Mother Teresa’s spiritual doubts

By Laurinda Keys

Associated Press

NEW DELHI, India – Mother Teresa sometimes felt rejected by God, helpless and tempted to abandon her work caring for the poor and dying, according to her letters and diaries published by an Indian theological journal.

The documents – describing a lifelong spiritual struggle that ranges from joy and yearning for God to doubts of his existence – were collected by Roman Catholic priests and nuns preparing a report for Pope John Paul II, who is considering her beatification.

Excerpts of writings before she founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1946 to just before her death in 1997 appeared in the March 2001 issue of Vidyajyoti (Light of Knowledge), a journal published in New Delhi by the Jesuit order.

Describing tears of loneliness, and the pain of feeling abandoned, Mother Teresa never stopped writing of her longing for God and her desire to be used completely by him. She also never stopped working, expanding her order to more than 100 countries and winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

“She confesses frequently that in her darkness she was unable to pray,” yet she encouraged her nuns to pray through personal union with Jesus, said the Rev. Joseph Neuner, the senior theologian who wrote the article and was a friend of Mother Teresa.

“This cleaving to each other, Jesus and I, is prayer,” Mother Teresa wrote in 1966. As she walked about the slums of Calcutta, she constantly told God how much she longed for him.

“Experiences of darkness are found in many lives of mystics,” Neuner commented.

Martin Luther, who began the Protestant Reformation, described spiritual depressions when he felt he was fighting Satan’s attacks. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote poems of doubt and abandonment by God, even as he conducted worship services and ministered to other doomed prisoners in a Nazi concentration camp.

“Some experience of darkness is part of every spiritual life,” Neuner said. Even so, “it may be difficult to find a parallel to the lifelong night which enwrapped (Mother) Teresa.”

“It came to her at a time when she embarked on her new life in the service of the abandoned,” Neuner said. “From the beginning, she had to experience not only their material poverty and helplessness, but also their abandonment.”

She was tempted to return to Europe, writing of “all the beautiful things and comforts, the people they mix with, in a word, everything.”

She resisted. “Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your holy will in my regard,” she wrote in 1949.

Some of the most agonized writings come from 1959 and 1960, when the Rev. T. Picachy, future archbishop of Calcutta, was her spiritual confessor and had asked her to write out her thoughts.

“Now, Jesus, I go the wrong way,” she wrote. “They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of loss of God. In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.

“Jesus, please forgive the blasphemy – I have been told to write everything – that darkness that surrounds me on all sides. I can’t lift my soul to God: No light, no inspiration enters my soul,” she wrote.

Neuner said Mother Teresa’s understanding of her own spiritual journey led to joy, though not the end of the darkness, as she realized suffering brought her closer to Jesus.

“I have begun to love my darkness, for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part, of Jesus’ darkness and pain on Earth,” she wrote in the early 1990s.

It was a reflection of a diary entry from 1937, when preparing for final vows as a nun.

She said her life was “not strewed with roses. Rather, I have more the darkness as my fellow friend. … I simply offer myself to Jesus.”

Associated Press

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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