by George Amoss Jr.
“Eternity,” wrote William Blake, “is in love with the productions of time.” A Roman Catholic – especially one who was formed in the pre-conciliar Church of the early twentieth century, as was Mother Teresa – would surely agree with that, but she would not stop there. The Catholic sees time sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of eternity.
Time is itself the production of eternity, and eternity, like the Light shining in the darkness,1 is present w i t h i n b u t n o t constrained by time. Time passes; the eternal is: “Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever.”2 And the Catholic Christ, the eternal creative Logos, is in love, in his divine-human way, with his productions in time – with human souls.
When the Logos takes flesh in Jesus Christ, and when Christ suffers torture and death in order to rescue souls from the jaws of hell, his act occurs in time and yet is not of time. The agony of the eternal Christ, the Lamb slain from the beginning of the world,3 is eternal: his divine suffering is unending. Indeed, his very nature is kenotic, or self-emptying, love.4 Because his redemptive sacrifice is eternal, it can be effectively re-presented in the Mass,5 which makes him physically present with “the faithful,” who are invited to participate in his eternally-present kenosis by being joined to him in self-sacrificial love.6
Furthermore, as a member of Christ’s “mystical body,” the Catholic is privileged, like Paul, to “fill up” by her own suffering “those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ … for his body, which is the church”7 – as some who were educated by nuns, with their frequent advice to “offer up” our pains in union with the suffering of Jesus, will remember. Through the suffering that accompanies kenotic love, the Catholic Christian participates in “the ever-continued sacrificial activity of Christ in Heaven.”8 That may be heresy to Christians whose ideas about time and eternity differ, but it is at the heart of Catholic spirituality. The Catholic is called to carry her cross daily in union with the suffering Christ, sharing in his sacrifice and participating thereby in the salvation of souls. And to be set aside, consecrated, to do nothing else is the special calling of the Catholic “religious,” a person who lives under vows such as poverty, chastity, and obedience; a person whose life is formally and conspicuously dedicated to the service of Christ in/as the Church.
It was to that exalted calling that 18-year-old Agnes Bojaxhiu, later to be known as Mother Teresa, was responding when she left her native Albania and traveled to Ireland in order to join the Loretto Sisters.9 In her letter of application to Loretto, Agnes expresses her “sincere desire [to] become a missionary sister, and work for Jesus who died for us all.” Other than to serve in India, she tells Mother Superior, Agnes wants nothing more than to “surrender myself completely to the good God’s disposal.” As a Catholic, she knows that such surrender is the embrace of a life of suffering in union with the eternally wounded “Sacred Heart”10 of Christ.
Agnes’s application to the Loretto Sisters is one of many letters in Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, a collection mostly of her private correspondence, much of which she had requested be destroyed, with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C.11 It was through the publication of Come Be My Light in 2007 that the world learned that Mother Teresa, known for her tireless work for the poor, her ready smile, and her seemingly unshakable faith, had almost continuously for about 50 years felt bereft of God and beset by doubt. Brian Kolodiejchuck wants to explain the apparent contradiction in acceptable hagiographical terms. In fact, it’s his job to do so.
Kolodiejchuck is hardly a disinterested editor and commentator: a priest of the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order founded by Mother Teresa, he is director of the Mother Teresa Center and the official postulator, or advocate, for the “cause” of her canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church. As postulator, a role no doubt made easier by John Paul II’s abolition of the ancient office of the “Devil’s advocate,” Kolodiejchuck presents Mother Teresa’s life and writings with the aim of proving her sanctity. And while the contents of her letters are challenging, given that the persistent spiritual dryness she describes can even take the form of loss of belief in God and heaven, he doesn’t fail to produce an edifying explanation.
As have others who’ve followed him, Kolodiejchuck offers the concept, made famous by the 16thcentury Carmelite John of the Cross, of “the dark night of the soul,” an experience of spiritual purgation that precedes union with God, to account for Mother Teresa’s interior emptiness. However, because union with God early on was followed by the extraordinary duration of Teresa’s “night” of spiritual deprivation, he finds it necessary to stretch and ultimately redefine that concept. Following Mother Teresa herself, Kolodiejchuck will claim that Teresa’s “dark night” experience became uniquely redemptive rather than purgative: Christ was allowing her to share deeply in his atoning suffering on the cross.
But the dark night concept, however creatively applied, is not the only possible explanation for the surprising revelations in Mother Teresa’s correspondence. A less hagiographical reading suggests other, less forced, explanatory frameworks. Perhaps the most comprehensive is this: the strong-willed Mother Teresa knew what she wanted and made sure that she got it, despite increasingly deep doubts about the authenticity of her faith and life. And what she wanted was sainthood as classically defined in the Catholic Church: the sacrifice of “everything” for Jesus and for the salvation of the souls he loves, a sacrifice recognized and applauded by God and Church.
Comments in the media about the book tend to give the impression that Mother Teresa’s spiritual difficulties began only after she had founded her new order, the Missionaries of Charity. That is understandable: there is little documentation from the time before she got the idea of the order, and Teresa herself states in a letter that her spiritual darkness began “in 49 or 50.” Certainly, too, the post-1950 difficulties are startling, afflicting as they do a religious figure who is increasingly famous worldwide as the tireless and deeply committed foundress of a religious order dedicated to serving “the poorest of the poor.” But a careful reading of Come Be My Light reveals that Teresa’s “difficulties against faith”12 began much earlier, only stopping – temporarily – on the day when Jesus began to speak to her in September of 1946.
Teresa’s later difficulties appear to be the exacerbation of her earlier doubts. It may be that her outwardly unshakable certitude about both her vocation (i.e., her “calling”; her career) and conservative Catholic ideology, as well as her framing of her aridity and doubt as a saint’s dark night, were aspects of a kind of compensatory reaction, a transformation of unacceptable feelings into their opposites. Doubting that Jesus existed, Teresa began to hear his voice, addressing her “with utmost tenderness”13 and asking that she perform a very specific and public service for him. But that intimacy with Jesus would be short-lived, and the doubt and aridity would return all too soon.
We don’t know exactly when the doubts began, whether they were present at the beginning of Teresa’s religious career or began after she entered Loretto. But doubting or not, Agnes Bojaxhiu was received into the Loretto Sisters community in 1928, and her request to be assigned to a mission school in Bengal was granted. She arrived in Calcutta in early January of 1929. On the way, aboard ship, she wrote a self-conscious poem, “Farewell,” some excerpts from which will give us the flavor of the sense of self and vocation to which she would cling throughout her career.
… I am leaving old friends
Forsaking family and home
My heart draws me onward
To serve my Christ.
… Bravely standing on the deck
Joyful of mien, Christ’s happy little one,
His new bride to be.
In her hand a cross of iron
On which her Savior hangs,
While her eager soul offers there
Its painful sacrifice.
O God, accept this sacrifice
As a sign of my love,
Help, please, Thy creature
To glorify Thy name!
… Fine and pure as summer dew,
Her soft warm tears begin to flow,
Sealing and sanctifying now
Her painful sacrifice.14
Agnes, soon to become the spouse of Christ through her religious vows, has already given herself to him in spirit and shares in his redemptive work. She is, therefore, not despite but because of the twicementioned “painful sacrifice,” “joyful of mien, … happy”; indeed, she asserts that the sacrifice is offered eagerly. Moreover, it is offered on the same cross on which Christ hangs. She is on her way to “doing the same work which Jesus was doing when he was on earth.”15
The paradox expressed in that “eagerly” captures the apparent mystery of Mother Teresa’s life: despite intense and almost continuous inner emptiness and pain, her interactions with others led people to believe that she was a thoroughly joyful person. But the mystery is dispelled if we recognize that the experience of simultaneous happiness and anguish of spirit was not only her lot but also her desire, a crucial part of the identity she chose for herself as a Catholic nun destined for sainthood in the mystical tradition of her namesake, the Carmelite saint Therese of Lisieux. As early as 1937, the year of her profession of lifelong vows, Mother Teresa wrote of a sister nun that “[Sister Gabriella] works beautifully for Jesus – the most important is that she knows how to suffer and at the same time how to laugh. That is the most important – to suffer and to laugh.” The letter concludes with this: “[E]verything is for Jesus, so … everything is beautiful, even though it is difficult.”16 Later she would write that
Cheerfulness is a sign of a generous and mortified [a good quality for a Catholic] person who[,] forgetting all things, even herself, tries to please God in all she does for souls [note souls and not people; that is significant, as we’ll see]. Cheerfulness is often a cloak which hides a life of sacrifice, continual union with God, fervor and generosity. A person who has this gift of cheerfulness very often reaches a great height of perfection. For God loves a cheerful giver [2 Cor. 9:7] and He takes close to His heart the religious [i.e., those who have taken vows and been formally consecrated to the service of God/Church] He loves.17 Teresa not only accepts suffering but embraces it as a sharing in the divine kenosis of Christ and as a gift of reparation to him. She is happy to suffer: the world can be brought to God and his salvation through suffering, salvation is itself effected by suffering, and her own redemptive suffering reduces Christ’s – for he grieves each time a soul is lost to Satan through sin. For a Catholic such as Teresa, suffering (given by God along with the “grace” of embracing it in the right spirit) is a privilege, a sign of election; and intense, long-term suffering is a sign of special favor from God. Teresa will be privileged to hang on the cross in perpetual agony with Christ, sharing in his work of saving souls. He is her beloved: how could she do otherwise? And her complete self-surrender to God through suffering will raise her above the run-of-the-mill Catholic into the realm of sainthood. By means of such devices as voluntary suffering and a special, secret vow of total submission to God’s will – a will revealed not only mediately through superiors (to whom she had vowed obedience) but also directly to her by Jesus – she will induce God, she thinks, to grant her that destiny.
If serving God by saving souls through suffering was the principal conscious desire of Teresa’s life, the controlling metaphor of her life was that of spiritual marriage: through her vows as a nun, she became the bride of Christ. And through her extraordinary private vow, made five years after her ritual marriage to Jesus, she would bind Christ even more closely to her. Explaining that “I wanted to give God something very beautiful,” she “made a vow to God, binding under mortal sin,18 to give God anything that He may ask, ‘Not to refuse Him anything.’”19 Presumably, the vow, which was made with the permission of her spiritual advisor, was ratified by Christ/God. In effect, it says to God, “If I don’t do anything and everything that you want me to do in this world, you must abandon my soul to everlasting torment after death.” It also requires that God be quite clear about his wishes, as if Teresa might have known, at least subliminally, that Jesus would speak to her.
To this observer, it seems evident that the vow was Teresa’s way of ensuring that, despite her earlier but still-binding vow of obedience to her religious superiors, she would be able to do what she wanted – felt led, as Quakers might say – to do. It is evident, too, that she took the vow quite seriously and at face value, expecting God to reciprocate. What Teresa expected in return for the vow is summarized in a statement she made to her nuns in 1959:
To give ourselves fully to God is a means of receiving God Himself. I for God and God for me. I live for God and give up my own self, and in this way induce God to live for me. Therefore to possess God we must allow Him to possess our soul.20
Mother Teresa initially wanted nothing less from the transaction than the possession of God, and it appears that, for a while, she felt that she’d succeeded. But by the time she made that statement in 1959, Teresa was learning the painful lesson that she was able neither to induce nor to possess her divine spouse any longer. She had committed herself to giving Christ all that she could for a lifetime, but, contrary to her expectation, he did not return the gift. Like an emotionally abusive husband, he demanded her abject devotion and self-sacrificing service but then withdrew his love and companionship. I for God but God not for me. In large part, Come Be My Light is the story of Teresa’s attempt to cope with that perceived abandonment, which was evidently the return, in power, of her earlier doubts.
According to Teresa herself, speaking in letters that she requested be destroyed, Christ had been quite literally vocal, explicit, and insistent about his demand that she dedicate her life to saving souls of the poor, but after she had complied publicly and irrevocably, he spoke to her no more. Worse, he left her completely alone, withdrawing even the sense of his presence, leaving her to doubt his very existence and, therefore, the value of her life’s work. It seems that Teresa was paying the price of getting what she wanted most: even more than to enjoy Christ’s companionship, Teresa wanted to attain recognized sainthood by founding an order and by suffering for Jesus. When the “difficulties against faith” began to recur as the former goal was achieved, she found herself blessed with the ultimate deprivation – better, even than martyrdom, which, after all, is over relatively quickly – for a life-long bride of Christ: divine spousal abandonment, the supreme endurance test of love. Withstanding even that, she would prove that she could, as she said with blatant if unconscious egotism, “love Him as He has never been loved before.”21 She would love and serve him better than any saint (even his mother Mary?22) ever had – even if he did not exist.
A question arises: given that Teresa was already experiencing the loss of God long before 1959, how could she continue to teach her nuns as she did? And as that sense of loss continued and even worsened, so that Jesus was absent for her even from the Blessed Sacrament (the consecrated bread, believed to be the actual flesh and blood of Christ), how could she continue to present the public face of a hyper-committed, conservative, and holy Catholic? Initially, as we have noted, she could frame her experience as a classic dark night of the soul. Formed by Catholic spirituality, she knew that on her own she would never be able give all, to eliminate the residue of self in her actions; God, therefore, in his special love for her, was purging her soul of self-attachment. In that belief, she could hope for a light at the end of that dark tunnel which had been described by St. Therese (whose saintly suffering included a spiritual night that ended with her early death from tuberculosis).
But Teresa was eventually able to say that she had “not been seeking self for sometime [sic] now,”23 yet the darkness did not dissipate. As the tunnel stretched across decades, she would need a different paradigm. With the assistance of a spiritual advisor, she found one: knowing that she could withstand the pain, Christ was permitting her to share the terrible but salvific experience of abandonment that he had cried out from the cross on Calvary; “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”24 Her soul now pure, her suffering was no longer purgative; the pain had become, like Christ’s, fully redemptive. Every day, precisely through remaining faithful despite her “difficulties against faith,” Teresa was achieving her aim of saving souls. She was hanging on the cross with her God-forsaken Jesus. And so at every step, whatever the conceptual framing, the response of this faithful bride was to say “Yes!”
[M]y Jesus, You have done to me according to Your will [here Teresa echoes Mary the mother of Jesus, the icon of the willing and long-suffering spouse of God – see, for example, Luke 1] – and Jesus hear my prayer – if this pleases You – if my pain and suffering – my darkness and separation gives You a drop of consolation – my own Jesus, do with me as You wish – [for] as long as you wish, without a single glance at my feelings and pain. I am Your own. – Imprint on my soul the life and sufferings of Your Heart. […] If my separation from You – brings others to You and in their love and company You find joy and pleasure – why Jesus, I am willing with all my heart to suffer … not only now – but for all eternity – if this was possible. Your happiness is all that I want. – For the rest please do not take the trouble – even if You see me faint with pain. […] I want to satiate Your Thirst with every single drop of blood that You can find in me. – Don’t allow me to do you wrong in any way – take from me the power of hurting You. […] I beg of You only one thing – please do not take the trouble to return soon. – I am ready to wait for You for all eternity. – [signed] Your little one25
Here we see most clearly the essential, if not only childish but also masochistic, selfishness behind Mother Teresa’s career: she wanted to be special to Jesus, more so than his other brides, more so than the rest of the human race. Teresa wanted to be the greatest of saints. That desire had driven her to take a secret vow of total submission to God and to push, even harass, her ecclesiastical superiors – “Don’t delay, Your Grace, don’t put it off. Souls are being lost …. Do something about this …, and let us take away from the Heart of Jesus His continual suffering”26 – until they permitted her to leave Loretto and work “among the poorest of the poor” with the goal of founding her own religious order. Why the poorest of the poor? Not completely, it turns out, because she feels human compassion for them: Teresa is interested in saving souls from hell, not persons from misery and pain. What motivates Teresa is solicitude less for the poor than for her her lover, Jesus, who is not happy.
Teresa’s divine husband is displeased with the poor, not with the rich whose exploitive and hoarding behaviors perpetuate and exacerbate poverty, because the poor do not turn to him for succor in their suffering, do not offer their pain to him for the redemption of the world, do not love him. After a lifetime of misery and a painful death, the souls of the poor are being consigned to everlasting punishment in hell because they either did not know God or rejected him in anger about their lives, anger Teresa traces to a false – i.e., non-Catholic – understanding of suffering. And, believing that the situation causes pain for Jesus, she wants to alleviate “His longing, His suffering on account of these little children, on account of the poor dying in sin ….”27
Teresa left Loretto to “serve” the poor from her desire to give “something very beautiful” to Christ – to, as she repeated many times throughout her career, “satiate his thirst for souls.” When the eternal Christ on the cross says, “I thirst,” he means, believed Mother Teresa, that he thirsts for the love of souls that are being lost for eternity – lost because there are no sisters to take Jesus to them, to be his “light” in the darkness of poverty and sin, to teach them to turn from sin and to give their love and their pain to Jesus. “He spoke of His thirst – not for water – but for love, for sacrifice.”28 Teresa dedicated herself and her order not to helping the poor out of poverty but to helping Jesus – and thereby helping their own souls – by being with the poor as models, teaching them to accept and even embrace their suffering for Jesus’ sake. And she was richly rewarded, at first by Jesus’ loving companionship, and then, when the work had been established, by the opportunity to suffer cheerfully29 her loss of that companionship. Her motivations can be seen in a 1947 transcript of the words that Jesus had spoken to her. Here is an excerpt:
The poor I want you to bring to Me – and the Sisters who would offer their lives as victims of My love – would bring … souls to Me. […] You have been always saying, “Do with me whatever You wish.” – Now I want to act – let Me do it – My little spouse – My own little one. – Do not fear – I shall be with you always. – You will suffer … but you are My own little spouse – the spouse of the Crucified Jesus – you will have to bear these torments on your heart. […] Refuse Me not. – Trust Me lovingly – trust Me blindly.30
The Church has taught Teresa that Jesus thirsts for souls. And, while he makes no complaints to her about rich oppressors, Jesus tells her that he is pained by his rejection by the poor. Teresa’s work, therefore, is to deliver the souls of the poor to him, to “make them know Him and want Him in their unhappy lives” and thereby “to fight the devil and deprive him of the thousand little souls which he is destroying every day.”31 That is why, as Christopher Hitchens details in The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, while patients in her facilities receive appallingly inadequate care in penurious, penitential surroundings, Teresa travels around the world like a female John Paul II, receiving public adulation, expanding her order, accepting and hoarding millions of dollars from wellknown sociopaths and autocrats (Charles Keating, the Duvaliers) while helping to improve their images, and condemning the birth control and abortion services that could help alleviate the misery of the people she claims to serve. Teresa serves not the poor but the Catholic Christ and his Church – and her own overarching spiritual ambition.
According to the blurb from John Waters, The Missionary Position is “Hilariously mean.” In fact, it is neither: Hitchens has written a sobering and honest account of the dark side of Mother Teresa’s love for Jesus and souls and of her fidelity to Roman Catholic doctrine. Although he wrote his book about a dozen years before the publication of Come Be My Light, Hitchens saw clearly that Mother Teresa’s vocation was to do her utmost to advance the ideology and soul-saving mission of “the body of Christ,” the Catholic Church. If she felt compassion, and it appears from her letters that she did, this was the form her compassion, distorted by doctrine and institutional/peer pressure, took. (We Quakers, even of the liberal variety, may benefit from meditating on that phenomenon.) And that’s understandable, given that she was formed in the Catholic obsession with soul-saving from her earliest days. She would report that “From the age of 5½ years, – when I first received Him [she refers to her ‘First Communion,’ her first reception of bread transubstantiated into the body and blood of Christ] – the love for souls has been within. – It grew with the years – until I came to India – with the hope of saving many souls.”32 When we recall that souls are saved through suffering, we can perhaps understand how a seed of love has produced thorns.
In a section called “Good Works and Heroic Virtues,” Hitchens documents a sad litany of such thorns. He begins by quoting a 1994 report by Lancet editor Dr. Robin Fox, who, visiting Teresa’s Calcutta home for the dying, was surprised to find that the nuns were making medical decisions based on minimal training and were providing “care” that could be considered cruelty, especially given the large amounts of money that Mother Teresa had collected over the years but had chosen not to apply to the care of her clients, whose suffering she believed was beneficial. “Along with the neglect of diagnosis,” Fox wrote in The Lancet, “the lack of good analgesics marks Mother Teresa’s approach as clearly separate from the hospice movement. I know which I prefer.”33
Our eyes thus opened, we are immediately exposed to an even more disturbing account, this one by former volunteer Mary Loudon, of the same Calcutta facility. Loudon’s first impression was of a concentration camp.
[A]ll the patients had shaved heads. No chairs anywhere … no garden, no yard even. […] They’re not being given painkillers really beyond aspirin … for the sort of pain that goes with terminal cancer …. They didn’t have enough drips. The needles [were] used over and over and over and you could see some of the nuns rinsing needles under the cold water tap.34
When Loudon asks a nun why they were not sterilizing the needles, she was told, “There’s no point. There’s no time.” Loudon then tells of a boy who was dying there because a “relatively simple kidney complaint” had worsened due to lack of antibiotics. The boy needed surgery, but the nuns refused to take him to hospital, lest they have to “do it for everybody,” as an angry American doctor who was trying to treat the boy told Loudon. That level of care was the norm in the premier facility of a modern religious organization flush with millions of dollars and directed by a saint.
Mother Teresa herself, Hitchens notes, was treated in the finest clinics and hospitals, yet her “poorest of the poor” – and her nuns – were kept in substandard conditions and given inadequate treatment in order to be joined to the suffering Christ in pain and poverty. With characteristic incisiveness, Hitchens writes that “The point is not the honest relief of suffering but the promulgation of a cult based on death and suffering and subjection.”35 Mother Teresa put it very plainly herself, in a 1981 Anacostia speech quoted by Hitchens: “I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion [i.e., the salvific agony] of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of poor people.”36
There’s much more in The Missionary Position, some of which, addressing topics such as Teresa’s assistance in image-management for wealthy criminals and despots, we have already alluded to. In addition, Hitchens notes Teresa’s failure to return $1,250,000 of stolen money, given to her by Charles Keating, when requested to do so by an Assistant District Attorney of Los Angeles; her vocal support for right-wing regimes; her equation of abortion with war; her preaching against birth control, with the cruelly absurd claim that “there can never be enough” babies for God, who “always provides” for them;37 the secret baptisms of dying Hindus and Muslims. But the essential point for our purposes here is that Hitchens, by focusing on the actual implementation of what she called “the work,” exposes the truth of Mother Teresa’s career, a truth reflected in her private “dark night” as well: it’s all about gaining favor with God (if he exists!) and Church by serving up imaginary souls to her imaginary husband Jesus, who, in practice, subsists in the ideology (and in the priestly hierarchy, which operates in persona Christi) of the Roman Catholic Church.
It’s noteworthy that Jesus departed from Teresa, and no longer spoke his will to her, only after the founding of her Missionaries of Charity was assured. From one perspective, one might say that, having guided her to do what he wanted, and knowing that she would persevere despite all, Jesus had no further need of Mother Teresa and so moved on, applying the merit of her subsequent suffering to souls in need. From another, one might say that, having gotten her way by appealing to direct revelation from him, well along the road to sainthood and subliminally fearful of contradictory revelation from the same source – namely, her own subconscious mind – she could not risk having him speak to her any longer. I know which I prefer.
That is not to say that Teresa ever consciously broke faith with her heavenly husband, or that, having silenced him, she did not continue a one-way conversation. Even while doubting his existence, she spoke her doubts to him. Again from 1959, the following is an excerpt of a prayer Teresa offered to him, transcribed at the direction of her confessor:
They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God – they would go through all of that suffering if they had just a little hope of possessing God. – In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss – of God not wanting me – of God not being God – of God not really existing (Jesus, please forgive my blasphemies – I have been told to write everything). […] What do I labor for? If there be no God – there can be no soul. – If there is no soul then Jesus – You also are not true. […] I am afraid to write all of these terrible things that pass in my soul. – They must hurt You.38
“Of God not being God”: of her God who demands human suffering being, perhaps, no more than an internalized construct of the Church, a way of making sense of a heartless world by divinizing pain and calling it love? The “darkness,” the sisyphean struggle between fact and fiction, continued almost without interruption for the remainder of Teresa’s life. After many years of inner sorrow and spiritual aridity, and still beset by godlessness, she could nonetheless write in 1983:
Jesus is my God.
Jesus is my Spouse. Jesus is my Life.
Jesus is my only Love. Jesus is All in All.
Jesus is my Everything.
Jesus, I love with my whole heart, with my whole being.
I have given Him all, even my sins, and He has espoused me to Himself in tenderness and love.
Now and for life I am the spouse of my Crucified Jesus.39
In the end, the eternally suffering Jesus that had been implanted in the brain of a little girl in Albania was as real and necessary to the adult Teresa as was she herself, despite decades of almost continuous experience that he was a figment. For her, the conflict and contradiction were unresolvable; only exaggerated devotion and outward certainty carried her through. What she and others such as Kolodiejchuk framed as a mystical night of the soul was the experience of a continuous struggle to suppress irrepressible truth lest a life and a self built upon religious delusion fall apart. An almost heroic application of the Catholic myth of salvific suffering saved Teresa’s ambitions from being crushed by truth, but that salvation had a steep price: what could have been – and appeared to be – a beautiful life of compassionate service was instead another insidious operation of superstition and oppression. The chalice may have sparkled on the outside, but a look inside, a look afforded by both books, tells a different story.40
Toward the end of Come Be My Light, Kolodiejchuk adduces testimonials from others to buttress his case that Mother Teresa was a selfless mystic who underwent a dark night of the soul that was perhaps unique in both nature and duration. Hitchens sees Teresa quite differently, as a relatively simple but egotistical woman who was willingly used by powerful people to support oppressive superstition and abusive power and wealth. Both marshal facts, if selectively, to support their cases. Perhaps they are both right; perhaps a saint, at least a canonical saint, is simply a person who, even at great personal cost, consistently and fully lives a religious ideology. If so, Mother Teresa is a saint, but so are religiously-inspired suicide bombers. In any case, with postulator Kolodiejchuk’s very positive framing of her darkness and doubts, and his avoidance of such practical aspects of her career as Hitchens exposes, it seems a good bet (despite Hitchens’ submission of a negative evaluation to the Vatican) that Mother Teresa will eventually be canonized, probably sooner than later. However that turns out, it is likely that the lie will live on.
In the eyes of the world, Mother Teresa was a deeply compassionate person who dedicated her life to alleviating the suffering of the very poor. The hagiographic efforts of her disciple and advocate, Brian Kolodiejchuk, are clearly intended to support that view. Quakers should know better than to accept the perspective of the world, but in case we, too, are taken in, Christopher Hitchens does us the favor of adducing irrefutable evidence that the light of Christ which Teresa claimed to be for the poor, a light that maintains the grotesquely unjust status quo by congratulating oppressors while urging the poor to gratefully accept injustice and suffering as blessings, is not a light which we would wish to personify or be guided by. In doing so, he may also raise important questions for us regarding our belief in our own commitment to compassion, justice, and peace: if so, the the (in)famous atheist has done us doubly good service. In any case, Hitchens has thrown open the lid of yet another whitened sepulcher. For that, we owe him our gratitude.
- John 1:5. All Bible verses quoted in this review are from the Catholic Douay-Rheims translation of the Vulgate.
- Hebrews 13:8.
- Revelation 13:8.
- Philippians 2:6-8.
- See Council of Trent, Session XXII, I – http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10006a.htm.
- See 1 John.
- Colossians 1:24.
- See Note 5, above.
- The Loretto Sisters are formally known as the Institute of theBlessed Virgin Mary: see ibvm.org.
- See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07163a.htm.
- The letter of application is found on page 14 of the book.
- Come Be My Light, p. 59.
- Ibid., p. 44.
- Ibid., pp. 16-17.
- Ibid., p. 19.
- Ibid., pp. 24-25.
- Ibid., p. 33.
- A “mortal” sin is one that, unforgiven, results in the soul’s condemnation to hell for eternity.
- Come Be My Light, p. 28.
- Ibid., p. 29.
- Ibid., p. 47.
- The question is unfair in a sense, because by that time Mary hadbeen elevated far beyond even the most special sainthood to “Co-mediatrix” and even “Co-redemptrix” of the universe: “To such extent did Mary suffer and almost die with her suffering and dying Son; to such extent did she surrender her maternal rights over her Son for man’s salvation, and immolated Him – insofar as she could – in order to appease the justice of God, that we may rightly say she redeemed the human race together with Christ.” – Pope Benedict XV, apostolic letter ‘Inter Sodalicia,’ 1918. See http://www.christendom-awake.org/pages/marian/5thdogma/coredemptrix2.htm. But the spiritual ambition and egotism of Mother Teresa’s statement – and many others – do make one wonder.
23 Ibid., p. 216.
24. Matthew 27:46.
25. Come Be My Light, pp. 193-194.
26. Ibid., p. 67.
27. Ibid., p. 66.
28. Ibid., p. 41. See also p. 77.
29. “Cheerfully” in the sense of “with a courageous smile,” much asGeorge Fox used it in his famous “… then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” 30 Ibid., p. 49.
31. Ibid., pp. 74, 51.
32. Ibid., p. 15.
33.The Missionary Position, p. 39.
34 Ibid., p. 40.
35. The Missionary Position, p. 41.
36. Ibid., p. 11.
37. Ibid., p. 30.
38. Come Be My Light, pp. 192-194.
39. Ibid., pp. 303-304.
40. See Matthew 23:25-26.
*Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light — The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” edited and with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. 404 pp. Image Doubleday, 2007. $14.99.
*The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, by Christopher Hitchens. 98 pp. Verso, 1995. $17.95.