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    Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

    Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.
    — Mother Teresa to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, September 1979

    On Dec. 11, 1979, Mother Teresa, the "Saint of the Gutters," went to Oslo. Dressed in her signature blue-bordered sari and shod in sandals despite below-zero temperatures, the former Agnes Bojaxhiu received that ultimate worldly accolade, the Nobel Peace Prize. In her acceptance lecture, Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity had grown from a one-woman folly in Calcutta in 1948 into a global beacon of self-abnegating care, delivered the kind of message the world had come to expect from her. "It is not enough for us to say, 'I love God, but I do not love my neighbor,'" she said, since in dying on the Cross, God had "[made] himself the hungry one — the naked one — the homeless one." Jesus' hunger, she said, is what "you and I must find" and alleviate. She condemned abortion and bemoaned youthful drug addiction in the West. Finally, she suggested that the upcoming Christmas holiday should remind the world "that radiating joy is real" because Christ is everywhere — "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive."

    Yet less than three months earlier, in a letter to a spiritual confidant, the Rev. Michael van der Peet, that is only now being made public, she wrote with weary familiarity of a different Christ, an absent one. "Jesus has a very special love for you," she assured Van der Peet. "[But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

    The two statements, 11 weeks apart, are extravagantly dissonant. The first is typical of the woman the world thought it knew. The second sounds as though it had wandered in from some 1950s existentialist drama. Together they suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction — that one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

    A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book's compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, "neither in her heart or in the eucharist."

    That absence seems to have started at almost precisely the time she began tending the poor and dying in Calcutta, and — except for a five-week break in 1959 — never abated. Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications, many of which have never before been published, she bemoans the "dryness," "darkness," "loneliness" and "torture" she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. She is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor. "The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'" Says the Rev. James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine America and the author of My Life with the Saints, a book that dealt with far briefer reports in 2003 of Teresa's doubts: "I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented." Recalls Kolodiejchuk, Come Be My Light's editor: "I read one letter to the Sisters [of Teresa's Missionaries of Charity], and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her."

    The book is hardly the work of some antireligious investigative reporter who Dumpster-dived for Teresa's correspondence. Kolodiejchuk, a senior Missionaries of Charity member, is her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and collecting the supporting materials. (Thus far she has been beatified; the next step is canonization.) The letters in the book were gathered as part of that process.

    The church anticipates spiritually fallow periods. Indeed, the Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross in the 16th century coined the term the "dark night" of the soul to describe a characteristic stage in the growth of some spiritual masters. Teresa's may be the most extensive such case on record. (The "dark night" of the 18th century mystic St. Paul of the Cross lasted 45 years; he ultimately recovered.) Yet Kolodiejchuk sees it in St. John's context, as darkness within faith. Teresa found ways, starting in the early 1960s, to live with it and abandoned neither her belief nor her work. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act.

    Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine's Confessions and Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. Martin of America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book "a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life," and says, "It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone."

    Not all atheists and doubters will agree. Both Kolodiejchuk and Martin assume that Teresa's inability to perceive Christ in her life did not mean he wasn't there. In fact, they see his absence as part of the divine gift that enabled her to do great work. But to the U.S.'s increasingly assertive cadre of atheists, that argument will seem absurd. They will see the book's Teresa more like the woman in the archetypal country-and-western song who holds a torch for her husband 30 years after he left to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned. Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: "She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Meanwhile, some familiar with the smiling mother's extraordinary drive may diagnose her condition less as a gift of God than as a subconscious attempt at the most radical kind of humility: she punished herself with a crippling failure to counterbalance her great successes.

    http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,...655415,00.html

    Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith

    Thursday, Aug. 23, 2007 By DAVID VAN BIEMA

  2. #2
    countybear's Avatar
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    And what lesson are we to take from this, Jenna?

    ... that even the unequivocably moral and exhalted among mankind face doubt, yet still persevere through faith? or,

    ... that Mother Teresa was a foolish, intellectually bankrupt, hypocritical robot, devoid of any wisdom, yet endearing to man strictly by her tireless efforts and charity?

    I prefer the first statement, humanists prefer the latter. Whether or not her Christianity was real, is a judgement best left to the God that I believe does exist, even when he may not appear before my eyes.

    "and yet, I believe and endure."

    "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
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    The opinions expressed by this poster are wholly his own, and should never be construed to even remotely be in representation of his employer, its agencies or assigns. In fact, they probably fail to be in alignment with the opinions of any rational human being.

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    conalabu is offline Grasshopper
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    She experienced a crisis of faith, but still believed enough to pass on to others her belief. That says much. "...only as much as a mustard seed."
    And Shepards we shall be,
    for thee, My Lord, for thee,
    Power hath descended forth from Thy hand,
    That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy Command.
    So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
    And teeming with souls will it ever be.
    In Nomine Patris, Et Filli, Et Spiritus Sancti.

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    I agree with CB.

    Romans 7:21-23
    "I find, then, this law in my case, that when I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me. I really delight in the law of God according to the man, I am within, but I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin's law that is in my members."

    If St. Paul had this problem, what can we expect?

    A crisis of faith means, to me, that the person is a thinking, breathing, caring human being and as such continually questions.

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    Everyone has trials of their faith; even Jesus Christ himself questioned whether he could withstand the Cross, and on the Cross felt forsaken. Peter denied Christ three times, but went on to be the Rock of the Church.

    That Mother Teresa persisted in her works, and in her public expression of her faith despite her personal trials and doubt. I'd be amazed if she didn't have at least moments of doubt as she worked among the poorest of the poor, and the most mistreated of the mistreated.

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    Quote Originally Posted by countybear View Post
    And what lesson are we to take from this, Jenna?

    ... that even the unequivocably moral and exhalted among mankind face doubt, yet still persevere through faith? or,

    ... that Mother Teresa was a foolish, intellectually bankrupt, hypocritical robot, devoid of any wisdom, yet endearing to man strictly by her tireless efforts and charity?

    I prefer the first statement, humanists prefer the latter. Whether or not her Christianity was real, is a judgement best left to the God that I believe does exist, even when he may not appear before my eyes.

    "and yet, I believe and endure."
    I agree with you countybear. When I first saw this on the news, I found myself irritated that someone with whom Mother Teresa entrusted her human doubts and fears had violated that trust. After more thought, I began to see this as more illuminating that throughout the greatest of crisis, there can be perserverance. I have often thought of Mother Teresa first when struggling with personal crises, especially over the last couple of years. I often pondered how she could witness so much human tragedy and yet still have the strength to bring faith and hope (however slight) to so many. This new insight to her personal life actually strengthens my perception of her.
    The true measure of your character is what you choose to do when you think no one is looking.

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    In other words......


    She was truly human
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PDawg View Post
    In other words......


    She was truly human

    Weird. I was going to post the exact same thing.
    dlefdal said:
    Ummmm, what if I don't like thumbs in my butt?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Norm357 View Post
    Weird. I was going to post the exact same thing.
    Great minds think alike!

    I personally have more respect for someone who struggles with doubt, because it means they are always checking their moral compass.
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  10. #10
    jcsdscott's Avatar
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    Often we choose to have someone to look up to in this life as our beacon, a person that we feel typifies what we ourselves like to be. However, we even more often forget that the one we choose is still a person. A person with emotion, feeling, humanity. We are not perfect, no one on this earth now is but some show us examples of faith that allow them to continue on battling through the toils and strifes. I would not feel comfortable with someone who claimed that they had never experienced pain or confusion of a spiritual or moral nature for that person would either be completely lost and happy in ignorance or lying to me and themself. It's comforting to know that a spiritual warrior, such as Mother Teresa or MLK, experience that darkness that befalls each of us at one point or another because it shows that if they can push through, then so can I. I continue to press towards the mark, the prize of the high calling of God.

    By the way, it must be God's will that I saw this thread because I'll be preaching in about six hours at nearby church.

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    Whether she had a Crisis in Faith, doesn't bother me one way or the other, but it does remind me that people can try to do good, even if they don't believe in any gods.
    To be born an Englishman, is to be a winner in the Lottery of Life.



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    Quote Originally Posted by adroitcuffs View Post
    I found myself irritated that someone with whom Mother Teresa entrusted her human doubts and fears had violated that trust. .
    Me too, as she had asked for the letters to be destroyed after her death per Fox News.
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    If Mother Teresa really is in heaven, I wonder what she thinks about her church publishing the letters she wanted burned.

    I've always admired her. I was sad to learn that she didn't really have as much faith as she seemed to. When I listen to sermons I wonder if the priests and ministers actually believe what they are saying, or if they are just speaking wishfully about hypothetical possibilities they hope to be true. Seeing how much doubt someone like Mother Teresa had makes me wonder how much difference there really is between the agnostic and the devout.

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    Seeing how much doubt someone like Mother Teresa had makes me wonder how much difference there really is between the agnostic and the devout.
    Mother Teresa's works were a testimony to her faith, moreso than her words. The differences between the agnostic and the devout are motivational and intrinsic. Faith without works, and works without faith; both are useless. Works come from faith, not faith from works.

    Just because she stated that her faith grew thin, she never ceased her practices. She had a monumental faith, yet she underestimated it. Having faith calls one to always try it, be concerned about it, even fret over it. Being devoid of faith causes one to be unconcerned about not having it.

    "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money."
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    The difference between agnostic and devout is complete belief. I know not everyone here appreciates discussions on faith and God so I'll try and keep this brief. It seems that people who have trouble believing in God believe only what they can see, touch, smell, taste, hear etc. Faith in God goes farther than that. Much farther. Jesus betrayed his own fears to go to a cross and be sacraficed for us. Scared and full of fear he went forward with a destiny to try and save an entire world. If this is not public service please tell me what is.
    Mother Teresa's work on this earth is a testiment to that kind of service. If Jesus himself could live that kind of life and die that kind of death with fear and doubt and still be mankinds savior, Mother Teresa's doubt is of little consequence to the belief in her soul.
    "The two statements....suggest a startling portrait in self-contradiction." How incredulous a statement is this? This writer sees a lifetime of devotion to others, as a simple Christian human being contradicted in two statements? Nonsense!!
    Jesus Christ led a life of love, and service to others. And then gave up that same life in service to others. That said let's assume, for an ever so slight a moment, that God, the Bible, it's teachings, and Jesus are fake. A product of thousands of years of imagination gone wild. It hurts us to believe in the love and sacrafice of one child for the lives of countless others? If it is fake as some would say then tell me the harm. Where is it? Tell me something better than Jesus to belive in. Apparently Mother Teresa didn't see it and neither do I.
    I am a Christian. I believe. I always will. He existed and is my savior. He died a horrible death for me. I will try and follow in the steps of Jesus in service to my fellow man. I said it and I'm not ashamed. God be with us all.
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    Quote Originally Posted by adroitcuffs View Post
    I agree with you countybear. When I first saw this on the news, I found myself irritated that someone with whom Mother Teresa entrusted her human doubts and fears had violated that trust. After more thought, I began to see this as more illuminating that throughout the greatest of crisis, there can be perserverance. I have often thought of Mother Teresa first when struggling with personal crises, especially over the last couple of years. I often pondered how she could witness so much human tragedy and yet still have the strength to bring faith and hope (however slight) to so many. This new insight to her personal life actually strengthens my perception of her.
    That is an excellent post, adroitcuffs. I completely agree with you and countybear.




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    Quote Originally Posted by jcsdscott View Post
    Often we choose to have someone to look up to in this life as our beacon, a person that we feel typifies what we ourselves like to be. However, we even more often forget that the one we choose is still a person. A person with emotion, feeling, humanity. We are not perfect, no one on this earth now is but some show us examples of faith that allow them to continue on battling through the toils and strifes. I would not feel comfortable with someone who claimed that they had never experienced pain or confusion of a spiritual or moral nature for that person would either be completely lost and happy in ignorance or lying to me and themself. It's comforting to know that a spiritual warrior, such as Mother Teresa or MLK, experience that darkness that befalls each of us at one point or another because it shows that if they can push through, then so can I. I continue to press towards the mark, the prize of the high calling of God.

    By the way, it must be God's will that I saw this thread because I'll be preaching in about six hours at nearby church.
    From a personal standpoint, your words are very timely, jcsdscott.




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    I'm not Christian and never have been, but I've always looked up to Mother Teresa. She gave the only thing in life that really matters to help the poor. Others may give money or donate a weekend here and there, but she gave her entire life to the cause. She showed more bravery every day in her actions than most people will ever have need to call on, and the Divine (called by whatever name you choose) worked through her. Her actions not only touched those she directly helped, but they echoed through the entire world. She showed that one person really can make a difference.

    As far as her confidential letters not being destroyed, I'm offended that her final wishes weren't carried out. She never asked for anything for herself, and the one time she did, it was denied. On the other hand, this may show that even when someone is in doubt, they can still carry on and do great things.
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    I used to think that Mother Teresa's ability to maintain her faith while surrounded by the extremes of suffering and injustice was possible evidence of God's existence, since her serenity seemed superhuman. I suppose this could still be true--that God was giving her strength even though she didn't realize it. On the other hand, it could be evidence of the futility of searching for God, since not even the most devout have evidence of God. Regardless, though, I now admire her even more for having such strength and altruism, without even faith to sustain her. Now some are saying she will be the "patron saint of doubters." If I ever become Catholic, she'll be my patron saint.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jenna View Post
    I used to think that Mother Teresa's ability to maintain her faith while surrounded by the extremes of suffering and injustice was possible evidence of God's existence, since her serenity seemed superhuman. I suppose this could still be true--that God was giving her strength even though she didn't realize it. On the other hand, it could be evidence of the futility of searching for God, since not even the most devout have evidence of God. Regardless, though, I now admire her even more for having such strength and altruism, without even faith to sustain her. Now some are saying she will be the "patron saint of doubters." If I ever become Catholic, she'll be my patron saint.
    Actually Jenna, I think you don't really get what her crisis was. You keep throwing out "faith" and saying she lost "faith" or didn't have "faith."

    She never lost "faith," but at some point she no longer felt nourished, or sustained by her faith.

    Perhaps she felt trapped by her chosen path? Once she became famous for her sacrifice, did it alter the way she saw herself in the world? Did she feel the value of her work was devalued, when her own fame overshadowed the need she was trying to alleviate? She did not stop believing in G-d, she lost sight of her place in G-d's plan.

    She lost her moorings, not her faith.
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