Tuesday, July 08, 2008

United in Darkness

While on vacation, my father-in-law (*wave*) offered to let us read Come Be My Light, the book which tells us about the hidden suffering of Mother Teresa.

First let me say that any reviewer out there who reads this book and claims that she doubted God her whole life or had a "crisis of faith" or any such thing obviously missed the entire point of her writings. The feeling wasn't there after a certain point in her life, and this caused her much suffering because she longed to feel God's love so much, but the amazing part is that her faith remained and grew despite the lack of feeling, and in fact because of it and even through it. She did not spend her life doubting God, she says herself she never doubted God...her writing is a testament to her great faith. It's really ridiculous that some people try and twist what she said around to say the opposite. On to the book...

It begins with one of the biggest secrets of her life...her vow as a young and fairly new nun, made with the permission of her spiritual director (who obviously had confidence in her ability to keep it). She "made a vow to God, binding under [pain of] mortal sin, to give to God anything that He may ask, 'Not to refuse Him anything.'" It seems so simple and yet what a colossal promise to make. This was her driving force, and in fact people often thought her impatient because once she believed something was a request from God, she wanted to do it as quickly as possible for Him.

It is after making this vow that she heard the "call within a call" to minister to the poorest of the poor. After pushing hard to get permission from the bishop to be able to fulfill this call (but always putting obedience to the bishop first and foremost), she realized her goal and began the Missionaries of Charity. It was then that the darkness began. She worried that it meant she wasn't giving all to God at first, but over the years, through the guidance of a small handful of spiritual directors, it became apparent that Mother Teresa herself continually put God first and foremost, and so the absence of God that she felt was God's Will, a way to unite her suffering with Christ's.

Her longing for God was so great, her desire to please Him so strong, that the darkness, for instance not feeling anything in the presence of the Eucharist or in prayer, was excruciating. And yet, when she came to understand that it was God Himself who willed this, she thanked Him for the darkness and offered to endure it eternally if it would only please Him. And throughout all of this externally she radiated the love of God. Though she did not feel it herself, those around her felt it through her. She was truly living Christ's passion, as God allowed her to share in the desperate plea of Christ, "My God, my God, Why have you forsaken me?" Despite the incurable longing for Christ hidden behind a smile, her faith remained abundantly clear through her actions.

Time and time again she resolved to decrease herself even more so that Christ could increase in her. One resolution was that, "the greater the pain and darker the darkness the sweeter will be my smile at God." She constantly asks for prayers from everyone she writes to, to "Pray for me that I may not refuse Him." She also says "I want to smile even at Jesus & so hide if possible the pain and the darkness of my soul even from Him."

In response to the Offertory verse used for the Mass of the Feast of Sacred Heart (Ps. 68:21) which says, "I looked for one that would grieve together with me, and there was none: and I sought one that would console me, and I found none," she responded herself and encouraged others to respond with, "Be the one." She spoke of the Thirst of Jesus on the cross, and encouraged her sisters to "be the one who will satiate the Thirst. Instead of saying 'I Thirst' say 'be the one,'" echoing Christ's words, "Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me."

I think what touches me most is her total humility. She always assumed that those suffering around her were suffering more than herself and so she longed to help them. She didn't at all like the spotlight, she begged those who knew about her interior darkness to keep it secret so as not to draw attention to herself. She didn't like the media attention, but only submitted to it out of obedience because her spiritual advisors and bishops told her God was working through her and it was His Will, so when she did have to speak publicly and be in the spotlight, she invariably used it to point ever more to God, never to herself.

I walk away from the book with such a mix of emotions...sadness at her intense interior suffering, wonder at her incessant call to keep smiling through the pain and darkness, and inspiration from her determination to be the Light of Christ for all, and most especially for the "unwanted and unloved" of the world. Above all, though, I come away so deeply humbled by Mother Teresa's intense love of God, her desire to do all and be all for Him alone. I believe the following passage from the book sums it up perfectly:

"Her painful darkness mysteriously united her so intimately with her crucified Spouse, that He became the sole 'object of her thoughts and affections, the subject of her conversations, the end of her actions and the model of her life.' Her total surrender to His will and her determination not to refuse Him anything allowed Him to manifest through her His love for each individual. It was the light and love of Jesus Himself that radiated from her - in the midst of her own darkness - and that had such an impact on others."


Cheryl said...

She was (is!) definitely an amazing woman - and one whom, I've found, even the most anti-Catholic folks admire.

I pray that she is experiencing the full presence of God now.

Erik said...

That picture of her is so apropos!

~Joseph the Worker said...

She was one of the people who were Catholic who really bothered me when I was a member of the CoC. I couldn't figure out how such a wonderful person was going to hell. In other news, I'm going into board withdrawal since it's been down today....

Anonymous said...

"She was one of the people who were Catholic who really bothered me when I was a member of the CoC. I couldn't figure out how such a wonderful person was going to hell."

Yes, that would be a heavy thing to think about. Unfortunately, that's the way it is for many in the church of Christ--that absolutely everyone outside of the church of Christ in America as it was restored in the 19th Century is going to hell. This is what turns the church to a denomination in some people's minds.

I don't determine who goes to hell. At best, I can do some guesswork. I would never make the claim that Mother Teresa went to hell. That is what I would call one sweeping claim, and without any good evidence. Those kinds of claims are often made by people who don't really know anything about the world (not that I do).

On a note related more to Stephanie's post, when it comes to people who say Mother Teresa didn't believe in God or lost faith, etc., it's probably because as Westerners, they really don't know suffering and don't understand how to think about it. Our society says whatever makes one happy is good but often neglects the importance of having noble virtues. At least this is what a philosophy instructor told me, and since she told me that, my observations have confirmed it.

Fix said...

Well done, Steph! You sure got the gist of this book though it did not take you long to read it!

I pray for you and Cam. Pray for me.