Good morning! Here are a few of your reactions (and my responses) to the article I wrote on Wednesday about Mother Teresa’s private letters. At least nine out of 10 of your many reactions were positive, but here below I’ve purposefully given more space to negative reviews so we can learn from the opposite perspective and, in some cases, try to clarify the questions posed.
God bless, Father Jonathan
Thank you for your wonderful commentary on Mother Teresa’s “spiritual darkness,” which was discussed at length in a recent article in Time Magazine by a writer who probably doesn’t understand the meaning of spiritual darkness. Mother Teresa’s long life of service to the poor, despite her sense of abandonment by God is a double tribute to her strong faith, which took to heart Jesus’ words to the apostle Thomas: “Blessed are those who have not seen and who have believed.” She is undoubtedly now with Jesus in paradise. — Steven Z. (West Hartford, CT)
RESPONSE: Steve, quite honestly, I thought the Time Magazine article was pretty fair, all things considered. It wasn’t a perfect analysis of mystical spirituality, but it wasn’t a hit job on Mother Teresa or her work either. Our follow-up conversation here, including your great comments, add quite a bit to what Time has done.
One last comment, Steve. Look below at this note I received from someone who understood my article about Mother Teresa as an attempt to cover up the truth about God, the Church and spirituality. Reading reactions like this one reminds me that there are a lot of people who have had very negative experiences with religion. Perhaps the best response is lots of kindness and a willingness to listen to their concerns. He writes the note as if it is coming from me to Mother Teresa. Quite honestly, I even got a giggle out of it.
Dear Mama Teresa,
Don’t worry, babe! I’ll cover your six.
You see, I’ll just whip up a bunch of obfuscator, religionist gobbledygook about your decades-long “dark moment” regarding our invisible friend in the sky. I guarantee it will overwhelm those simple-minded knuckle draggers who live to partake of the crock of slop that I feed them each week. They aren’t too bright, you know, so they hang on my every word.
After all, we don’t want them thinking too much about all those nasty rumors and lies that Satan spreads about our Holy Faith. You know, things like all that heretical fiction about atrocities against humanity supposedly condoned by our church. Or those nasty allegations that the bishops tried to hide that silly pedophilia stuff and then supposedly tried to avoid responsibility for the actions of my wayward brothers in black.
Tessie, hon, I trust that you have found peace in Heaven and that there is no shortage of the impoverished and sick for you to exploit in that venue. As you and I know, sweetie, no one in the Church really believes or practices all that silliness in Matthew 5-7 and that is why we need a PR saint like you to detract from reality.
Most humbly yours, Jonny the Apologist and Spinmeister Extraordinaire
I am 69 years old, a sinner and a valiant sojourner. In the past, I experienced the Father's presence, the love of Jesus and the comfort of the Holy Spirit. These experiences suffice now that I find myself wondering where God is today and maybe tomorrow. I too have learned that love is an act of the will and that faith, although warm and fuzzy at times, survives by an act of the will. I learned of love being an act of the will in a very difficult and painful marriage, where love can only exist by willing it to exist. This is so painful, but duty, commitment and dedication to vows make this suffering doable. The same seems to be with faith. Pain makes one doubt God's love, His existence, but more importantly, His caring and love for the believer. I truly know the meaning of the words, "My God why have thou forsaken me?" Yet, there remains in my very being a belief and will the knowledge that God exists, is present, and loves me in a way that is unexplainable. This knowledge is what keeps me from despair. The beauty of this experience is that I find joy, strength and resolve to continue on the journey, which so often seems unattainable. — Nazario (Los Gatos, CA)
RESPONSE: Nazario, a fabulous note. That’s real life, brass tacks spirituality — the kind that counts!
As an agnostic, I don’t believe or not believe. What I do know is that there is no proof of God’s existence other then people who say so, and there is at least some scientific evidence in support of evolution. […] Since you like to write letters here is mine to God.
Dear God, you gave us all brains and free will. If we choose, based on the evidence as we see it, to question your existence, then clearly you have no one to blame but yourself. The lesson, here, God is that if you wanted nothing more then mindless obedient servants to bow and worship you, then you should not have given us brains capable of questioning your existence and the curiosity to want to, and clearly if you are God then you would have had the power and the good sense to do that. If on the other hand, giving us the ability to question you was deliberate on your part, then I guess you probably really don’t mind that we do. And if it was just a mistake or an oversight on your part and you created us in your image, then clearly you aren’t so perfect so yourself and I would appreciate it if you would remember that when, and if, you ever feel the need to stand in judgment of me. — Mary (Maryland)
RESPONSE: Mary, your note is all together unique … and honest! I believe at the heart of your agnosticism, as you describe it, is an insistence on only believing what you can physically measure. If you are trying to size up physical material, than you are exactly right not to accept spiritual theories. But not everything is physical. Faith is another type of knowledge. It “measures” or grasps the supernatural. In a similar way that we would be silly to try to measure with scientific instruments human love (I will only believe you love me if you can prove it in a petri dish), I don’t think we should be insistent on finding God in a telescope. The physical world should be measured and proven by physical instruments; the spiritual world by spiritual ones.
As a Christian and in the study of God's word, I have found what is really important to God is the acceptance of and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Good works will follow. From Mother Teresa's own words, it sounds like all she had in her whole life was good works — an abundance of good works. I am quite bothered by some of her words. For those who feel as I do, we must realize that God and only God will judge Mother Teresa as well as ALL of humanity. That's past, present and future. — C.J.
RESPONSE: C.J … if you are suggesting someone could do what Mother Teresa did for the poor for so many decades, without the least bit of faith in God, I think you are mistaken. There are many non-believers who do great things for others, but Mother Teresa constantly stated her work with the poor was in response to God’s call. A faithless woman doesn’t spend 50 years in the gutters, with the human refuse of this world, in response to a God in whom she didn’t even believe.
Thank you for your very thought-provoking article. We actually discussed Mother Teresa’s recent appearance in the news last night in our Bible study at my Presbyterian (PCA) church. Based upon what we believe the Bible teaches about the nature of true Christianity, I believe doubt is one of the marks of true faith! Yes, it is sad that “novices” to the faith have a hard time understanding this! That doubt and desire to serve better and more fully is, ironically, one of the things that can assure us most that our renewed heart belongs to God. — Ken M.
RESPONSE: Ken, I would make a bit of distinction here. I don’t think “doubt” is the mark of faith, but rather believing even in the midst of great darkness. If it helps, I would distinguish between “positive doubt” which would be a rejection of God’s existence, and temptations or feelings of doubt. We should also note believing in the midst of darkness is not equivalent to turning off our minds. It is recognizing that sometimes our little brains can’t grasp what we know in our soul to be true, truths often confirmed by very personal, spiritual experiences.
Doubt? Emptiness? Abandonment? You bet I feel it. Anyone who witnesses and experiences suffering and yet claims never to feel it is being untruthful.
RESPONSE: Yep, I know what you mean.
I always held her [Mother Teresa] up on a pedestal as someone very special because I felt she was close to God. But now, for me, another hero has been destroyed. I surely wish the Catholic Church had not published her letters if for no other reason than out of respect for Mother Teresa’s wishes. — Joe (California)
RESPONSE: Joe, why are you so quick to throw in the towel? I hope today’s conversation has helped. I would encourage you to read the book about Mother Teresa’s interior life which will be published early next week. This will give you a fuller context of her life and works, including her long spiritual struggles. Mother Teresa’s order decided to publish her writings because they knew it would be a great spiritual treasure for humanity. When you join a religious order, like Mother Teresa did, you make a vow of poverty. This means nothing you have is yours. You own nothing. Mother Teresa wanted her writings to be destroyed out of humility (she didn’t want to be the center of attention). But because she had a vow of poverty, she turned in the writings to her superiors so they could decide what was best. As far as she was concerned, not even her own writings belonged to her. She was truly poor!
I am from India [where Mother Teresa lived and worked] and happened to read your article about Mother Teresa online. Being a person who has absolutely adored the Mother all my life, I am really happy that my views reflected exactly what you said. Whatever emotions Mother had, shows that she was just someone like us — very human and error prone. That’s what makes her so special. Thank you, Fr. Jonathan, for writing such a thought provoking article. I really appreciate this. — Deepu
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