When we think of the Saints of the Church, we can form an unrealistic image of them in our minds. We may view them as perfect, spiritually self-confident, possessing an inner strength to resist sin–something we ourselves feel we can never attain. The great Saints of the Church, with their glowing biographies, seem unapproachable.
But the Saints are meant to be people with whom we can identify. We find St. Paul of the New Testament so endearing because he was humble enough to confess his own faults and human failings to his flock. Despite his foibles, God was able to accomplish great things through him. Our Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Cor. 13:9). The Church teaches us about the lives of those who have fought the good fight and stayed their course, so that we may be encouraged to do the same. The saints we revere the most were people just like you and me. Whatever their sufferings or the trying circumstances in which we may find ourselves, God’s promise to us rings true: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, . . . ” (Rom. 8:28)
In our own day, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India, is one who is regarded as a spiritual giant. Even before she passed away 10 years ago, the world placed her upon a pedestal. However, the Vatican recently released a selection of her letters to her spiritual advisers that reveal another, more human, side of her life.
Kenneth Woodward, in his September 8 article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Special Breed of Saint,” shares with us some of the struggles she endured. Mother Teresa spent most of her life on the streets of Calcutta caring for the sick and the poorest of the poor.
All the while she was showing them the love of Christ and ministering to them on the Calcutta streets, she felt only a sense of emptiness, devoid of God’s presence. For the last fifty years of her life, according to Woodward, she was “inwardly tortured by the sense that God had abandoned her.”
Mother Teresa confided, “I want to love Jesus as he has never been loved before,” yet, she found only “darkness and coldness and emptiness that nothing touches my soul.” The spiritual dryness she experienced is reminiscent of the famous Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, who expressed a similar emptiness as “the dark night of the soul.” Her heart’s desire was to live in the presence of God, yet all she felt was God’s absence. This absence was so profound she referred to God as The Absent One.
Our society places a high premium on making decisions based on how we feel. You may hear someone say, “I have fallen out of love with my wife or husband,” or “I no longer feel like supporting this cause or that cause.” The same, too, applies in our relationship with God. Maybe you, like Mother Teresa, are worn down by the sufferings in your life and in the sufferings of the world, and you don’t feel God’s presence or love.
Woodward comments that Mother Teresa did feel Jesus’ loving presence and voice once, but then God withdrew and Jesus was silent for those fifty years. She had to carry on with the outward expression of her faith, devoid of any emotional consolation. Such a faith was grounded in God’s love. Mother Teresa was reassured of that when she bore her heart and soul to a most helpful spiritual confessor, theologian, Father Joseph Neuner. Later, she wrote, “I came to love the darkness.”
Maybe you have been misled, as many Christians have, that your faith is dependent on how emotionally charged you are. But this is not the way of the cross. On the cross, Jesus himself felt abandoned by God when He took on the sins of the world. Despite this feeling of abandonment, He persevered, overriding his emotions with the virtues every Christian is called to possess: faith, hope, and charity. We are called by God to practice these virtues, even when we don’t feel like it. If we persevere with God’s help, we will come to know the love and peace of God, which passes all understanding.
Our faith, like Mother Teresa’s faith, can be nurtured during our spiritually dry times. Having someone to turn to is a great relief. Christ calls us to His Church that we might lay our burdens down and be comforted by His presence in the Mass and from one another, “That Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith; being rooted in love.” See you in His Church.
Fr. Gordon Hines+