Monday, September 03, 2007

On Mother Teresa, Doubts and Reality

I'm not the judge of any man -- or woman. That's not my job. I also never met Mother Teresa, nor did I know much more than the of basics of her story -- just like everyone else that watched the news while she was alive, or just following her death.

That little nun, from my perspective, however, lived a more truly Christian life than many leaders in large churches and denominations that I DO know. Yet, recently, the news media has trumpeted the fact that Mother Teresa, great and faithful Christian humanitarian, struggled with doubt and despair much of her life as a devout nun. The agenda of the media, of course, is to discredit faith -- the Christian faith in particular. For such a perceived champion of that faith to suffer doubt, to them, accomplishes their [evil] mission.

Maybe believers should "reframe" this issue, though. A proper understanding of Mother Teresa's context might help. This woman who had dedicated her entire life to the aid and help of the poorest and most disenfranchised in Hindu India, saw thousands, perhaps millions over her lifetime, of suffering, sick, starving outcasts. She nursed them to health in some cases, and watched them die in many others. She often held their hands, or hugged them to her, as they drew their last breaths. Her world was filled with hard realities: with filth, anguish, failure, demonism and inhumanity.

So, why shouldn't she see God in all that, right? God must have been all over that place! He hangs around in the presence of the poor and suffering, after all.....right?

You know, Mother Teresa may not have truly been a believer. I (nor anyone else) knows the heart of another at its core. And, obviously, there are always issues of the nature of Catholic doctrine and dogma. Catholic tradition can obscure Biblical truth from many Catholics. No doubt about that (I know, spoken like a true Protestant).

But I lean toward another idea of why Mother Teresa was plagued by doubts and despair. Remember all the suffering and death Mother Teresa saw? All the horrendous and deplorable conditions she ministered in? All the hordes of pitiful humanity for whom she attempted to care? Mother Teresa seemed never to see Jesus there, in her words. "Where is He," she would ask.

He was there. All the time, and Mother Teresa was either blinded to His presence -- or too humble to be aware of it. Jesus was there...In Mother Teresa. Even when she felt the most despair, as though Jesus had deserted her -- to the point that she cried out, "if there be a God forgive me!" -- Mother Teresa never quit. She kept ministering, giving, loving, feeding... That was not the weak, poor nun wandering the streets of Calcutta. It was Jesus -- in her. Through her? It was Jesus.

I don't pretend to know Mother Teresa's spiritual condition. I do know a picture of what it means to suffer for Christ. Mother Teresa is such a picture. She suffered for others. She was in anguish spiritually as she interceded on behalf of those souls in the gutters of Calcutta. Her spirit was impoverished that those she touched might have a chance to experience God's riches in Christ Jesus.

No, I don't know Mother Teresa's eternity, but I hope and pray that I can go to my eternity and face God having been a fraction of the example of Christian virtue that she was. Doubt like hers doesn't prove lack of faith -- persistence in the face of such doubt in fact proves the truth of faith. And in light of that, Mother Teresa may just be the "patron saint" of the doubting and despairing.

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