I am sad to read of the spiritual struggles Mother Theresa suffered, as revealed in her letters to her spiritual director, now published as a book titled Mother Theresa: Come be My Light. But I am not surprised. I would have been surprised were it not so.
Mother Theresa apparently suffered a crisis of faith soon after she started her work in the Calcutta slums, the work for which she eventually won a Nobel Prize. She actually questioned the existence of God. She certainly had no sense of his presence. She spoke of her life as “torture” and “hell.”
And this terrible spiritual darkness apparently continued until her death. By then, she had even ceased praying. All the time the world was celebrating her as a great model of faith and love, she felt none.
Welcome to the real world. It is not what you read in magazines.
Mother Theresa chose for herself a very hard road. Recall the Beatitudes. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; blessed are the meek; blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right; blessed are you when people abuse you.” None of this describes Mother Theresa: instead, she was celebrated by the world, and set herself up as a leader.
Jesus advises that we do our good works in private. Mother Theresa’s were not just public, but world famous.
Jesus says it is barely possible for a rich man to enter heaven; that one must build up one’s riches in heaven, not here, for where one’s wealth is, there one’s heart will be. Mother Theresa was not rich, personally, but had power, fame, and the command of great sums of money.
So God’s silence. The proper attitude towards self and this world becomes increasingly difficult so long as this world keeps telling us we are wonderful and giving us what we ask. As that other sainted Theresa, of Lisieux, argued, it is altogether better to be a little flower. It is better to leave only tiny footprints in this world.
And yet, the work that Mother Theresa did was wholly commendable. She saved many lives, prevented much suffering, and, most importantly, brought many people to faith, and even to vocation. And, in order to do this, she really did need to set herself up as a leader and as a celebrity. People need this.
This then becomes Mother Theresa’s martyrdom, and the seal of her sainthood: that she laid down her own spiritual life for others. That she suffered a private hell so that others would not suffer.
Was she a hypocrite? Certainly not: for, as these letters prove, she revealed all, and in all humility, to her spiritual director. And her actions belie her claim and her own impression that she had no faith nor love within her. Hypocrites claim to love, but their actions belie this. Theresa claimed not to love, but her actions belied this. She was the opposite of a hypocrite.
Had her life been happy, even if Spartan, amid fame, respect, and general approval, where would be the great merit in that? As Jesus said, she would already have had her reward. This much any of us might have managed.
But, knowing how she suffered to do good, we can be sure she has her reward in heaven. This was something well out of the ordinary; something like sainthood.