Her letters were being published around that time, and revealed that she hadn't been on an emotional high while serving the poor. I wrote, at the time -
"Some of the more colorful headlines:
- 'Was Mother Teresa an atheist?'
- 'Mother Teresa: In Heaven or Hell?'
- 'Mother Teresa's Struggle With Faith Revealed'
(With Slideshows! 'Public Figures With Religious Pride,' 'Divine Signs: Holy, Hoax, Or Just Hope?,' and 'Religious Sightings: Divine Or Delusional?')
("Princess Diana of England and Mother Teresa of Calcutta" Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 27, 2007))
I think I can understand how people steeped in contemporary Western culture might assume that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was a hypocrite, after reading (or hearing about) her letters. For many in the west, religion is an emotional experience: something a person feels. The assumption is that if a person doesn't 'feel religious,' that person doesn't have faith - or needs to shop around for something that will crank up that 'religious' feeling again.
There's nothing wrong with emotions. They're not good or bad - by themselves. What we do about the emotions we feel is something else.
August 31, 2007)
Mother Teresa of Calcutta died on September 5, 1997. In less than a week, we'll see the 10-year anniversary of the event. Many people seem to think of her as a social worker, but this contemplative nun was just that: a contemplative nun.
I think her failure to drop into one of the dominant culture's pigeonholes is a big reason why her chief claim to fame in today's news is the recent publication of her letters. These letters show that she
- Lost her faith and was a hypocrite (secular view), or
- Had a major-league dark night of the soul (informed Catholic view)
Mistaking Mother Teresa for a social worker is understandable. She, and her order, have cared for the very poor in Calcutta for decades. They've also set up similar operations worldwide, including a home for AIDS patients in San Francisco, California. What sets them apart from social workers is their motivation.
One of her critics, Christopher Hitchens, said that:
"It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn't working to alleviate poverty, ... She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said, 'I'm not a social worker. I don't do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the church.' "Shocking, and quite true. She wasn't the standard-issue social crusader, out to free the masses from their oppressors. British interviewer Polly Toynbee was particularly impressed that Mother Teresa lacked the rage or indignation of many social critics. Mother Teresa
("The Debate Over Sainthood," 60 Minutes, CBS (October 9, 2003)
"did not find it necessary to attack the economic or political structures of the cultures that were producing the abjectly poor people she was serving. For her the primary rule was a constant love, and when social critics or religious reformers chose to vent anger at the evils of structures underlying poverty and suffering, that was between them and God. Indeed, in later interviews Mother Teresa continued to strike an apolitical pose, refusing to take a stand on anything other than strictly religious matters. One sensed that to her mind politics, economics, and other this-worldly matters were other people's business. The business given by God to her and her group was simply serving the very poor with as much love and skill as they could muster."An interview with Malcom Muggeridge revealed that "Mother Teresa had virtually no understanding of a cynical or godless point of view that could consider any human being less than absolutely valuable." (Encyclopedia.com)
(Polly Toynbee, via Answers.com)
"The Hindu priests at a Kali temple were unhappy when Mother and the Sisters began their work at Nirmal Hriday in Kalighat close to the temple. Then something happened that brought about a complete change of heart. Mother heard that one of the priests of the temple was dying of an infectious disease and nobody would touch him. She collected his emaciated body in her arms and brought him to her home. The local people asked her to stay. A Hindu priest of the temple said to her with folded hands, "for thirty years I have worshipped the goddess Kali in stone, but today the goddess Mother stands before me alive." (quotes from Answers.com)Mother Teresa is now Blessed Mother Teresa, as of October 19, 2003. In 2002, Monica Besra, an Indian woman, was cured of a tumor through the intercession of Mother Teresa. Ms. Besra says that light coming from a locket with a picture of Mother Teresa cured the cancer. Some doctors insist that it must have been the medical treatment she was receiving.
Following Catholic rules, one verified miracle puts a person in the "Blessed" category. Another verified miracle, and Mother Teresa will be an officially recognized saint of the Catholic Church.
Back to those letters.
I'm not at all surprised that Mother Teresa had times when she did not feel God's presence, when she felt spiritually dry, and felt that God was ignoring her. It's called "dark night of the soul." Many saints, and many others, go through it. the phrase, dark night of the soul, comes from "The Dark Night," by St. John of the Cross, which described and discussed this part of a soul's growth.
For some people, lack of an uplifting, "spiritual," feeling means it's time to find a new religion. Catholics, at least those who pay attention to what the Church teaches, don't work that way. "Faith isn't what you feel, but what you will."
Mother Teresa's faith was running on her will, rather than her feelings, for something like a half-century. In the two thousand years that the Catholic Church has been cataloging the biographies of saints, this stands out. As a devout Catholic, I have no intention of anticipating the decisions of the Church, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Mother Teresa is found to be responsible for a second miracle.
If some of this seems familiar, you're observant. I wrote about Mother Teresa and Princess Di in another blog.
- "Mother Teresa of Calcutta"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 31, 2007)
- "Princess Diana of England and Mother Teresa of Calcutta"
Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 27, 2007)
- "Mother Teresa's suffering"
Beliefnet (August 29, 2007)
- "Was Mother Teresa an Atheist?"
Neatorama (undated, comments start August 25, 2007)
- "Shocka: Mother Teresa’s letters reveal she had moments of doubt"
Hot Air (August 24, 2007)
- "Mother Teresa's Dark Night Unique, Says Preacher"
Pope Benedict XVI Blog (August 28, 2007)
- "A blog on our Pope," not a blog by Pope Benedict XVI
- "Mother Teresa: In Heaven or Hell?"
Don Boys, Ph.D., Press Releases Online (August 26, 2007)
- This piece is my favorite: a mixture of astute observation and abyssal ignorance of basic Catholic teachings. As a sort of punchline, he's International Director of "Common Sense for Today."
"MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA - Official Site of the Cause of Canonization" requires pop-ups for viewing, so some browsers must be re-set before using this site.
And then there's the "People's Princess," "Princess Di."