I recently read this article on Time Online: Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith, by David Van Biema. It’s a long article, and a heartbreaking one, but well worth the read. To very briefly summarize, a collection of private correspondence (which she’d wanted destroyed and I half-wish they had listened, but am half-glad they didn’t) reveals that Momma T suffered from spiritual darkness (more like blackout) for the entire time she was in Calcutta, the last fifty years of her life. As in, she believed Jesus spoke to her and told her to go there, and then she never felt his presence again.
The author of the article and his sources have several theories as to what caused this darkness. One of the most compelling is that Mother Teresa, who wanted to give up everything to live like the poor and to suffer like Jesus did exactly that. For a rich man, the greatest sacrifice may well be to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. But for a woman of faith, living in material poverty wasn’t the same kind of sacrifice. Living in spiritual poverty and depravity certainly was. In feeling forsaken by God, she shared in the suffering of Christ in a way she had not imagined, the article says.
And yet, no one seems to offer a rather obvious explanation. Momma T’s spiritual darkness began the moment she was given permission to start her work in Calcutta. Face to face with poverty and sickness that no person should have to witness, let alone experience, in a world with a just and loving god, did she suddenly feel the soul-deep despair of compassion for those God has so seemingly abandoned? Did she ask herself every day until she was numb from it how any god lets this happen, how any god could exist and this still happen? And how, how in the name of all that is holy, did she live with that for fifty years? How did she find the strength to nurture the sick, and, far more difficult in fact, to nurture the spiritually sick when she was so broken herself?
The woman is a Saint. You hear me, Catholic Church? An ever-loving Saint.