- The Washington Times - Friday, October 17, 2003

As the Roman Catholic world prepares for tomorrow’s beatification of Mother Teresa, she is being revered as a missionary to India’s poorest of the poor, someone whose close relationship with God seemed obvious from her willingness to undergo incredible hardship.

“If we went to [the poor] with a sad face, we would only make them much more depressed,” she once explained. And following her own admonition, Mother Teresa’s perpetual smile was as integral to her image as the weathered face and blue-trimmed white robe.

But her exterior buoyancy masked an astonishing secret — known to a small number of clergy counselors but no other close colleagues — that was revealed only through research for her sainthood candidacy.

Mother Teresa was afflicted with feelings of abandonment by God from the very start of her work among the homeless children and dying people in Calcutta’s slums. From all available evidence, this experience persisted until her death five decades later, except for a brief interlude in 1958.

Though ordinary Christians might assume the holiest people exist in continual divine ecstasy, the phenomenon of darkness — feeling keenly aware of God’s silence or absence — has occurred among numerous saints and mystics through the ages. Specialists in spirituality emphasize that this should not be confused with loss of faith in God.

Paradoxical as it seems, confidants say that Mother Teresa came to understand such suffering was a necessary aspect of her heroic vocation.

Her interior struggle became known through surviving letters from the 1950s and 1960s to her spiritual directors, along with the priests’ recollections about her later years.

In 2001, the Revs. Albert Huart and J. Neuner, Jesuits in India, discussed Mother Teresa’s experience in the journals Review for Religious (of St. Louis) and Vidyajyoti (of New Delhi).

The Rome-based postulator, or chief advocate, of her sainthood cause, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity, also analyzed the material for the online Zenit News Agency late last year.

While bleak statements did not predominate in Mother Teresa’s private writings, they occurred repeatedly:

“I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul,” she wrote.

At another point: “I want God with all the power of my soul — and yet between us there is terrible separation.” And again: “Heaven from every side is closed.”

And this one remarkable cry from the heart: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

Father Kolodiejchuk said in an interview that her words are only shocking if they are thought to be “a real doubt of faith,” which he vigorously denies. And Father Neuner believes that the very words demonstrate faith in God’s reality: “We cannot long for something that is not intimately close to us.”

The divine silence was especially excruciating for Mother Teresa because she enjoyed vivid experiences of God’s love and immediate presence in 1946, when she was called to enter the slums and leave behind the comforts and joys of teaching at a convent school.

She never wavered in the conviction that God in Jesus Christ directly commissioned her ministry. She said she distinctly heard his voice say, “I want to use you for my glory. Wilt thou refuse?”

Mother Teresa asked her counselors never to reveal her innermost thoughts. Nonetheless, release of the quotations is justified, Father Huart wrote, because the experience of mystics “is meant not primarily for themselves but for the good of the whole church.”

The revelations are unusual, however, because they came so soon after Mother Teresa’s 1997 death, the result of Pope John Paul II putting her on a uniquely fast track to sainthood.

After examining Mother Teresa’s life, Father Kolodiejchuk says that she believed the worst poverty wasn’t material but total abandonment by other people, the state of those she was called to reach.

Christianity teaches that Jesus endured crucifixion for the sins of all people, and that he cried from the cross about God’s abandonment. Similarly, Father Kolodiejchuk says, for this woman who loved God above everything else, loss of the divine presence was the ultimate sacrifice that emptied her soul but mysteriously energized her mission.

Perhaps, he suggests, “Mother Teresa will become the patron saint of the lonely and those feeling unwanted and unloved.”

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