The doubting Mother Teresa
A book about the Nobel Peace Prize winner reveals her doubt – a challenge that many face.
Mother Teresa – bereft of faith? The missionary who brought light to those in deepest darkness – herself in darkness? A new book reveals the inner spiritual turmoil of the nun so revered for her good deeds, and in its revealing holds an important message for humanity.
That a religious leader supposedly beyond the clutches of doubt wrestled so personally and persistently with it, touches people – religious and nonreligious – because doubts of all sorts are so common to the human condition.
Her refusal to give in also inspires – not only because of the immense good that came from her perseverance, but because it is only persistent striving and loving that can relieve the burdens of the human experience. Imagine what the world would be like if doubt – of faith, of ability, of purpose – were allowed the upper hand.
The faith-struggle of this Nobel Peace Prize winner is not news. It became public in 2003, in the investigation to recommend this founder of the Missionaries of Charity for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church (she has been beatified, though not yet canonized).
But the book, "Come Be My Light," puts together in one place her writings about her private, inner conflict which were penned in letters to her confessors and superiors.
The writings, edited by Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a proponent for her sainthood, show not only a religious leader tormented by doubt, but pained by it for almost 50 years. The struggle lasted right up until her passing a decade ago.
"Where is my Faith – even deep down right in there is nothing but emptiness & darkness...," she wrote in an undated address to Jesus, at the suggestion of one of her confessors.
From all walks of life, and at all levels, people struggle with doubt – religious and otherwise – on a daily basis: youngsters facing their first day of kindergarten; alcoholics struggling to recover; presidents with world-shaping decisions to make.
Abraham Lincoln was filled with self-doubt, and yet overcame it to lead the country through the Civil War. Martin Luther King Jr. often talked about his doubts – about his ability or willingness to commit to and sustain the civil-rights movement, and his fear of assassination.
It's tempting to think of great moral leaders as unshakable warriors, but that is so rarely true. And it's tempting to think that their courage and good deeds are not possible for the general population to achieve.
But the case of Mother Teresa should make her works feel more accessible to people. If "the saint of the gutters" was tormented by personal failings, then those who feel less saintly can also commit to acts of charity.
Mother Teresa may have believed she had no faith, but was not her persistence an act of extreme faith? And is it not faith in something greater than themselves that sustained leaders, such as Mr. Lincoln and Mr. King, as they carried out their missions?
Persistence for persistence's sake is not a strong motivator. It is belief in a greater cause, in goodness itself, that carries people past doubt, past hesitancy, to the fulfillment of their missions – on a small or grand scale.