In the fall of 2007, the world got an inside look at the life of one of its most revered heroes. Brian Kolodiejchuk published a posthumous pseudo-autobiography of Mother Teresa to help bolster her canonization process. Ironically, rather than helping her cause toward sainthood, this collection of her private writings provided a stark contrast to her public life of radiant faith. The media sank their teeth into the book and caricatured her journal entries in an effort to debunk the credibility of her faith.
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light highlighted the doubts of one of our modern saints. It’s an honest and confessional collection of letters and personal journal entries, full of very authentic struggles. In many of the letters to her confessors and priests, Mother Teresa wrote about her experiences of tremendous darkness. She shares shocking confessions of doubt—doubt in the very existence of the God to whom she had given her life to serve.
According to the book, this profoundly troubling crisis of faith lasted throughout her entire adult life, over fifty years of doubt.
It’s actually the perfect sort of material for the Promotor Fidei (Latin for “promoter of the faith”) or the Advocatus Diaboli (“devil’s advocate”), who from 1587-1983 was actually appointed by the Vatican to stand against the Advocatus Dei (“God’s advocate”) or Promotor Iustitiae (“promoter of justice”) who argues for the canonization for sainthood of a candidate.
I spent a lot of time with Mother Teresa, so with the release of Kolodiejchuk’s book, I received several calls and emails full of questions about Mother’s faith. Often, my responses surprised the person who asked the question. Rather than thinking less of Mother Teresa’s faith, I actually found that my respect and admiration of her had increased.
What’s amazing, given her crisis of faith, is that Mother Teresa still remained committed to her faith and to her community. That is one of the most selfless acts of abandoned love—offering yourself to one whose love may not feel returned. Her confessions of doubt were also an indication of her honesty. Rather than being someone who lies about her unwavering faith, she had the courage to enter so-called forbidden places by asking difficult questions about spirituality.
Most of us can’t even imagine the kind of graphic and intense human suffering Mother Teresa witnessed on a daily basis. In the three short years I lived in South India, we buried quite a few children who died from malnutrition or AIDS. For me, their innocence and suffering was an assault on the possibility of God’s goodness. But articulating my questions about God’s nearness to these innocents in their deaths would not have been well received in a blog post or a holiday letter updating friends on my life. Who am I to question God’s goodness, even in light of the death of an innocent child? Who is Mother Teresa to doubt God, even after more than fifty years of faithful service among some of the poorest people in the world?
When I read her journals, I felt relief. She doubted. And so can I. She experienced doubt, which makes me feel like mine is okay. Mother Teresa was honest about her doubt. Could I do otherwise?
What’s remarkable about Mother’s life—and too many journalists missed this when they reported on her journals—was not that she had doubts, but that she never stopped having faith.
[Excerpted from “Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community” by Chris Heuertz]