Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Of Impatience and Faith

Right now, I'm in the middle of reading Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. This is a really fascinating and inspiring book centered around "the private writings of the Saint of Calcutta." Throughout the course of her incredible life, Mother Teresa engaged in correspondences with her spiritual advisers on all matters of faith and vocation. This book presents these letters, alongside letters that were written back to her and with commentary placing these conversations in the context of Mother Teresa's life and work.

When the book first hit the stands a month or so ago, much of the press surrounding it focused on Mother Teresa's long "dark night of the soul." For sustained stretches of her life, particularly after she founded the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa experienced a profound feeling of God's absence. Here was a person who longed to give everything, everything to God, yet could not even perceive of God being with her. In spite of this crushing darkness, Mother Teresa continued to do God's work on Earth, always with a smile on her face, bringing God's light into the darkest places of Calcutta's slums. Hers was truly a life lived by faith and trust in God.

A somewhat less noted portion of Mother Teresa's life occurred in the years leading up to the founding of her own order. For many years, the person who came to be known the world over was simply a nun in the Loreto order, running a school and carrying out other spiritual and educational duties. Then, on September 10, 1946, Mother Teresa experienced what she described as "the call within the call." God spoke directly to her, commanding her to take to the streets of India and minister to the poorest of the poor out in their own neighborhoods and homes.

What followed was an excruciating period where Mother Teresa had to convince church authorities that her vision was not some whim or vain desire, but rather the true will of God. While the church hierarchy considered in prudent and deliberate fashion her request to leave the Loreto order to start her own mission, Mother Teresa tried many, many approaches to speed up the process. The strength and conviction of her character comes through in her letters of these years, as she begged and ruffled occasional feathers in her quest to make the call a reality. Such impatience in serving the Lord, in such a selfless way, has to be admired as much as the faith she exhibited later on in the dark years of her mission.

For me, I have always (to this day) had questions and doubts about Catholic teachings about the intercession of saints. This probably comes from my Protestant background and emphasis on a direct, personal relationships with Jesus. In a nutshell, why pray to a saintly person when Jesus himself is so near? I still don't have an answer to this question in my own faith journey, but I can say that Mother Teresa's letters and life story are certainly moving me in ways that I could not have imagined when I first cracked open the book.