Tuesday, August 31, 2010

No respite for the holy

Mother Teresa, who's name is a synonym for holy work, came here to San Diego in 1992 to have five blood vessels leading to her heart unblocked.  But, into her eighties by then, the health problems continued and she died in 1997.  She led a long and eventful life, and humanists can appreciate her zeal for charitable work, if not always her methods.   But another aspect interesting to humanists came to light a decade after her death.

Born in what is now Macedonia to an Albanian family in 1910, she left home at 18 to become a missionary, never seeing her family again.  After years of teaching in Calcutta, in 1948 she had a calling to start a mission for the sick of the slums.  Whether this calling was a feeling or a genuine vision would become part of the problem.  For although the mission grew, she did not feel any holy presence.  As letters published in the 2007 book Mother Teresa:  Come Be My Light show, the doubt was there for the last several decades of her life.  In 1953 she wrote to her Archbishop:
Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself — for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started 'the work.'
And in 1955:
Such deep longing for God — and ... repulsed — empty — no faith — no love — no zeal. — [The saving of] Souls holds no attraction — Heaven means nothing — pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.
And similar writings for the next four decades.  She wrote about Jesus as "the Absent One", her "spiritual dryness" and her lack of satisfaction from prayer.  All the while, the Missionaries of Charity that she founded continued to grow, as did her renown, largely triggered by a popular 1969 documentary about her work.  By her death the group had over 500 missions around the world, and she had collected accolades and prizes from nearly everyone.  But, as she wrote after receiving one honor (the Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 1962):  "This means nothing to me, because I don't have Him."

This is a dilemma that the religious must face.  No matter how devout you are, you will never hear a clear voice telling you what to do, you will never see a definite supernatural miracle, and you will never have a resolution of your faith.

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