To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death, a new book of private reflections, prayers and letters she wrote to her spiritual mentors, confessors, and superiors has been published. Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light spans 66 years and chronicles Mother Teresa’s spiritual journey, disclosing her inner struggle with faith and a sense of God’s absence in her life. Featured as the cover story in Time Magazine on September 3, this memoir has caused quite a stir in religious communities. If Mother Teresa has doubts, what chance do the rest of us have?
The selfless “Saint of the Gutters” lived a life of service to the sick, the poor, the dying and helpless. Being acclaimed throughout the world as the icon of compassion won her a Nobel Peace Prize in 1979. Her acceptance speech exemplified the true message of Christ.
Considered one of the most beloved religious figures in history, Mother Teresa saw God in every human being she met. Yet this book reveals an intimate portrait of a woman fighting depression and longing for God’s love – not quite the public face all had come to revere and love.
Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Skopje , Macedonia in 1910 and felt the call of God at the age of 12. At 18 she joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India . After a few months training in Ireland she was sent to India . She took her vows as a nun in 1931 and chose the name Teresa after the patron saint of missionaries. She enjoyed serving as a teacher in Calcutta , but her heart was filled with compassion for the suffering and poverty she saw outside the convent walls. While traveling to Darjeeling for a retreat in 1946 Christ spoke to her, calling her to work in the slums of Calcutta with the poorest of poor. He said, “Come, Come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light.”
The Catholic Church resisted forming new religious communities, so receiving permission for this venture was not easy. After relentless petitioning, Archbishop Ferdinand Perier and the Vatican consented. She requested no funds. She would depend on Divine Providence and share in the poverty of those she would serve. The Missionaries of Charity was born and soon many volunteers came forward to help. Yet, the more successful her mission became, the more she grappled with her nagging doubts. Having difficulty articulating her feelings, one priest suggested she write them down.
As the years passed, perhaps she felt conflicted about the fame and accolades she was receiving. Maybe she didn’t want to be prideful and yearned to recapture the Jesus encounter which led her to her second calling. The Rev. Joseph Neuner helped Mother Teresa come to grips with her feelings of “darkness,” explaining that feeling Jesus is not the only proof of him being there and her craving for him was a sign of his hidden presence in her life.
We may never know exactly why Mother Teresa felt the way she did, but her personal thoughts were intended for her closest confidants. She requested they be destroyed. She didn’t want people focusing on her, but rather on Jesus.
The Catholic Church chose to ignore her request. Atheists have used this book to claim Mother Teresa as some sort of closet atheist with a fake, religious façade. Although the book does reveal her darkest feelings, Christians seem to find comfort in her humanness. She is not the first religious icon to share their inner struggles. Saint Augustine, Martin Luther and John of the Cross’ are just a few men of God who wrestled with some of the same issues. Throughout the Psalms David continually voiced his concerns about where God was during his perils and even Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Was she faking it? I don’t think so. Who of us could spend our life with the poor and destitute and not feel hopeless at times – or wanting to curse the darkness instead of keeping the candle lit? Her life was Christian faith in action. No wonder people were inspired by her dedication, compassion and selflessness. Do we think less of her because she was human? In spite of her darkness, she fulfilled her commitment to God and those she chose to serve. With her flaws and faith lapses, she accomplished more than most of us could ever hope to.
“I loved Him in the darkness…” Could those who choose to judge her or know what truly was in her heart say as much?
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