Dear Mother Teresa,
How nice it’s been to have YOU back in the news!
In recent days, scores of people have written to me to express their deep concern over news reports about your private letters — the existential jewels of mystical spirituality you penned in the darkest nights of your soul.
Some novices to the spiritual life were confused by your words, as if they negated your life work, but most of those who wrote to me were simply agitated by the barrage of superficial interpretations that have dominated global news coverage in your regard.
However those of us who have known you, or people like you, have not been scandalized or even perturbed in the least by simplistic reports that have equated your 50-year trial of spiritual dryness, loneliness, agony and human doubt with the all-together dissimilar concept of atheistic disbelief. After all, it would be unfair to expect secular pundits to understand the inner workings of faith of a spiritual master like you, without having as a reference point the slightest experience of faith of their own.
I believe at the heart of their reasonable failure to make sense of your struggles is, on the one hand, ignorance of the spiritual value of human suffering, and on the other, a false assumption that faith is just a feeling, a vague acceptance of things unseen that comes and goes with the ebb tide of our emotions.
These two misreads, Mother Teresa, are enough to muddy the waters of your spiritual journal. In an undated letter to your mentor you wrote:
"If there be God — please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul."
And in the 1960s, after you received a prize for your tireless work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, you wrote,
"This means nothing to me, because I don't have Him."
While shocking to the faithless, these intimate words of your pain and sorrow as you reach out in vain for spiritual consolation, shimmer in crystal clear waters for those who, by no merit of our own, share the gift of faith. We understand now, as you did even in these dark nights, that God was testing and strengthening you in the crucible of suffering and inviting you to say with Paul the Apostle, “… and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24)
Your spiritual suffering, Mother Teresa, was not in vain; it was an invaluable sharing in the life and mission of Jesus. The fact that today we weep in joy, with you and for you, is, perhaps, proof enough of what can become the redemptive nature of human suffering.
If this lesson regarding the value of suffering were not enough, your unwavering decision to keep on loving even in the face of equally persistent temptations to doubt, teaches us a second lesson about the nature of faith: we don’t need warm and fuzzy feelings to love God and others. With the help of his grace, we can grasp him with our will. We can say yes to him even when our baser emotions cry out in rebellion. Your life teaches us, Mother Teresa, faith is a decision to love the one who never ceases to call us to him at the deepest level of our being, even when we fail to feel his presence on the surface.
"Such deep longing for God and ... repulsed, empty, no faith no love no zeal ... Heaven means nothing pray for me please, that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."
Today I love you, Mother Teresa, more than ever before because now I know you were like me in so many ways … weak, imperfect, needy, insufficient … and yet you were also so different, so much better, in the one way that ultimately counts; you never gave up, you never gave in. Because you believed, you kept smiling, not with a mask of insincerity, but with the will of one who knows what sacrificial love is all about.
P.S. A note to readers: you can click here to see a video version of similar commentary.
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