garners, it just seems odd to me that the Christian faith in Calcutta is either exactly the same (approximately 1%) or less than the rest of the country.

    Now, the reason I say all this is because I have to ask those who know more about her and her faith than I…Are we really so sure that Mother Teresa was a Christian doing God’s will? Or was she just a great humanitarian, helping those who needed it, out of a sense of pity for them?

    Is the darkness and separation from God just the circumstances she was in, was it that God has abandoned India, and possibly the entire eastern mysticism that engulfs it, or did she not really know God?

    These are just questions that have been bugging me. It seems pretty clear that she didn’t preach or teach the gospel, and she even said she didn’t share the gospel with those she was helping, that by living a good life they would get to heaven.

    Now a disclaimer, these are questions. I’m not denying Mother Teresa’s faith, that’s not my place, but I’ve been pondering these things for a while now.

  3. In reading the article from the link that Ruth posted, I see that Mother Teresa asked that her letters never be published and that they be destroyed. So, I feel I would be invading her privacy (even though she is now dead) to read this book. I think her superiors should have honored her wishes. I know that some great thinkers (like Thomas Aquinas) also asked that his work be destroyed and if the people had done as he asked, we would have missed out on his scholarship. Still, I feel her personal letters are a different matter and they should NOT have been published. She should have felt free to communicate with people she wanted to help her and advise her without thinking someday the world would read her writings.

    Likely the book will make some good money and maybe it is going to help the poor and people will say that this makes it worth selling the book. Or that her doubts will help others who have doubts. I don’t know.

    In regard to whether she really was a Christian or not, I guess we have to look at the entire Bible. Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan certainly points out that it was the person who helped the man in distress who was doing God’s work, not the people who were “officially” religious people.

    Mother Theresa did talk about being touched by joy at times. The fact that she lived MOST of her life never “feeling” the love of Jesus could mean that the way she lived her life was overwhelming, among the sick and dying. Perhaps she never had the time or took the time to learn that she really was sitting at the “feet of Jesus.” But just because she didn’t FEEL the presence of Jesus does not necessarily mean that she was not in the presence of Jesus.

    If at the end of time we have to give some accounting of how we spent our life, will God be more “satisfied” because I felt the love and joy of God but barely did the “average” in helping my fellow human beings? Or will he look at someone like Mother Teresa who cared her whole life for people that others had neglected? I read somewhere too about her saying she would help a Hindu to become a better Hindu. But she also said she would tell people about her faith in Jesus if they asked how she could do the work she did. I think she started with people from where they already stood. If they were Hindu, she spoke with them about their faith. If she told them, “I am sorry, but because you are Hindu you are going to Hell. You need to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ and then you will be OK,” how much longer would that person want to talk with her? They could see the love of Jesus in her actions and if that love was something they did not see among their religious Hindu people, isn’t that a testimony to the love of Jesus and of God?

    I surely don’t have all the answers, but like Ed, I am pondering these things.

    Joanie D.

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