Tag: Mother Teresa

Understanding Mother Teresa’s ‘Dark Night’

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Ralph Martin recently spoke at Ave Maria University in Florida about Mother Teresa and John of the Cross: The Truth about Dark Nights. Since this is a topic of concern for many people, we are sharing condensed version of his talk below. We pray it is a blessing to you!

Even though the main lines of Mother Teresa’s experience of “darkness” had been known for several years, the full publication of her private letters drew world-wide media coverage.

Some secularists interpreted her talk of darkness as a sign of hypocrisy and even accused her of not really believing in God—but this signifies a very superficial and partial reading of her letters. Some believers were disturbed and confused to hear of her prolonged experience of aridity or emptiness in her relationship with God. Some thought the letters were so disturbing it was a mistake to publish them. This last concern, while understandable, is unfounded, since the letters in question are part of the official record compiled in the process of canonization and are generally made public. And by now we must know that efforts to “edit” the life or writings of a saint (as the sisters of Therese of Lisieux tried to do), only detract from the awesome witness to holiness that is found, albeit in sometimes unexpected and disturbing ways. In the long run, I think these letters will bear great fruit.

The book left me awe-struck at the depth of Mother Teresa’s holiness. Her faith and her heroic service were more profound than I ever imagined

While Mother Teresa received remarkable communications from the Lord and significant consolation at the beginning of her mission, for almost fifty years, she was left almost totally bereft of such consolation. She carried out her mission with almost no affective experience of God’s love and presence. She saw the fruit her work was producing. She saw that when she spoke to people, they came alive and grew in the experience of God’s love, but she herself for the most part felt only emptiness.

During the first ten years of this “darkness,” she was deeply troubled by it and sought to understand what was happening by consulting a few trusted priests. She wondered if this prolonged darkness was a sign of her great sinfulness and imperfection. It wasn’t until she met Fr. Neuner, a Jesuit working in India, that she came to grasp some her suffering’s special meaning. He explained this wasn’t the typical “dark night” St. John of the Cross describes; it wasn’t just for her own purification, but was a special gift from God to participate in Christ’s sufferings, particularly in His sense of abandonment in the garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. She was forever grateful:

For the first time in these eleven years I have come to love the darkness. For I believe now that it is a part, a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness and pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it as a “spiritual side of ‘your work’” as you wrote. Today really I felt a deep joy; that Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony but that He wants to go through it in me. More than ever I surrender myself to Him. Yes, more than ever I will be at His disposal.” (241)

In fact, Mother Teresa had prayed for just such a participation in Christ’s agony years previously!

As a young woman, she had resolved “to drink the chalice to the last drop.” After founding the Missionaries of Charity, she again resolved “to drink only from His chalice of pain and to give Mother Church real saints” (141).

Fr. Neuner’s explanation gave her a measure of peace and even joy, but didn’t take away the pain of not being able to experience the sensible/spiritual consolation of God’s love and favor, which often seemed on the verge of being unbearable.

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa summed up well the reasons why God led Mother Teresa by this unusual path, and the publication of the full text of the letters and the commentary of Fr. Kolodiejchuk confirms this interpretation. I actually discuss Mother Teresa’s unique experience of her “dark night” and its relationship to the “ordinary dark nights” as taught by John of the Cross in chapter seventeen of The Fulfillment of All Desire.

Because the Lord knew Mother Teresa’s remarkable mission would be greatly blessed and that the whole world would come to admire it, the special gift of acute “spiritual poverty” was given to Mother Teresa as a protection against pride. God gave her the experience of “nothingness” and “emptiness” as a gift to protect her from the adulation she would receive, including the reception of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Also, because of the specific nature of the mission He called her to, He gave her the gift of knowing what it was like for those she was serving—those abandoned by their families, rejected, unwanted, left alone to die on the streets of Calcutta, or children abandoned by their parents. She could understand and feel deep compassion for these abandoned ones, in part because of her own experience of “darkness” and abandonment.

And finally, she was given to a remarkable degree the gift of being one with Jesus in His Passion, out of which comes so much redemptive power—a gift she had asked for on more than one occasion.

Yes, she experienced temptations to give up, to despair, even temptations to blasphemy and unbelief, but to be tempted is not to sin. Her heroic perseverance in the face of such interior suffering is truly awe-inspiring. What an example to us in our need to persevere no matter what the difficulties, no matter what we experience or don’t experience!

On the other hand, there are dangers in misunderstanding Mother Teresa’s unusually sustained experience of darkness. This darkness accompanied her for so long because of her very special vocation. It is not the normal, purifying “dark nights” John of the Cross discusses. Nor is every experience of aridity, emptiness, or darkness a purifying or redemptive “dark night.” It is very helpful to avail ourselves of the wisdom of our spiritual tradition to understand this better.

In brief, John of the Cross teaches there are three reasons why someone may experience deep aridity, emptiness, or darkness in their prayer or relationship with God. (See Chapter 14 of The Fulfillment of All Desire.) One reason is because of “lukewarmness” or infidelity in “doing our part” in sustaining our relationship with God. We may become careless about regular prayer and spiritual reading, we may not frequent the Eucharist and Reconciliation, we may fill our minds and hearts with worldly entertainment, we may not be diligent in rejecting temptation, we may not develop relationships with others who desire to follow the Lord. This carelessness and infidelity lessens our hunger for God and desire to be with Him, and produces lukewarmness and repugnance for things of the spirit. This is not a purifying darkness, but rather the result of laxity, and the only solution is to repent and take up the spiritual practices that dispose us for union with God.

A second reason why such aridity may be experienced is because of physical or emotional illness. The saints advise us to try to get better, pray for healing, go to the doctor, but keep on as best one can in living a fervent Christian life. And if one is not healed, it’s an invitation to join our suffering with the suffering of Jesus and offer it as reparation for our own sins and as intercessory prayer for others.

A third reason why such darkness or aridity may be present is that we are ready to move to a deeper level of faith, hope, and love, and that God purposely removes the experience of His love, presence, or favor—but not their reality—in order to give us a chance to believe, hope, and love more deeply and purely. This true “dark night” may be quite intense and last for a long period of time, or it may happen intermittently, interspersed with times of sensible consolation. A true dark night is accompanied by deep, painful longing for God. This is acutely present in Mother Teresa. One sign that it is an authentic dark night is that we don’t in our aridity try to fill the emptiness with worldly or fleshly consolations, but remain faithful in seeking God even in the pain of His apparent absence. The authentic dark night isn’t an end in itself, but is intended to prepare us for an even greater union with and experience of God.

Mother Teresa, pray for us!

The Lord Wants YOU to be a Saint!

Mother Teresa

This post originally appeared on the i.d.9:16 blog.

By Ali Hoffman

September 5th, 2016 was a brutally hot day. There wasn’t a cloud in sight and absolutely no wind. There were hundreds of thousands of people crammed into a little space and some had been awake since 3:30 that morning. Songs in languages from all over the world could be heard floating among the tops of the buildings. Paraded around was a colorful array of flags and memorabilia. The excitement and joy was reverberating off the stone columns. Something important was happening this day. An announcement was made over the loud speakers that the Rosary was beginning and mass would follow. The Canonization Mass of Mother Teresa at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, Italy, was underway, and I was there!

When I was an eighteen-year-old Catholic serving as a missionary with NET Ministries, I really struggled to hear God’s voice in my prayer life until a fellow missionary pointed me to the spirituality of Mother Teresa. I am drawn to her spirit of compassion and love for the underdog and I relate completely to her commitment to love Jesus in the poor, even when she didn’t feel his presence. I want to live my life in the same way— completely confident in the Lord’s mercy and incredibly bold in pursuit of holiness.

Continue reading here.

‘I Thirst for You!’

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St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta wrote the prayer “I Thirst for You.” We pray it will help you rest in Him and trust in His undying love of you.

It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter. And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come—always, without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension—a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father (“As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you . . .)” (Jn 15:10).

I come—longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul. I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you—even in your wanderings. I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins.

But I tell you again that I love you—not for what you have or haven’t done—I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin. But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power. I know what is in your heart—I know your loneliness and all your hurts—the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory. I know especially your need for love—how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures—with the even greater emptiness of sin.

Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst . . .” (Jn 7: 37). I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine—to the point of dying on a cross for you. “I THIRST FOR YOU.” I Thirst for You. Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you—that is how precious you are to Me.

I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU. You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU.

If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU. Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life—and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart. Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment? Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life—and I will. I promise you before My Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU.

All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest. Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom. Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you give Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal; so come now, and unburden your soul.

No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. I THIRST FOR YOU—just as you are.

You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day—standing at the door of your heart and knocking. Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there—for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: “I THIRST . . .” (Jn 19: 28). Yes, I thirst for you—as the rest of the Psalm-verse I was praying says of Me: “I looked for love, and I found none . . .” (Ps 69: 20).

All your life I have been looking for your love—I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before. Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit: “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake. Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU . . . .”

Sr. Ann Recalls Day with Mother Teresa

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In 1976, I had the privilege of being invited by Father Michael Scanlan to come to the now Franciscan University of Steubenville to help build, strengthen, and secure a living faith environment on campus. As part of that process, Father Michael invited Mother Teresa of Calcutta to be the commencement speaker at graduation in 1979. Father asked me if I would be willing to be her hostess for the day. It proved to be a life-changing day for me.

As I took Mother to and from the Pittsburgh Airport and accompanied her to various events, meals, etc., we had remarkable periods of time just to be together as we waited for events to begin. Over cups of tea we shared, I was struck by her humility, her other-centeredness, her love for the poor, and her total “given-ness” to the ministry God had asked of her.

At one point, I asked her: “What is it like for you when you speak at banquets and other fundraising events and see our wealth and our waste?” She smiled and very softly answered, “Sometimes when I see those huge platters of meat being passed down the tables, I think of “my children” scrambling under a table for a single grain of dropped rice.” She paused, and then waved her hand back and forth in front of her eyes and said, “But Jesus has told us never to judge, so I do not judge.”

Later that day, her commencement address was based on the “old” Baltimore Catechism question, “Who made you and why did God make you?” The answer is, “God made us to know Him, to love Him, to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.” Her whole speech was based on that question and that answer. It was a short commencement speech, but it was powerful in its impact. I know, for certain, of one student’s life being totally turned around by her address—and it was a conversion that lasted!

During one of the last conversations we had that day, as I prepared to take her to the airport, we shared this interchange: I said, “Mother, I deeply admire you and the work you are doing. I feel that what I am doing is so small in comparison.” At that moment, she “grabbed” both of my upper arms and actually shook me for a moment, and then she said this: “Sister, I am doing what you cannot do; you are doing what I cannot do. Together, we are the Body of Christ!” The top of her head came just to my shoulders, but I will never forget the look in her eyes as she fixed her gaze on me.

Never, from that time, did I ever question what God was asking of me; never, since that time, have I ever wished, not even for a moment, to be doing something else. May God be praised, Who raises up living saints (sometimes with a capital “S”)—people whose lives are so given to Christ, they become real channels of God’s grace. May St. Teresa of Calcutta’s witness inspire each of us to love Christ and to follow Him wherever He leads!



The Most Important Job in the World

Mother Teresa
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Below, Debbie Herbeck reflects on her meeting with Mother Teresa, whose canonization is Sept. 4, 2016.

Twenty-seven years ago, I was a young wife and mother, struggling in my vocation. I loved my husband, my two-year-old daughter, and my six-month old son, but the mundane and repetitive tasks of daily life, and the powerful messages of the women’s movement, made my hidden and often thankless life as a mother seem insignificant and unimportant.

I was thrilled when Peter announced one day that we had been invited to give workshops at a large family conference in Bonn, Germany. It would be a short trip, with our nursing baby in tow, but it would give me a chance to express some of the gifts I had previously used in full-time youth ministry. Little did I know, this trip was not going to be about what I could do for God, but what He wanted to do for me.

From the moment our plane was airborne, everything seemed to go wrong. Michael cried for most of the flight, slept when everyone was awake, and was awake when we all needed to be asleep. I was exhausted, with a horrible migraine. Our luggage was broken into, with jewelry stolen, and baby food jars smashed. To top it all off, when we arrived, the conference organizers announced that they now only needed one of us to speak, and Peter was chosen. Amidst my fatigue and disappointment, I asked the Lord: “Why did I come? Wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay home?”

On the last day of the conference as we made our way to the large auditorium to hear the keynote speaker, one of the helpers stopped us. “Excuse me, but I noticed you have your baby with you. Mother Teresa would like all the mothers here with babies to sit on the stage with her as she speaks today.” Stunned, I followed her backstage and onto the stage with Michael, as Peter made his way to his balcony seat. A sea of white- and blue-clad Sisters escorted Mother Teresa down the center aisle and onto the stage.

I sat with fifteen other mothers and babies, just a few feet away from Mother. As she spoke about the dignity of the unborn child, you could have heard a pin drop. When the session ended, the same conference worker approached me: “Mother Teresa would like to personally meet each mother and baby.”

Before long, I was standing in front of Mother Teresa. As I bent forward to greet her, she pressed a Marian medal into my hand and blessed Michael with the sign of the cross on his forehead. Then a most amazing thing happened. She pulled me closer and her urgency compelled me to look in her eyes.

“Never forget,” she said, gesturing with a crooked finger, “that your job as a mother is the most important job in the entire world.”

Her words instantly pierced my heart, and I knew, without a doubt, that God had brought me to Germany to speak a word of truth that I was not able to receive at home in my kitchen. Over the years, her words and the subsequent reading I did about her life and calling, became the bedrock truth and inspiration for my vocation as a mother of four children, a grandmother, and a spiritual mother to many more. Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta pray for us, and teach us what it means to be God’s love to a world that so desperately needs it.