“Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” (Doubleday) is a collection of St. Teresa’s correspondence over 66 years, the volume was edited by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a Missionaries of Charity priest and postulator of the cause of her canonization.
After it was published, a Time magazine article, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” focused on a startling revelation in Teresa’s letters: Despite lifelong labors for God, she had struggled for years with the sense that He had abandoned her.
Some were disturbed by this news. But they needn’t have been. Though some reports insisted that Teresa had experienced a lifelong “crisis of belief” — with some commentators even suggesting she was a closet atheist — these writers confused two very different things: belief in God and the feeling that He is near.
Yes, excerpts from the correspondence suggest that on two occasions Teresa doubted, or was tempted to doubt, that God exists. Yet the rest of the correspondence suggests that such doubts didn’t last. What remained for so many years was Teresa’s feeling that God had abandoned her.
She spoke of “silence,” “emptiness,” “loneliness.” That’s very different from saying she had concluded that God doesn’t exist and then remained in that conviction for a lifetime. In fact, despite her feelings, Teresa continued to address her prayers to the God she believed was there, even though she felt He was far away.
The truth is that Teresa stands in good company among saints with similar struggles, and even with Jesus himself, who cried out from the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). That cry may well help us understand Teresa’s enduring torment.
After all, she wrote early on that she wanted to share the passion of Christ: “I want to … drink ONLY from His chalice of pain.” Wasn’t it perhaps the deepest dregs of His “chalice” that, while He hung dying in agony, God seemed to Him to be utterly absent? Teresa’s feeling of divine abandonment may well have been a severe grace in answer to that prayer.
Her willingness to struggle so long this way is actually one more indicator of her heroic holiness.
Who among us could dwell half a century among the most desperate people on earth without wondering often, “Where is God in all this?” Yet she never despaired, never let her feelings paralyze her, continuing her sacrificial care for the poor.
It was the mighty, persistent act of a will that had abandoned itself to God, even when it seemed abandoned by Him.