Friday, August 24, 2007

Mother Teresa's dark nights of the soul

Time magazine yesterday carried an article by David van Biema entitled "Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith" (August 23, 2007). It was based on a recently published book by the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, entitled Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), and consists of an edited collection of correspondence between Mother Teresa and her confessors, spiritual directors, and superiors over 66 years. The focus of the book is on the dark side Mother Teresa -- her doubts, her dark nights of the soul when she lacked the clarity of vision and faith purportedly belied by her outward cheerfulness and life of service to others. The highlighted quotation in Van Biema's article is a statement she allegedly made to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet in September 1979: "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear."

The link to the piece was sent to me by one of my daughters-in-law. I told her that I had heard some years ago about Mother Teresa's "desert experiences," and that these seemed to fit what St. John of the Cross describes as the "dark night of the soul" in his writings -- an experience undergone by the soul -- often far along on the path of sanctity in the pilgrimage toward one's last end. Many American and western Christians might rarely if ever undergo such experiences, since they tend to wade in the shallow puddle of commercialized religious experiences in which they nearly always seek only that which is subjectively felt to be therapeutic. Catholic traditions of ascetic theology show that deeper spiritual life requires a trifle more.

I had not heard of Kolodiejchuk's book in conjunction with this examination of Mother Teresa, however, and it may be quite interesting, even if the Time article seems a bit sensationalist.

Of related interest:
Carol Zaleski, "The Dark Night of Mother Teresa" (First Things, May 2003)
[Hat tip to S.F.]

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