Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Rod Dreher on Mother Teresa

Rod Dreher has two comments on Mother Teresa's crisis of faith. Fortunately, bot can be found in one easy to find location. First, in his capacity as an editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, he writes the following:

When we think of the saints, it's common to imagine them as serene figures, going about the world doing good works, floating above the temptations and doubts of ordinary people. The truth is more complicated. Holiness is not the same thing as goodness. In fact, it's spiritual heroism.

Now come stunning revelations that Mother Teresa of Calcutta was tormented by doubt that God existed. In private letters to her confessors now being published on the 10th anniversary of her death, she referred to Jesus as "the Absent One."

In 1946, Mother Teresa had a mystical vision in which she believed she heard Jesus calling to her to "come be my light" to the poor. She did. And then he withdrew, leaving the Catholic to dwell in the abyss of doubt for half a century. In the letters, she described her smile as "a cloak that covers everything" and agonized over whether she was a hypocrite.

You could call her that. Or you could see in the famed humanitarian's life a spectacular triumph of the human spirit. She persevered. She endured. She did not abandon the wretched of the earth, nor falter in what she believed was her divinely appointed mission – even though she received no consolation that God was even there.

How? Hope.

Hope is not mere optimism. Hope is the conviction that despite all available evidence, our lives, our work and our sufferings have ultimate meaning. Most people, religious and secular, at some point experience doubt about their purpose in life; many doubt whether life has purpose at all. But the moment passes. It did not for Mother Teresa, who felt forsaken by God for the last half-century of her life.

And yet, because Mother Teresa did not let her inner darkness overcome the light, in poverty-stricken South Dallas and in more than 130 countries worldwide, poor people find help and compassion through the Missionaries of Charity. Though Mother Teresa was desperately poor in spirit, what faith she had was enough to move mountains.

To learn of her radical doubt is not to lose respect for Mother Teresa. It is rather to be awestruck by what she accomplished despite her all-too-human fears. In her weakness, the rest of us may find strength. Ten years after the great and good woman of Calcutta's passing, we now know that she was no plaster saint. She was one of us.

Second, he has the following more person comment on his own blog:

Speaking only for myself, I would add that I have been tremendously moved -- literally to tears -- by what Mother Teresa suffered (read the Time story here, if you haven't yet), and how she pressed on in spite of her tormenting doubts. The inner strength and the courage that it took to sacrifice her life for the wretched of the earth, despite the utter lack of spiritual consolation, and even though she radically doubted whether there was any divine recompense for her good works -- well, what greater love is there? I am in awe of it. She strikes me as a Kierkegaardian knight of faith -- she did not believe (or at least severely doubted) that God was there, yet because she believed it possible that He was there, she carried on with her mission, and lived out her promise to Jesus made in 1946.

Verily, verily I say unto you, Mother Teresa of Calcutta is the patron saint for a world that has lost its ability to believe, but hungers desperately for belief. We knew when she was alive that a spiritual hero lived among us. But really, we had no idea at all what this little nun was capable of. Blessed Mother Teresa, pray for we who believe but struggle all the same with unbelief.

Read both here.

Later, in the comments section, he adds the following:

According to what I've read, including excerpts from her letters, she doubted whether Jesus existed, and despaired of his apparent absence from her soul. Yet she never denied Him, and lived as if He existed, hoping that He really was there. It was an almost superhuman act of faith. She felt her soul utterly abandoned, and yet, by force of will held tight to her convictions, including the conviction that Jesus really had spoken to her in 1946 and asked her to be his light for the poor.

What she illustrates is that faith is not just a feeling. That you can have no feeling at all, and suffer terribly from that lack, yet still have faith. She had, I'd say, an infinitesimally small bit of faith, as most of us measure it. But she built a whole life on that speck. And what a life it was!

In reading the comments on many on the blogosphere, it strikes me that many do not understand the nature of faith--they view it merely as some cognitive and empirical belief in a statement of fact. I think Rod does a good job of focusing on what faith is really about. Mother Teresa has a crisis of faith in that she had doubts about the existence of God--and felt unconnected to God for decades--but nonetheless acted in the world as if there was a God who called to help the least of these. During the crisis of faith, she did not become selfish, but continued to make extraordinary sacrifices. That is a strong faith, not a weak one.

No comments: