The smiling visage of Mother Teresa of Calcutta graces the cover of the most recent edition of the Jesuit magazine, America, to which I subscribe and take pleasure in reading every month. In this edition James Martin interviews Brian Kolodiejchuk who is a Canadian member of the Missionaries of Charity and was the official “postulator” for the canonization of Teresa which is scheduled for next month of the 4th of September.
Brian has also written a number of articles and books on Teresa so I ordered one entitled Come Be My Light which is a compilation of the private writings of this contemporary saint, as controversial as she has become since her death. There are some legitimate reasons to question some of the rather primitive methods and even motives she used in treating and ministering to “the poorest of the poor” even when her Order had received more than enough financial support to do things differently, and perhaps better.
Room to wonder about whether or not she glorified poverty for poverty’s own sake in the lives of those for whom she cared and had no choice about their poverty and not just in her own life and the life of her Sisters which was voluntarily chosen. But one thing which has caused consternation in the minds of many of her followers and which is clearly revealed in her letters is the deep darkness which plagued her for many years and the nearly absent sense of the presence of God throughout most of her active ministry.
So many today throw about the term “dark night of the soul” to describe periods of doubt and spiritual dryness we all go through from time to time. But experienced spiritual directors recognize that this is a trivialization of the phase (made famous by St. John of the Cross).
Rather than seeing such an experience of darkness as something to be “fixed” or lived through, we need to recognize that this may be the final stage of growth in holiness when physical, mental, or even spiritual “consolations” (experiences of the Divine) seem withdrawn but are actually no longer necessary because the one growing in holiness is virtually in the Presence of God all the time with no need for “reminders” or “glimpses” of the Holy One which the rest of us need simply to carry on.
This is not to minimize the pain that this darkness can cause for those who experience it. Often, they long for the “simpler” times in which they seemed to experience God more closely and predictably. But those, like Mother Teresa, who persevere in their spiritual disciplines and in carrying out their active ministries, even with no such consolations, are models for us all to “keep on keeping on” even when the life of faith becomes rough.
Far from disqualifying her for sainthood, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized that the anguish expressed in her letters and other private writings to spiritual directors and confessors was simply testimony to how closely she walked with Jesus who himself knew desolation and darkness even on the day of his death. “My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me?”
Few have understood that cry better than the one who will soon be known as “Saint Teresa of Calcutta.”