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​ST TERESA OF CALCUTTA Part I: SHAKEN FAITH AND TESTED LOVE-STILL SERVING GOD

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ST TERESA OF CALCUTTA

Part I: SHAKEN FAITH AND TESTED LOVE

From the two part series:

“STILL SERVING GOD"

Seeking inspiration from the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta

St. Teresa of Calcutta was canonized on September 4th in 2016. In that year, we reprinted a brief but concise commentary on her life from Our Sunday Visitor in 2016. (The OSV catalog encouraged its re-publication on bookstore internet sites.) For decades the world has known of her self-sacrificing service to the poor, sick and abandoned in the streets of Calcutta, India.

This present blog article—STILL SERVING GOD” —will take a look at “SHAKEN FAITH AND TESTED LOVE”. We will prepare to look at Mother Teresa's life while considering some underlying issues regarding feelings of darkness as it affects our own 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 is for our own upbuilding in faith, and to prepare a foundation for St. Teresa of Calcutta’s struggles in Part II.. (See below for more information on Part II.)


WRESTLING FOR FAITH

As modern-day Christians, we can often slip into the mentalities of our larger culture. It is easy to look at appearances and to go by our feelings. Faith, however, is not based on our feelings. (This is much like forgiveness, which is a choice we can decisively make, even when our feelings are not quite ready to agree.) Although faith is activated toward God, its energy and subsistence is only possible through the grace of God.

It is difficult to comprehend the vastness of God’s generosity… that He would even provide the ‘mustard seed’** of faith to begin with. (He provides all our needs [Phil 4:19] and… every good and perfect gift comes from Him [James 1:17]). But God does more… for then He even helps feed and water and grow this mustard seed of faith—as the “Author and Finisher/ Perfecter of our faith”. [ Matt 17:20; Hebr 12:2]) **[Mt 17:20]

Faith does not depend on what our eyes see or what our senses tell us. “Faith is the realization of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen”. [Hebr. 11:1] Since “faith” exists in the intangible realm of “hope” and things “unseen”, it is not too surprising that attacks against it can often be intangible and “unseen”. Discouragements, doubts, fears, fatigue, insecurities, disappointments, tragedies, suffering, heavy burdens and responsibilities can all launch substantial assaults against our faith.

The fact that we wrestle with such things that besiege our believing and our trust in God does not mean that we will not, cannot, or do not hold fast to faith—as we keep turning to Him (the “Author and Finisher of our faith”) for strength. Our ever-loving Father in heaven can manage to hold on to us even when our grip weakens… if we but ask.

We can continually choose to believe (or ask Him to help us seek to believe) the power, attributes, love, mercy, grace, salvation, care, and reality of God… no matter what. We can persist in raising these intangible but vital actualities above these other seemingly strong realities (even when these troublesome “attackers” seem to “silently scream” loudly and even louder at us than trust or the realization to turn to God does). Mother Teresa did this very thing, as her published letters show us. We will examine those in our next blog, “Part II: PASSIONATE LOVE: LIGHT AMID DARK NIGHTS”.


LOVE: FEELING OR CHOICE?

The fact that love is more than a “feeling” runs contrary—again— to the typical concepts of love in our culture. The pervading perspective in our society is to assume that we are or should bemost of all and above all—intently pursuing “happiness”… and “feeling” good. That is usually the primary notion, also, concerning “love”—to assume that it necessarily requires both “happiness” and “feeling good” to be “real” love.

A more comprehensive concept—and “deeper”/ more richly “true” understanding, if we believe God’s word as defining His perspectives—portrays/represents love as much, much more. The best of human love is called “unconditional” love (scripturally called "agape")—unlimited/ unqualified caring toward another. Similar to this but running deeper is the verbal portrait that most of us are familiar with in ICor 13, on (agape) love described… as “patient, kind, not jealous, not rude, humble (not arrogant), not self-seeking, not quick-tempered, not brooding, rejoicing in the truth; bearing/ believing/ hoping/ enduring all things and …. never failing.”

Clearly, this kind of love is not only more than a feeling, but it can be both (even most) potent and true when it is devoid of “feel good” feelings. This is obviously not our preference. But—despite the “not-so-good” feelings--we find some people quite willing to love… unconditionally… as we love ourselves [Mt 22:39]… laying our lives down [Jn 15:13; Jn 13:34-5; I Jn 3:16] as God’s word instructs, and as Jesus demonstrated.

The depth of gladness in this kind of love must, therefore, come from a well that runs much deeper than our physical senses or emotional feelings. Jesus spoke about a “spring of …living …water welling up” to the Samaritan woman (in John chapter 4). This spring can continue to be a source of life and love for those who choose (even when our own personal well feels dry) to trust. Our trust becomes believing that “his grace is sufficient” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and “I am the Vine, you are the branches… bear fruit…” 

While feeling powerless, we can feel like a branch that keeps attaching and detaching from the Vine. But that is not what happens in nature. The branch steadily remains connected—whether it “feels” like it is or not. Jesus is the Vine, and He stays connected to us even when we are not so steady or sure. And, as in nature, the Vine continues to flow its life-giving nourishment to the branch.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will [author’s emphasis] direct your path…”

[Prov 3:5-6]


THE HOUSE OF FAITH AND LOVE

Jesus told us we can build our house on rock foundation by listening to and acting on his word. [Mt 7:24-27] Then, when the storms come—wind, rain, floods—the place where we dwell and abide will not collapse. We live and abide in Jesus. [John 6; John 15; 1Jn 2:14] And it is only in Him that we can peacefully endure the storms that come against our minds and wills, hearts and lives (and that includes our depending on the Prince of Peace to carry and protect us when we don’t feel “peace-filled”… and when our “handle” on peace seems quite lost…)

The shifting sand that Jesus also spoke of (in this parable) can also be in the realm of our feelings and sense of “control”. To feel these sentiments (negative emotions and temptations) does not necessarily mean that we are automatically choosing against what is right or true or Godly. We can still choose to seek, to follow, to believe. We may still choose (and need) to cling to, believe, and even assert the reality of God… of His word, His truth, His call, His path, His love … even without feeling the security or enjoyment of these things. God’s peace is a true measure, but He said His peace is not as the world gives peace.

We can have the solid, steady deeply peaceful assurance of God—His presence, His care, His love, His direction—when “nothing” seems to be going as we would expect or want or can understand. That would mean that it would have to be a firm realization or sense (or chosen-awareness, as in, for instance, asserting or speaking the truth) that runs deeper than the surface feelings. (Or… on occasion, we may experience an outright “gift” from God’s hand of mercy and grace, that we know did not come from us.) As Peter put it (referring to a time of question when others were turning away from Jesus), “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” [Jn 6:68-69]

So when fears and frustrations and the temptations to “look elsewhere/ go elsewhere” (other than to God) feel like an onslaught, we can still look to Him (the God Who is still there, and doesn’t change, and remains steadfast in His love and desire toward us). We choose deeper than and higher than our feelings. It’s the same as when we choose to love or forgive another person at a time when we feel something else entirely. Only this time, we are exercising our love toward God.

Our love of God and our willingness to continue to follow Him can ultimately exist… continue to exist…without the emotional feelings of confidence or security or satisfaction to which we may have been accustomed. Those good feelings may come and go… they may no longer be supporting our choices (for a short or long time). It is the feelings (and self-determined thoughts and ways that are not God’s ways) that are as “shifting sand”—if we (foolishly) make them our foundation.

Our thoughts and feelings may seem strong and convincing, emotionally and/or mentally. But…actually/ realistically… they may be as weak, shifting and changeable as sand. We have often quoted Isa. 55:8-9, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways’, declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are my ways higher than your ways and My thoughts [higher] than your thoughts.’”


STORMS… SURFACE AND DEPTH

Storms will come. The parable of the house on the rock tells us so. And Jesus told us that “in this world, [we] would have tribulation” [Jn 16:33], but that we could have courage, for He has “overcome the world.” He continues to make a way through the storm. He continually makes a way for us through life, as we ask and seek, for He is the “WAY”.

The surface storms on the ocean—no matter how violent—are not seen and felt in the same way by the submarine in the ocean depths. Way down deep, there can be a tranquility and even a gentle stillness that is not reflected in the raging waves and howling winds both tangible and visible on the surface. Likewise, the “tree planted by living water” must, at times, focus on the depth of the water found by its main and deepest “taproot” in the driest of times.

In the same way, the sun can still be shining ever so brightly while being hidden by the darkest and thickest of clouds.

…Or the phone caller can still be quite actively speaking (while, certainly, continuing to remain the very same person as he was minutes ago) both before and after a sudden storm knocks out the power-connection on the phone call. The fact that nothing is heard out of the receiving end of the phone does not usually lead us to believe that the caller has “disappeared”. We don’t usually assume that the person doesn’t like us anymore… Or that we need to “un-friend” him or her. But how often or easily do we assume similar unhealthy, untrue things about God… because of the intense pain or loss…discouragement, doubt or fear that we feel?


LOVE… TESTED

Love— on merely an earthly level, with or without faith convictions —is tested, sooner or later, one way or another. There are few of us who have not experienced or witnessed this at some time or another. Is it surprising, then, that our love of God would be tested?

God’s word describes a foe whose desires and ambitions are polar opposite of love and truth and goodness. Deliberate, malicious, clever and deceptive evil exists. It would not be shocking, then, to find—that in the enemy's warfare, he would use weapons (involving circumstances and/or negative thoughts and feelings) in our lives, minds and hearts against comfortable feelings and thoughts and circumstances. They are used as a weapon against real love… and our pursuing our love of God and others.

LET US BE CLEAR: God DOES want to see us have every blessing—so much so that He created unimaginable beauty and blessings in the Garden of Eden before the fall... every good and perfect gift. Freedom was extreme, with only one thing forbidden. But once mankind bowed to the deceptive leadership of (and believed the lying words of) satan (the one who declared complete enmity against God), a variety of troubles entered their/ our world. That is why the Father sent Jesus to suffer, die, and make a Way for salvation, healing, and deliverance from evil, etc.

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. These are inner, painful feelings that are internally felt, even if the deeper reality of heart and spirit is one of peace, love and/or even joy to some degree.

God’s word tells us, “But for the joy that lay ahead, Jesus endured the cross.” [Hebr 12:2] (You may want to reference the August 3 2017 blog that examines joy and the cross and resurrection for Jesus’ followers… by this same author, on this website.) We can assume (as a giant understatement) that the cross was not an immediately “happy-feelings” occasion of love for Jesus as He endured it. After all, He was sweating drops of blood from just the intense anticipation (spiritually, mentally and emotionally) of the Garden-of-Gethsemane experience alone.

But Jesus’ complete, true and deeply abiding love (toward the Father and toward us) looked ahead to a glorious outcome of His (at the time) presently-horrifically-painful love-choice. That ‘glorious outcome’ (or “joy” as the book of Hebrews describes it) can mean many things.

We can at least know that it included everything gained by the horrendous pain and agony Jesus endured. And that ‘gain’ would embrace everything included in the rich and full concept of “salvation”… for all people who would experience all or any of its saving, forgiving, healing and delivering graces… for all of history… and for all of eternity.


This blog is based, in large part, on a blog posted by Kathy Boh on August 30, 2016.


Our series focuses on wrestling with peace and faith, which is sometimes called the ‘dark night of the soul’. Part I has captured some of the general struggles that affect our experiences of faith and love. Part II will continue with particular details of Mother Teresa’s life and call, and some interior wrestling with peace and faith.

“Part II” of our current series “STILL SERVING GOD” is called,

PASSIONATE LOVE: LIGHT AMID DARK NIGHTS”.

It focuses on Mother Teresa’s life and some interior wrestling with peace. Part I, here, captures some of the elements that are specifically exemplified in her life. Part II will continue with particular details of her life and call, and some heart and mind-wrenching conflicts within her soul. St. Teresa of Calcutta had expressed them to a priest-friend/confessor in conversations and letters, which were released after her death.

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”.


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