Brian Kolodiejchuk, editor, Mother Teresa; Come Be My Light; The Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta" (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 404pp.
When the desert monastics of fourth-century Egypt fled the bustle and business of the cities to survey the geography of the human heart, they discovered that the outward journey in the noisy world was a lot easier than the interior journey of the soul in the desert solitude. Without exception they recommended the sage advice of Saint Anthony the Great (251–356) : "expect trials until your last breath." To the shock and dismay of many admirers, and the criticisms of some detractors, this volume of Mother Teresa's private correspondence shows that she was no exception to the monastic rule. Published to coincide with the tenth anniversary of her death (1910–1997), letter after letter documents the deep darkness that plagued her for fifty years.
Mother Teresa describes her interior struggle in many ways, but most of all as an absence of God's presence—as an emptiness, loneliness, pain, spiritual dryness, or lack of consolation. "There is so much contradiction in my soul, no faith, no love, no zeal. . . . I find no words to express the depths of the darkness. . . . My heart is so empty. . . . so full of darkness. . . . I don't pray any longer. The work holds no joy, no attraction, no zeal. . . . I have no faith, I don't believe." And what about her angelic demeanor that so many people experienced? "The smile is a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains. . . . my cheerfulness is a cloak by which I cover the emptiness and misery. . . . I deceive people with this weapon." And yes, time and again she admitted to her confessors that she felt like a "shameless hypocrite" by teaching and preaching one thing but experiencing something far different in her own life.
But Mother Teresa was never bereft of an intense longing for God, and this was an important telltale clue. Along with her confessors she explored the reasons or explanations for her interior turmoil: maybe it was punishment for sin, a trial to purify her faith, a temptation of satan, or a consequence of her hasty personality and physical fatigue. Eventually, she determined that her darkness was not an obstacle to her call from God to serve the poorest of the poor but instead part and parcel of that call. In her darkness she identified with the poor and shared in the sufferings of Christ himself.
Non-Catholic readers will be mystified by some of the jargon in this book. When she left Loreto after twenty years should Mother Teresa have sought an "Indult of secularization" (to be freed from her vows) or an "exclaustration" (to leave Loreto but keep her vows)? Many who place a premium upon the inviolability of personal conscience will take exception to a spirituality that calls for obedience that is "cheerful, prompt, simple, and blind" (Mother Teresa practiced this herself and expected it of her sisters). Most irritating of all, though, were the editorial comments by Kolodiejchuk, the effects of which felt like a sales job or promo piece for canonization as a saint—Mother Teresa's wisdom is profound, her zeal outstanding, her integrity remarkable, etc. This has the unintended but tragic consequence of removing Mother Teresa from the realm of everyday mortals who struggle as Christians with their own darkness, and who might have received genuine consolations from the saint of Calcutta, and elevating her to the heroic realm of unattainable virtue. Finally, there's an interesting ethical issue raised by her correspondence in this book. Mother Teresa repeatedly begged that these private letters be destroyed. The Catholic Church overruled her request and I suspect that many Christians will benefit as a result.