St John's Q&A

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The greatest way to imitate Christ

Anon wrote the following:

“There is a book coming out about Mother Teresa that is a compilation of correspondence from her to her confessors and others spanning 60-plus years. The letters (if authentic) show that for most of her life she lived in a state of constant spiritual pain because she did not feel the presence of God and even doubted the existence of God and heaven. The book claims that she described herself as living in utter darkness. I know that prior to this it was known that she experienced periods of spiritual crisis, but this book apparently says that it was present throughout most of her adult life. What do we make of this? Occasionally on this blog people talk about spiritual struggle and the answer generally is: you must be open, you must sin less, you must confess your sins, you must pray, you must listen for God, you must give to others. Mother Teresa did those things probably more than any of us can imagine. Why would God torture her?”

I met Mother Teresa twice and have read many of her writings and teachings. I can say with great confidence that she not only taught others to live with joy but she lived it herself and experienced real joy. It was the joy of Christ. Does this mean that she was always laughing and carrying on with people? No, but it does mean that she whatever crosses she endured in her life, she experienced real joy because she was found worthy to imitate Christ in such a great way.

I use two of her quotes all the time along these lines:

“ The best way to imitate Christ is through suffering”
“Those who are closest to Jesus on earth are those who suffer the most”

I really don’t think that she read this in a book somewhere. As far as I know, these are two original quotes (with some help from the Holy Spirit). She learned this through her own experience. It was through her own trials, but also through the pains of those she served for over fifty years. She might have witnessed more suffering on a daily basis than anyone who’s ever lived; she amassed much wisdom about the value of suffering.

Why would God allow her to experience such darkness? It’s really the same question of why He would allow His own Son to experience such suffering. The answer to both of these questions is focused on identifying with the experience of the poor who are highly favored by God. The poor - Christ, the Blessed Mother, Mother Teresa, the saints, etc. – have a great dependence on and need for God, much like children do. God has great love and trust for people like MT that, in their great anguish, they will call out to Him all the more which is what she did for so many years. She acknowledged this trust when she said, “ I know God will not give me more than I can handle…I just wish He didn’t trust me so much”.

My take on all of this stuff from the new book (and I don’t know how much is accurate) is that she is speaking mainly for all those she served all those years. She once said that the greatest human pains are rejection and loneliness. Christ felt these in the garden on Holy Thursday; she said he was in greater pain that night than on Good Friday. She linked that pain to the men and women she served in Calcutta whose families had left them to die at train stations. Again, the Father allowed Christ to experience such pain so that he could identify with all those who have been abandoned, rejected, hurt, etc., and so they can identify with him.

I don’t doubt that MT experienced real spiritual darkness. But, I do think that she witnessed their darkness and pain for so long that she took it on herself. One last quote that she probably said to herself as much as she said to others which shows that, at the end of the day, her faith was rock-solid: “Don’t ever get so sad that you lose sight of the Resurrection”. No matter how much she suffered in this life, we believe she is enjoying the fruit of her faith in the Resurrection: eternal life.


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