Reading this collection of Mother Teresa's private conversations with her spiritual fathers is for me my closest encounter with God — her God, or for that matter, all Gods.
It all started with a voice that she thought she heard from God one September day in December 1946. The voice gathered strength in the ensuing days and months until she convinced first the Archbishop of Calcutta, and finally Vatican that the Voice was real. All these days and months, the Voice she heard kept pleading: “Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come, be My light.”
And this was the easy part. Almost right from the founding of the Missionaries of Charity, she was plunged into the deepest abyss of darkness which she once likened to hell. It was as if the internet cable had been unplugged, and she had lost all connections to God. She was in deep despair that no prayers could dispel. This she confessed only to her spiritual fathers, mostly in letters that she asked to be destroyed. She once wrote: “If I ever become a Saint — I will surely be one of ‘darkness’. I will continually be absent from Heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” Outside, she was the most revered Mother who carried the Missionaries to almost every part of the world. And this continued for more than 50 years until she died in 1997.
I have to take hers as religious experience par excellence. For Christians and non-Christians alike, we must recognize her as one of the noblest souls that has ever lived. She was a living demonstration of what a simple human being can achieve given faith.
But I have two little problems.
First: When a rabbit meets a lion, who wins? She saved the lives of millions of the poorest, but she could not save us from the villains of war. In January 1991, Mother Teresa wrote to the heads of state of the U.S. and Iraq , in the hope that the looming war could be averted. We all know the result.
Second: religious faith comes in so many brands and banners, and when the intensity gets anywhere close to Mother Teresa’s, it is bound to be “blind” (Mother Teresa always believed that what she is doing is His work, not hers). We have seen so many instances of this resulting in holy and unholy wars, and in “revolutions” from Nazist to “communist gone wrong”.
1. Wikipedia introduction to Mother Teresa: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Teresa
2. There is no lack of criticism of Mother Teresa's work. This is one example: http://www.salon.com/sept97/news/news3.html