Mother Teresa: a protector of human life. An advocate for human dignity. A prayer warrior of the rosary. An avid adorer of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist. Looking at her life, these are a few of the characteristics one can attribute to Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa lived her life (August 26, 1910-September 5, 1997) in such a way that made Pope Francis certain she was in heaven, canonizing her September 4, 2016, just a day before her feast day. Thousands of people attended the canonization mass, so clearly many recognize and are impressed by her holiness. But what few people might know is that Mother Teresa experienced deep spiritual darkness for the most part of her life.
This “spiritual darkness” was revealed in Mother’s letters to her confessor, which she asked him to burn. However, the priest felt that the letters were too spiritually valuable to burn, so he kept them. Thanks to him, we have these letters which offer hope for the afflicted in this generation.
Spiritual darkness is a state in which a person feels that God is not present, does not hear one’s prayers, and does not love the individual. In her letters, Mother Teresa goes so far as to fear she was condemned. This feeling of emptiness and utter abandonment was not only characteristic to Mother Teresa. Other saints, such as Saints Gemma, John and Teresa of Avila have experienced this “dark night of the soul” as well.
For Mother Teresa, her spiritual dryness lasted decades. What is more remarkable is that she, like the other saints, did not despair, but instead persevered, growing in her faith.
What small inspiration we can draw from this. For sometimes, when we feel like God does not answer our prayer even just once, we fall into bitterness, turn inward to ourselves, and only concern ourselves with how we’re feeling and how we’re being treated. Mother Teresa, though she experienced the same feelings of spiritual abandonment, continued to love the poor, administer to the sick, and comfort the dying in the slums of Calcutta. She understood that being Christian is not easy.
For Jesus did not say, “If anyone wishes to be my disciple, he must pick some flowers and follow me.” Rather, He said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” (Luke 9:23).
Faith and suffering go hand in hand, but as Father Mike Schmitz of Ascension Press once said, “Suffering without Christ is painful. Suffering with Christ is redemptive and will transform the world.” Mother Teresa was a living example of this principle. She united her suffering with that of Jesus on the Cross, and though she felt spiritual darkness, she was not alone.
The same is true for us.
Mother Teresa’s suffering was real. She wrote, “The place of God in my soul is blank…. I just long and long for God and then it is that I feel He does not want me…. Sometimes I just hear my own heart cry out ‘My God’ and nothing else comes….The torture and pain I can’t explain.”
Her courage was just as real, for she said, “If you could know how happy I am, as Jesus’ little spouse. No one, not even those who are enjoying some happiness which in the world seems perfect, could I envy, because I am enjoying my complete happiness, even when I suffer something for my beloved Spouse.”
So let us welcome suffering into our arms, just as Jesus greets us with open arms. Let us bear our lot with courage, just as Christ accepted His Cross. Most of all, let Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who we so tenderly call mother, intercede for us, that we may suffer with grace and be transformed through Christ.