Monday, December 22, 2008

Mother Teresa: Choosing to believe despite the darkness

I have long meant to share some of the sections from Mother Teresa's Secret Fire (discussed here) that have really spoken to me. This one is so well put that it essentially sums up Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul. Those who care to read more about that might be interested in this review of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. However, for those who do not wish to delve to that extent, this section of the book is enlightening. Here's a bit.
But before we move on to explore the secrets of Mother Teresa's interior life, we first need to be sure not to misconstrue her "darkness" -- a darkness God allowed her to experience as a share in the inner night of Calcutta's poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa was wounded with the inner wounds of her people; she bled with them and died with them. God was calling her to share the heavy, if forgotten, inner burdens of the poor, not only their material deprivation. She was to be fixed to the hidden inward cross of the poor, and to be riven by the same interior anguish that Jesus himself had undergone.

But painful as her darkness was, theirs was the true night, the darkness that eats away at faith. In Mother Teresa's time, millions of Calcutta's street population drew their dying breath under the dusty feet of passersby, after having spend an entire existence deprived of any human evidence of a loving God. This was a tragedy not of God's making, but man's -- yet one that burdened not man's heart, but God's. This was the ultimate sense of Mother Teresa's dark night, borne in the name of her God and her poor.

But what of reports that suggested that Mother Teresa had undergone a crisis of faith, or worse, that her smile and her devotion to God and neighbor were little more than hypocrisy? Emphatically, Mother Teresa's dark night was not a "crisis of faith," nor did it represent a wavering on her part. Far from being a loss of faith, her letters reveal instead her hard-fought victory of faith, the triumph of faith's light that shines even in the darkness, for "the darkness has not ovecome it" (Jn 1:5).

The same letters that recount her darkness at the feeling level (not at the level of faith) testify, too, to her unshakable belief, even when she no longer sensed God's presence. Her letters reveal a supreme, even heroic exercise of faith at its zenith, free of dependence on circumstance or feelings. She consistently chose to believe, refusing to turn away from a brilliance once beheld, simply because clouds had covered her inner sky. No matter how long the hours of her night, never once did she suspect that the sun existed no more. Even in the deepest night of her inner Calcutta, she kept her course towards the Day Star, and never lost her way. ...

Mother Teresa's trial of faith is not without precedence in Christian tradition, nor without parallels in Scripture. Recall Jesus' challenge to the Canaanite woman, who, after begging that he cure her daughter, was seemingly rebuffed in the harshest terms. In both cases, Jesus used what appeared to be rejection in order to draw out the fullness of their faith, precisely by challenging that faith to the maximum. Jesus gave each one the chance to surmount his challenges one by one and to stand triumphant as a model for the rest of us. His appreciation of the Canaanite woman could have been addressed just as easily, two thousand years later, to Mother Teresa: "O woman, great is your faith!" (Mt 15:28).

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