Mother Teresa's Darkness Revealed

John ArmstrongSpirituality

We have known for some years now that Mother Teresa experienced the pain of deep spiritual darkness and turmoil in her heart for some years. We did not know just how deep, painful and long this darkness really was. Now we have been provided a glimpse into the soul of this remarkable woman in a new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), a collection of her private correspondence over the course of sixty-six years of her life.

In a letter of September 1979 she wrote to Rev. Michael Van Der Peet, "Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear." She added, "The tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak . . . I want you to pray for me—that I let Him have [a] free hand." When you contrast this with her public statements about seeing Christ in every person and circumstance, and then you see the film on her life that I reviewed here just a few months ago, you realize afresh that this was not a plastic saint who lived in some type of ecstatic experience day-in and day-out. She experienced, and lived through, what the church has called darkness, or spiritual desertion, for many, many years.

Critics will have a field day with this material. Skeptics and unbelievers will see such contradiction here that they will, and already have, questioned the value of Christian faith at all. Fundamentalists will say, "This shows she didn’t even know God in the first place." Easy answers will avail for such people.

Mother Teressa had deep encounters with Christ, as this autobiography will clearly show. Her confessor, Father Celeste Van Exem, was convinced of her genuineness and believed that her witness to Christ’s grace and love to her was stunning and powerful. But her autobiography, reports today now tell us, brings our a sense of frequent desperation and confusion. Those who have seen it say that it seems to read almost a story of how God lifted her up, gave her a call, equipped her to love and serve in a rare way, and then withdrew his felt presence and her sense of him so that she would learn to trust God in a unique way. One can wonder if this "thorn in the flesh" was given so that she would remain humble and powerful, fearless and faithful. 

Some believe this new book will become a "classic" almost like St. Augustine’s Confessions. Time will tell. What I think it will likely do is allow ordinary people to better understand that great Christians also have dark and difficult times in their lives. So unlike many moderns this little lady lived and died by showing us Jesus and not herself. This was her wish. These posthumous writings may prove to be a blessing that we all need. I look forward to reading them as soon as possible. I sense my need of these letters is great.