The Light of Mother Teresa’s Darkness, Part 1
The Light of Mother Teresa’s Darkness, Part 1
Father Kolodiejchuk on Unity With Jesus
ROME, SEPT. 4, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Feeling or not feeling love, Mother Teresa of Calcutta knew that she was united with Jesus, for her mind was fixed on him and him alone.
The founder of the Missionaries of Charity expressed this in a letter written to a spiritual director, now published with many other letters in a volume titled “Come Be My Light,” edited and presented by Father Brian Kolodiejchuk.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Kolodiejchuk, a Missionary of Charity priest and the postulator for the cause of canonization of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, discusses his new book and the interior life Mother Teresa kept hidden from the world.
Q: The extraordinary interior life of Mother Teresa was discovered after her death. Aside from her spiritual directors, how was this life, especially her suffering of spiritual darkness, kept from all who knew her?
Father Kolodiejchuk: No one had any idea of her interior life because her spiritual directors held onto these letters. The Jesuits have some, some were at the archbishop’s house, and Father Joseph Neuner, another spiritual director, had some.
These letters were discovered when we went looking for the documents for the cause.
When she was alive, Mother Teresa asked that her biographical information not be shared.
She asked Archbishop Ferdinand Perier of Calcutta not to tell another bishop about how things had begun. She said, “Please don’t give him anything from the beginning, because once people come to know the beginning, like the locutions, then the focus would be on me and not on Jesus.”
She kept saying, “God’s work. This is God’s work.”
Even the closest sisters had no idea of her interior life. Many would have thought that she would have had a great intimacy with God to keep her going in light of the difficulties of the order and the material poverty she suffered.
Q: The book discusses Mother’s secret vow that she made early in her vocation, where she promised not to refuse God anything on pain of mortal sin. What role did this play in her life?
Father Kolodiejchuk: Mother Teresa made this vow, in 1942, to never refuse God anything.
Her inspiration letters from Jesus soon followed. In one of them, if not both of them, Jesus says, picking up on her vow, “Wilt thou refuse to do this for me?”
So the vow is the background to her vocation. Then you see in the inspiration letters where Jesus makes her call clear.
She then pushes forward because she knows what Jesus wants. She is motivated by thought of his longing and his pain because the poor don’t know him, so they don’t want him.
This was one of the pillars that kept her going through the trials of the darkness. Because of her certainty of her call and this vow in one of the letters she says, “I was at the point of breaking and then I remembered the vow, and that picked me up.”
Q: There has been a lot of discussion about Mother Teresa’s “dark night.” It is described in your book as a “martyrdom of desire.” This element, her thirsting for God, has largely been missed. Can you describe this?
Father Kolodiejchuk: A good book to read to understand some of these things is Father Thomas Dubay’s “Fire Within.”
In Father Dubay’s book, he speaks of the real pain of loss and a pain of longing, with the pain of longing being more painful.
As Father Dubay explains, in the path to authentic union with God, there is the purgative stage called the dark night, after this a soul then goes to a stage of ecstasy and true union with God.
The purgative stage for Mother Teresa seems to have been during her time of formation at Loretto.
At the time of her profession, she said her companion was most often the darkness. The kind of letters that you read there, in the dark night, are typical letters you would read of someone in the dark night.
Father Celeste Van Exem, her spiritual director at the time, said that maybe in 1946 or 1945 she was already close to ecstasy.
After that, there is a reference to when the inspirations and locutions came, when the difficulty against faith stopped.
Later she wrote to Father Neuner, explaining: “And then you know how it worked out. And there, as if our Lord just gave himself to me to the full. The sweetness and consolation and union of those 6 months passed but too soon.”
So, Mother Teresa had six months of intense union, after the locutions and ecstasy. She was already in the real transforming union. At this point, the darkness returned.
But now, however, the darkness she experienced was within that union with God — so it wasn’t that she had the union and then lost it. She lost the consolation of the union and alternated between the pain of loss and a deep longing, a real thirst.
As Father Dubay said, “At times the contemplation is delightful, and at other times it is a strong thirsting for him.” But in Mother Teresa’s case, apart from one month in 1958, she did not have this consolation of union.
There is one letter in which she said: “No Father, I am not alone, I have His darkness, I have His pain, I have a terrible longing for God. To love and not to be loved, I know I have Jesus in the unbroken union, for my mind is fixed on him and him alone.”
Her experience of darkness within union is very rare even among the saints because for most, the end is union without it.
Her suffering, then, to use the Dominican theologian Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s term, is reparatory, much more for the sins of others, not purificatory, for her own sins. She is united to Jesus in enough faith and love to share in his experience in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.
Mother Teresa made the comment that the suffering in the Garden was worse than the suffering on the cross. And now we understand where that was coming from, because she understood Jesus’ longing for souls.
The important thing is that it is union, and as Carol Zaleski pointed out in her article in First Things, this kind of trial is a new kind of trial. It is a modern kind of experience for the saints over the last 100 years or so, to suffer the feeling that one does not have any faith, and that religion is not true.