Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mother Teresa's Centenary

Mother Teresa's 100th birthday was this past Thursday, the 26th. A lot of details of her spiritual life have come out in the past few years, deepening and deeply enriching what we know of her. Below is the text of a talk my pastor asked me to give, touching on her "dark night":


In a Lenten sermon, St. Peter Chrysologus:
“Prayer, mercy, and fasting: these three are one, and they inform each other. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God.” And again, “Offer your soul to God, make Him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God.”

We know of Mother Teresa's prayer and mercy – the love of God she radiated and inspired in others; the tremendous work she did first in India and then all over the world. But we are only now learning about her fasting: her spiritual life, a life of that total offering of self that Peter Chrysologus called for. Taken alone it is a bleak picture. Taken with her prayer and her mercy it forms a complete whole, and it makes the difference between her being a humanitarian and being a saint.

“In the silence of the heart God speaks, and we listen.” “With our silence, we allow Jesus to love us.” “The fruit of silence is prayer.” Those sayings of Mother Teresa's were a reality that she lived out daily. Like Mary, she knew that there were things she was meant to keep and treasure in her heart, and she did so so completely that even her sisters never knew of them.

Throughout her life, Mother Teresa was silent about the messages from Jesus that began on that 1946 train ride to Darjeeling, and continued for months after. “My little one – come – come – carry me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light. I cannot go alone. They don't know Me. So they don't want Me. You come – go amongst them, carry Me with you into them...Let Me act. Refuse Me not. Trust Me lovingly – trust Me blindly.” Entire conversations passed between them, but when she referred to them at all, she spoke only of receiving “a call within a call”.

She was silent about the threefold vision of the Crucifixion that concluded them, in which Christ, Mary, and the poor all called her to her work - carrying Christ with her to the poor, and bringing the poor to Christ.”I have asked you,” - Christ's words, the last she heard directly from Him - “I have asked you, they have asked you and she, My Mother has asked you. Will you refuse to do this for Me?”

Most of all, she was silent about what followed – God's own silence towards her, almost from the day she began working in the slums. From daily conversation with Christ, she entered into a “dark night” that lasted, with only one short break, until her death 50 years later.

We're most familiar with the dark night of the soul from the writings of Sts. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila: a spiritual state where God is closer than ever, but to the person He seems utterly absent - so that faith becomes pure faith, supported only by grace, and not a question of feelings. Nearly always it's temporary, a purification lasting months or years before ending in greater union with God.

But for Mother Teresa, it lasted the rest of her life. It's a mystery - how someone so alive with joy and love of God could feel so empty of either, for so unbearably long. And yet she did bear it. So often she wanted to say she had no faith, no love – but she could never say the words, and her focus remained always on Christ. She always sought Him: in the poor, in her devotion to His Sacred Heart; in the Eucharist. She always gave Him, as she said, all the place - all the credit for her life and work.

Yet she fasted from any sense of His presence, and it was – it had to be - a fast as intense as her prayer and her mercy. Again from Peter Chrysologus: “Let prayer, fasting and mercy be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.”

Her plea was on behalf of the poor, not herself. The darkness was part of her call, a way for her to identify with the poor she served – to be lonely like them, feel unwanted like them, know the desolation of life without God. It was a way for her to stand among them and lead them to Christ, as they'd begged her to do in her vision. And it was an intimate share in the pain of her Jesus, her crucified Spouse who'd cried out in His own abandonment. She not only talked about His agonized thirst for love, but lived it out herself. She wrote her own Psalm 22 - a letter to Jesus from his “little one” – ending, as the Psalmist did, with her hope firmly in God.

I'll close by letting her speak for herself, in a quote from that letter:

“Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me? The child of your love – and now become as the most hated one – the one you have thrown away as unwanted – unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no One to answer – no One on Whom I can cling – no, No One. Alone. The darkness is so dark – and I am alone. - Unwanted, forsaken. - The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable.-Where is my faith?-Even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness and darkness.-My God-how painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing...What are you doing my God to one so small? When You asked to imprint Your Passion on my heart – is this the answer?

“If this brings You glory, if You get a drop of joy from this – if souls are brought to You – if my suffering satiates Your Thirst – here I am, Lord, with joy I accept all to the end of life - & I will smile at Your Hidden Face – always.

“My own Jesus, do with me as you wish - as long as you wish. I am Your own.”

1 comment:

Rebecca Hamilton said...

Beautiful blog. Thank you for creating and writing it.