In this week's Time Magazine, they have an extensive review of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, a collection of Mother's writings throughout her life. You can find the Time Magazine article in full at this link.
Some of you may be aware that Mother Teresa's life wasn't all champaign wishes and caviar dreams. We know that she lived a life of self-less service to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. Most of us assume that she lived this heroic life of service while she resided on cloud-9. Behind her wrinkled and smiling eyes we imagine her having warm and comfortable spiritual messages with Jesus. Perhaps we even excuse her example away with those notions. "I don't receive such unique and special blessings, I can't imitate her discipleship of Jesus."
Well there goes my excuse. As her personal correspondence has been released, we have received a very challenging image of Mother Teresa. While she did receive special, personal revelation, she didn't "float around on cloud-9." Mother Teresa lived almost 50 years in spiritual darkness. A Dark Night of the Soul.
This information first came out surrounding her Beatification in 2003. There is a fine article on the topic from the journal First Things which can be found here. So don't let anyone say the Church covered up Mother Teresa's struggles.
On to Time Magazine. I was interested to see how Time portrayed her life. I was first alarmed by such words and phrases as "self-contradiction" and "spiritual counterpoint." Not surprisingly, the author tries to through this into the new atheism debate of Hitchens and Dawkins. But, the article does not make Come Be My Light an opportunity for the triumph of atheism, it actually seems pretty fair- though somewhat disbelieving of the Catholic position.
To the undiscerning, some of Mother's writings might seem scandalous. But the Church sees in them no shame. Time opens up with this quote: "Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me-- The silence and the emptiness is so great- that I look and do not see, - Listen but do not hear." M.T. to her spiritual director.
In fact, the atheist promoter Hitchens argues that Mother Teresa resided in cognitive dissonance- that she was in denial. Yet no account is offered for the joy that radiated from the woman. Hitchens will never discuss these aspects because joy, peace, the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the soul of a living saint, these are not explainable in his vision. There were no public cracks in Mother Teresa, she even found joy in her darkness, as the article explains. Not so cut and dry, Mr. Hitchins.
What can we ultimately learn from Mother Teresa? Faith is not simply a matter of feeling.
Part of the culture that we live in is a tendency to elevate feeling and emotion over everything else. "Obey your thirst," "Do what you feel," yet life must be more than feeling. We don't disregard feelings but we integrate them with all parts of our life. If Mother Teresa limited her life to feeling and emotion, she might have abandoned her beautiful mission for the poorest of the poor.
Instead Mother Teresa weighed her feelings and emotions against the evidence of her years of prayer in which she experienced the God of Jesus Christ and her conviction of faith in Jesus' promises. In this, she chose Jesus Christ. Mother Teresa exhibited heroic faith, hope and love in the face of dark challenges to despair. Mother Teresa desires us to follow her own example of radical and total devotion to Jesus, especially in His distressing disguise of the poor. With our lives of comfort, dare I say complacency, Mother Teresa is an even more powerful witness to the joy of choosing Jesus in our own difficulty.