“By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus” (Mother Teresa). Even though it didn’t receive much critical acclaim, I found watching The Letters of Mother Teresa intriguing. The Letters is a very sensitive and kind biographical interpretation of Mother Teresa’s life based on letters she’d written to her spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem, over some fifty years.Do you know her story? Although my mother was an agnostic, she was about the same age as Mother Teresa and a great admirer of her humanitarian work, so I grew up equating the name “Mother Teresa” with selfless compassion for the poor. Born in Skopje, Macedonia (1910) as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, “Mother Teresa” was thrilled with stories of missionaries working in India even as a child and went to Ireland at 18 to prepare for mission work by learning English and joining the Sisters of Loreto. For over 20 years she taught school in India, taking on the name “Teresa” in honor of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. Near the end of those years, she felt a “call within a call” to live and work among the poorest of the poor, and thereafter dedicated her life to serving the needs of those who were destitute and abandoned, most of whom were dying alone on the streets of Calcutta. Eventually Mother Teresa started a congregation known as the Missionaries of Charity, which today numbers 4,500 nuns—all of whom have taken vows of chastity, poverty, obedience, and to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.” These women are serving in hundreds of settings around the world to meet the needs of societies’ castoffs. For her efforts, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, and since her death, she’s been canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. The great controversy is in trying to understand why someone so dedicated to God should have experienced such a sense of being abandoned by God. Was it like St. John of the Cross’ “Dark Night of the Soul” or that brief period of abandonment that Jesus experienced on the cross when he bore our sins and the Father turned his face away? Or, as Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk wrote, could it have been some paradox: “for her to be a light, she was to be in darkness”? I cannot begin to understand or explain her years of feeling empty and dark, although I’ve known people with similar agonies. In my life, darkness has only come when I’ve started to doubt God’s goodness or been tempted to disobey my sense of what God wants from me, plain and simple. But, I’ve never carried the weight of constant pain and suffering as Mother Teresa did. Did she begin to doubt his goodness and love? I have no insight into why she suffered, but I do know for certain that God is, and He can be trusted. This life is full of mysteries, but like Abraham of old, I also believe, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Meanwhile, if you find life unbearably depressing, you might want to make sure you don’t have a medical problem, like low thyroid. (I’m totally serious!) If you’re physically healthy and balanced but still feeling filled with darkness, I’m wondering if you need hope. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:19-20). Christ died for us and rose again, so that if we repent of our sins and believe in him, we will find that after we die, we will also rise again and be with him forever.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me?
hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance.”
(Photo credits: #1 Movie poster. #2,7 by Turelio, made available through Wiki Commons. #4 Public Domain in Wiki. The rest I took while viewing the movie.)