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ST TERESA OF CALCUTTA, PART II: PASSIONATE LOVE AND DARK NIGHTS

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PART II of the Series on St. Teresa of Calcutta: "STILL SERVING GOD"

Part II:PASSIONATE LOVE:

LIGHT AND DARK NIGHTS”


St. Teresa of Calcutta was canonized on September 4th in 2016. For decades the world has known of her self-sacrificing service to the poor, sick and abandoned in the streets of Calcutta, India.

In the “Part I” blog article—of “STILL SERVING GOD”—we took a look at “SHAKEN FAITH AND TESTED LOVE”. We considered some underlying issues regarding feelings of darkness as it affects our faith and love walk… what all this could mean… what can bring life to these struggles… what we can still do during trying times…

This blog—“Part II” of our current series— focuses on Mother Teresa’s life and some interior wrestling that she endured. We will present particular details of her life and call, and some heart and mind-wrenching conflicts within her soul, as she expressed them to a priest-friend.

After her death, there were some notes and letters released which she wrote, including several to a priest-confessor. These letters reveal some internal struggles and pain that Mother Teresa suffered silently. She still chose to love God and others. We will particularly examine the “darkness” that Mother Teresa felt for so many years, as she expressed in her “letters”.

Let’s explore more of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life…


DARKNESS FELT BY MOTHER TERESA

Anyone who heard or met Mother Teresa “knew they were in the presence of a woman who possessed great certitude with regard to matters of faith.” After she died, and some things came to light, some asked… Then what about her hidden letters which “seem to suggest profound doubt about God’s very existence?”Some people became confused about her faith, considering her thoughts expressed in these letters… 

We will explore that question in this article.

St. John of the Cross “writes: ‘though faith brings certitude to the intellect, it does not produce clarity, but darkness’… a trial for every believer. For… the act of faith itself is always opaque and resistant to reason. It is a radical affirmative assent to truth, but it is not a direct seeing. 2 …Even the ‘ordinary’ believer can feel, at times, like an unbeliever. And this feeling often… begins to deepen.” 3

In Part 1 of this series, published last week, we examined faith vs. seeing and feelings vs. deeply committed choices and persevering actions.

“…[T]he sudden, sinking feeling of having lost all faith in God and in religion—is, in fact , a trial which has afflicted many Christian believers in the past… Countless numbers… have, on occasion, lost all sense of the presence of God during hours of prayer…[T]he terrible feeling of no longer being capable of believing in God, although a cause of the most profound anguish, does not represent for the individual believer a loss of faith… [but rather] a…radical purification…towards an even deeper communion with God.”4

Mother Teresa had precisely these kinds of feelings and wrestling matches with the forces of darkness. She did not speak of them openly, nor did she let them stop her from doing what she knew she was called to do. The following is an excerpt from a letter written at Christmastime in 1959:

“’Thank God all went well yesterday, sisters, children, the lepers, the sick and our poor families have all been so happy and contented this year. A real Christmas. –Yet within me—nothing but darkness, conflict, loneliness so terrible. I am perfectly happy to be like this to the end of life.’”5

“…Her compelling description… draws us into the very heart of human anguish and human longings…” Pope John Paul II commented on the dark night “typically human and Christian experience’”. 6 He “explains: …’the experience of disasters and suffering [give] [the dark night] the character of a collective experience, applicable to the very reality of life and not just to a stage along a spiritual path… Physical, moral or spiritual [the blogger would add: mental and/or emotional] suffering… might go under the name of the night of faith.”7 Although the author described the pope-saint’s comment as “unexpected”, he stated a connection between the experience of the “Christian mystic and our common human experience. “8

Rather than her painful feelings indicating a lack of faith, her actions and steadfastness revealed a high level of commitment, dedication, and love toward her Lord and His lowly ones… these “least” who would become favored and helped in His love.


DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

St. John of the Cross wrote in detail regarding the “dark night of the soul”. Paul Murray, O.P. makes reference to his writings in regard to Mother Teresa.

“…[For] those among us who feel bewildered, at times, or even completely lost, but who are determined to keep walking along the path of faith, Teresa of Calcutta has become …a[n] encouragement, a truly remarkable example of steadfastness and hope.”9

According to St. John of the Cross, there are three signs which mark the beginning of the dark night…

[F]irst, the person seeking God begins to lose the delight and satisfaction in the things of God …and of this world. Prayer becomes… bone-dry.

Second, the person begins to suspect that they are now turning back instead of going forward… [while] they continue to pray… and show the same loving respect for their neighbor… plagued by the thought that somehow they have lost their way in the spiritual life, and are no longer serving God.

Third, … they find they are unable to return to their original way of prayer, in which there was not only great consolation but also a role for the senses and the imagination, and in which it was possible, without too much effort, to reflect on the things of God…10

This Irish Dominican then speaks of the faculties of sense and spirit and imagination”.11 

The picture he seems to paint—to summarize briefly in other words— is one of the loss of good feelings associated with prayer or God’s path, and/or a lessening of a sense of understanding of what is happening, or a loss of the feeling that we have things under control.


THE HEART AND THE SPIRIT: NATURAL AND SUPERNATURAL HEARTS

Father Murray, speaker and author, makes a distinction between the heart and the spirit—or, in a sense, between (a) that part of the soul (mind, will and emotions) that is more connected with tangible evidence, and (b) the spirit (that depth of the eternal being in us that lives forever) that is intangible. Rather than Mother Teresa’s radiance and smiles being “hypocri[tical]”, he suggests that “warmth and joy” was from down deep in her soul and spirit. 12

…”[T]he Christian believer can, in fact, “ have two hearts: one natural and one supernatural [Pope Paul VI says]… [A]ffliction and joy [therefore] “are not only possible together, but compatible… opposite experiences become complementary: sorrow and joy.” Saint Teresa said,

“‘There is in my heart a very deep union with the will of God. I accept not in my feelings—but with my will.’” 13

Mother Teresa clung to faith despite the assaults. There are reports that some readers (of her letters) were distressed by her insecurities and questions about God, concluding that her commitment or faith was jeopardized. Yet, the fact that she continued to persevere in prayer and in loving behaviors says the opposite. And even when prayer was dry, she stood steadfastly and persistently—amid fear or doubt or uncertainty—in God’s presence, doing what He had called her to do.

God, in fact, can much more highly approve us because of our struggling while holding fast to Him!

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character (tested virtue); and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. [Rom 5:3-5]


TEMPTING ASSAULTS, THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS

We know that a host of tempting thoughts and feelings can come—even strongly—but the issue remains: What do we ultimately choose? What do we let win?

God sees it all and does not condemn us for our struggles. Instead, God sees and understands:

~~that discouragements, doubts, fears, fatigue, insecurities, disappointments, tragedies, suffering, heavy burdens and responsibilities can all launch substantial assaults against our faith…

~~when fears and frustrations and the temptations to “look elsewhere/ go elsewhere” (other than to God) feel like an onslaught…

~~when the storms come against our minds and wills, hearts and lives (and that includes our depending on the Prince of Peace to help and carry and protect us when we don’t feel He is there… and we don’t feel ‘peace-filled’… and when our ‘handle’ on peace seems quite lost…)

~~ when pain, suffering, lack, loneliness—on a physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual level—can block the light of God’s love, of joy, of peace… even if it is just on a superficial but emotionally felt level… He knows the pain that is felt in our minds and hearts, even if the deeper reality of spirit and choice of will is one of peace, love and/or even joy to some degree.

This was clearly illustrated in that above-mentioned Christmas letter from 1959, that expressed gladness at what was going on with the poor and sick Mother Teresa and her sisters were serving, but at the same time, expressed her own inner pain. She was living out the truth that we can be—and can live being—very grateful and glad for the good that is going on around us, and in our own lives… even when there is very deep and continuous inner grief. To repeat her words from that letter…

“’Thank God all went well yesterday, sisters, children, the lepers, the sick and our poor families have all been so happy and contented this year. A real Christmas. –Yet within me—nothing but darkness, conflict, loneliness so terrible. I am perfectly happy to be like this to the end of life.’”5

We have mentioned some things that God sees and understands. We can also be glad that--as a loving Father--He deeply appreciates when we choose deeper than and higher than our feelings…Our willingness to continue to follow Him can ultimately exist… continue to exist… without the emotional feelings of confidence or security or satisfaction (in the same way that we may have once had).


GOD SEES, KNOWS, UNDERSTANDS AND REJOICES OVER US

God knows that these struggles are not not fun. It’s not comfortable. It’s not easy. But it is REAL. That’s why we are called to “put on the whole armor of God”. Wrestling with the enemy in re-asserting our choice for God and His ways... and humbly going to God for help in the midst of such felt confusion... can be really painful.

God sees the forces that we are “wrestling” with. Ephesians chapter 6 is very clear concerning our struggle.

“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the [whole] armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the [unseen world]. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day, and having done everything, to hold your ground. 

So stand fast… girded in truth… with righteousness as a breastplate… feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace… hold faith as a shield to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit…” [Eph 6:10-18]

There are all kinds of troublesome mental, emotional, and spiritual battles against the evil and subtle ways that the very real foes of God (“in the unseen world”) use to attempt to harass His people, waylay His plans, and divert His purposes. There are a long line of saints and followers of Jesus who were well aware of these things… [There are several previous blogs in these last four years that make reference to spiritual warfare and/ or the evidence in saints’ lives, including the list in the footnotes.) 14

True biblical love (described in ICor 13) IS a call for all of us. It is relatively clear, but not easy. It takes dying… many times over. 

Mother Teresa kept surrendering to God during her many years of suffering this “darkness”. At one point she stated that:

“[T]he darkness is so dark, and the pain is so painful.—But I accept whatever He gives and give whatever He takes.” 15

…In a letter to Father Josef Neuner in 1962, she explained,

“ ‘If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of darkness’”. This darkness was not… an experience of depression or despair. Rather, it was the shadow cast in her soul by the overwhelming light of God’s presence: God utterly present and yet utterly hidden. His intimate, purifying love experienced as a devastating absence and even, on occasion, as a complete abandonment.” 16

“I remember her remarking on three or four occasions:

‘In this age, more than in any other, God wants to use nothing!” … “But, for all of that [‘being nothing’] she was his ‘little one’, his spouse, his beloved.” 17


DYING AND RESURRECTION: A NEW CALL

Simply put, as Mother Teresa came to increasingly understand both dying to self and being resurrected with Christ, she saw that she was making a kind of exchange: her inner struggles with darkness (price paid) for the blessing to others of seeing Christ’s light shining in the dark places of the slums and in the lives of those rejected by society. Again, it is like Jesus saying: “But for the joy that lay ahead, Jesus endured the cross.” [Hebr 12:2]

For decades the world has known of her self-sacrificing service to the poor, sick and abandoned in the streets of Calcutta, India. Her earlier ministry is less well-known.

After teaching (and serving as principal) in Calcutta in the private boarding school (St. Mary’s High School) run by the sisters of Loretto for 20 years, she still felt the burden of seeing the Moti Jheel slum right beyond the campus walls. Occasional visits and help given to those poor did not seem like enough to her.

“She went on to say that perhaps the greatest hunger in the world, the most terrible anguish, was not the physical poverty or deprivation. It was the anguish of not being wanted, of being forgotten or rejected, of having no one.” 18

Finally, her clear, new call came while she was riding an overnight train.

On September 10, 1946, the thirty-six-year-old Teresa… decided to ‘drop out’.

I had to leave the cloister and help the poor by living among them,’ was her sober way of describing the wave that burst over her. ‘I heard the call to give up everything and follow Christ into the slums, to serve him among the poorest of the poor. I knew it was his will, and I had to follow him.’” 19

She felt clearly called by God to this life she chose… and respectfully fought for her ministry to the poorest of the poor until she was permitted to do this very needed and untended work. Sometimes it seems to be assumed that “saints” are just “saints” by nature… For instance, one could think that her ministry to the sick and the poor and abandoned somehow fit well into Teresa’s personality and tastes. But she once commented,

“By nature I am sensitive. [I] love beautiful and nice things, comfort and all that comfort can bring—to be loved and love.” 20

What a revealing statement! And how it knocks down any foolish assumptions that we far-removed Western Christians can envision to help us keep some distance between ourselves and that kind and intense, real, self-sacrificing love.

Jesus told her,

“ ‘… I want to use you for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?”… “Even if the whole world is against you, fear not—it is I in you, with you, for you.’” 21

Almost two years after her overnight-train experience and decision, she left to begin her new life.

“Teresa exchanged the habit of the Sisters of Loretto for the sari worn by poor Indian women, white with a blue border, costing about a dollar. On August 18, 1948, she stood completely alone in front of the convent wall, with no money, no place to live, no training as a nurse or social worker, and no detailed plans—but feeling sure that:

‘God is going with me. This is his work.’” 22


CONCLUSION

As we conclude, we repeat what Mother Teresa wrote to her priest-friend about her darkness:

…In a letter to Father Josef Neuner, S.J. in 1962, she explained,

If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of darkness’.

This darkness was not… an experience of depression or despair. Rather, it was the shadow cast in her soul by the overwhelming light of God’s presence: God utterly present and yet utterly hidden. His intimate, purifying love experienced as a devastating absence and even, on occasion, as a complete abandonment.” 23

“I remember her remarking on three or four occasions:

‘In this age, more than in any other, God wants to use nothing!” … “But, for all of that [‘being nothing’] she was his ‘little one’, his spouse, his beloved.” 24

No matter what she experienced, she was determined to continue to love and to believe. We end this look at St. Teresa of Calcutta's struggles with her comments:

“To be in love & yet not to love, to live by faith and yet not to believe. To spend myself and yet to be in total darkness…" 25

“Remember that the passion of Christ ends always in the joy of the Resurrection, so when you feel in your own heart the suffering of Christ, remember the Resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn. Never let anything so fill you with sorrow as to make you forget the joy of the Risen Christ!” Teresa of Calcutta 26


REFERENCES:

There has been much reading and research done over many years in following Mother Teresa’s life that has contributed to this blogger’s article. The author also has both read and experienced aspects of spiritual warfare as the Bible describes and many individuals through Catholic and Christian history have lived it. Special attention needs to be paid to two books about St. Teresa’s life. We mention them here, with a brief review, and refer to them in footnotes.


MOTHER TERESA, LOVE STAYS, by Christian Feldman, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, New York

(This book is excellent and thorough, compassionate and uplifting in its writing about Mother Teresa. It is both insightful and deeply moving. The strong spirituality of the author shines through as a bonus.)

I LOVED JESUS IN THE NIGHT… TERESA OF CALCUTTA, A SECRET REVEALED, by Paul Murray, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA

(This book sheds a great deal of light on Mother Teresa’s struggles with her “dark night”. It is written in both a scholarly and personal fashion, by a priest-professor in Rome—with the added benefit of the author personally having known Mother Teresa. The anecdotes are a blessing. It is humbly and respectfully written, in an encouraging and clarifying manner.)


FOOTNOTES

1 I LOVED JESUS IN THE NIGHT… TERESA OF CALCUTTA, A SECRET REVEALED, by Paul Murray, Paraclete Press, Brewster, MA, p.44

2 Ibid

3 Ibid, p. 45

4 Ibid,

5 Ibid, p. 66

6 Ibid, p. 42

7 Ibid, p. 42-43

8 Ibid, p. 41

9 Ibid, p. 38

10 Ibid, p. 39-40

11 Ibid, p. 40

12 Ibid, p. 64-5

13 Ibid, p. 65

14 trinitychurchsupply.com/blog, entries under “Kathy Boh, author”, partial and applicable blog list: St. John Vianney; St. Benedict; Humor and Joy; Life in the Holy Spirit…; Paschal Mystery, Joy and Divine Mercy, Part III: To Live is Christ , To Die Is Gain; Part II: Passionate Death leads to Joyous Resurrection; St. Patrick, Part I and Part II (Mighty Victories; Preparing for Battle);Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children: A Prayer For the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children; Humor Part III: Joy, Humor and Laughter; The Paschal Mystery and Divine Mercy

15 Ibid, p. 50

16 Ibid, p. 18

17 Ibid, p. 21-22

18 Ibid, p. 16

19 MOTHER TERESA, LOVE STAYS, by Christian Feldman, The Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, New York, p. 20

20 I LOVED JESUS IN THE NIGHT, p. 69

21 Ibid, p. 21

22 LOVE STAYS, p. 26

23 I LOVED JESUS IN THE NIGHT, p. 18

24 Ibid, p. 21-22

25 Ibid, p. 5

26 Ibid, p. 111


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