Looking Beyond the Darkness
Author’s Note: This column/essay was written in 2007 or 2008, after some members of the media and the public criticized Bl. Mother Teresa and her legacy when it was revealed she had experienced a “Dark Night of the Soul” for decades.
Mother Teresa was not the first on the path to holiness to have doubts about her faith. St. Thomas the Apostle first doubted that Jesus had risen from the tomb, and would not believe until he had seen Him in the flesh (c.f. John 20:25). Even in the Old Testament, King David wrote several psalms asking God to save him from his loneliness (c.f. Psalms 22, 88, & 143).
Looking carefully at Mother Teresa’s letters, it is obvious that she was troubled about having doubts and lacking faith while on her God-given mission; however, we see that in 1956, she asked her correspondent to pray for her that she might keep “smiling at Him in spite of everything.”
This corresponds to St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, in which he says, “Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel” (c.f. Ephesians 6:19). Mother Teresa, like Saint Paul, was asking for prayers that she might be given the strength to continue doing the will of God, despite all her doubts.
And perhaps, Mother Teresa’s religious doubts may have been God’s way of testing her. Just like Abraham in the Old Testament, Mother Teresa was walking blindly along the way God had set for her, with nothing but her faith in the Living God to guide her footsteps.
Even so, Mother Teresa could be considered gold refined by fire. This spiritual turmoil that she experienced makes her charitable works seem all the more miraculous. As Hebrews reminds us, God’s “discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it (c.f. Hebrews 5:7-13).”
The ‘Saint of Calcutta’ is not the first person to experience these religious doubts, nor will she be the last. Just as God tested the Israelites in the desert, to “know what was in their hearts” (c.f. Deuteronomy 8:1-3), perhaps He tested Mother Teresa in the same way.
“Please pray for me,” Mother Teresa wrote, “That Our Lord may show Himself – for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead.”
But perhaps she did not realize that, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (c.f. 1 John 4:12).
Skeptics will say that these private reservations prove the emptiness of her faith, but society should not try to discredit Mother Teresa. She always did her best to see Christ in everyone, even in the poorest of the poor. She continually strived to do God’s Will, by loving the least of her brethren (c.f. Matthew 25:40). We, as human beings, should do our best to follow her example and emulate Jesus Christ by loving one another as He has loved us (c.f. John 13:34).