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Monday, June 30, 2003
5:35 PM
The Dark Night of Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be beatified in October. Now that her life has been thoroughly researched, people are beginning to discover a Mother Teresa they never knew: the Mother Teresa who lived away from the public eye, who lived a life of steadfast faith amid spiritual dryness reminiscent of the desolations experienced by St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross.

Excerpts from an article by Carol Zaleski:

Fr. Kolodiejchuk sees Mother Teresa’s life as unfolding in four phases:

Her childhood and youth, when from the time of her First Communion at age five and a half she felt her heart captivated by the love of Jesus and of neighbor, and discovered her call to join the missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Loreto.... The keynote of this period is youthful zeal and joy.

The Vow of 1942. At age thirty-two, at the end of her annual retreat, with the permission of her spiritual director, Mother Teresa made a vow to give herself utterly and unreservedly to Christ: “To give God anything that He may ask . . . not to refuse Him anything.”

The Call within a Call. On September 10, 1946 . . . Mother Teresa was traveling by train from Calcutta to a retreat house in Darjeeling. During this trip, the realization came to her that Jesus was calling her to serve him radically in the poorest of the poor. Only in private letters to her spiritual director, Fr. Celeste Van Exem, S.J., and (under Fr. Van Exem’s cautious instruction) to Archbishop Ferdinand Périer, S.J., did she reveal that this call was more than just an inner prompting. Jesus appeared and spoke to her, in a series of interior locutions and visions. “Wouldst thou not help?” Jesus asked her. “How can I?” Mother Teresa responded, expressing her fear of incurring ridicule, loneliness, deprivation, and failure should she leave her happy life as a Loreto nun, exchange her habit for a rough sari, and take up the uncertain life Jesus was demanding of her. Repeatedly he asked her, “Wilt thou refuse? You have become my spouse for my love. You have come to India for me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. Are you afraid now to take one more step for your spouse, for me, for souls?” And again: “I want Indian nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying, and the little children. . . .” The chief motivation for the Missionaries of Charity, as she would often say, was not to do social work, but to adore Christ in the littlest and weakest of his children, and to bring Christ the souls for which he thirsts.

The Dark Night. Throughout 1946 and 1947, Mother Teresa experienced a profound union with Christ. But soon after she left the convent and began her work among the destitute and dying on the street, the visions and locutions ceased, and she experienced a spiritual darkness that would remain with her until her death. It is hard to know what is more to be marveled at: that this twentieth-century commander of a worldwide apostolate and army of charity should have been a visionary contemplative at heart; or that she should have persisted in radiating invincible faith and love while suffering inwardly from the loss of spiritual consolation. In letters written during the 1950s and 1960s ... she disclosed feelings of doubt, loneliness, and abandonment. God seemed absent, heaven empty, and bitterest of all, her own suffering seemed to count for nothing, “. . . just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

The dark night of Mother Teresa presents us with an even greater interpretive challenge than her visions and locutions. It means that the missionary foundress who called herself “God’s pencil” was not the God-intoxicated saint many of us had assumed her to be. We may prefer to think that she spent her days in a state of ecstatic mystical union with God, because that would get us ordinary worldlings off the hook. How else could this unremarkable woman, no different from the rest of us, bear to throw her lot in with the poorest of the poor, sharing their meager diet and rough clothing, wiping leprous sores and enduring the agonies of the dying, for so many years without respite, unless she were somehow lifted above it all, shielded by spiritual endorphins? Yet we have her own testimony that what made her self-negating work possible was not a subjective experience of ecstasy but an objective relationship to God shorn of the sensible awareness of God’s presence.

The article goes on to discuss the multitude of accounts in Christian theology and spirituality, of this "divine darkness":

It is an ancient doctrine, emphasized by apophatic theologians and mystics, that God dwells in inaccessible light, a light so searingly absolute that it cancels out all images and ideas we may form of Him, veiling the divine glory in a dark “cloud of unknowing” ....

Among the monastic writers who flourished during the sunlit years of the twelfth century, divine darkness was an essentially cheerful idea. William of St. Thierry positively delighted in our mind’s incapacity to see that God is present, for he counted on love to make good the deficiencies of our feeble intellect. Love is the eye with which we see God, William said; love itself is understanding. But love is not to be confused with mere feelings. Feelings burn out too easily; they can be manipulated or seduced. The love by which we see God must be an act of the will rather than a passing affection of the heart.

Later generations of Christian mystics dwelt upon the more desolate kinds of darkness to which the spiritual life can lead: the darkness in which all modes of prayer and spiritual practice become arid, and all consolation in the love of God seems lost. Even in the desolate dark night of the soul, indeed especially there, St. John of the Cross taught, God is present, purifying the soul of all passions and hindrances, and preparing her for the inconceivable blessedness of divine union. Along with dark knowing, there is
dark loving, no less ardent for being deprived of all sensible and spiritual vision of the beloved. Therefore St. John can say, “Oh, night more lovely than the dawn, Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, Lover transformed in the Beloved!”

Yet only in the modern period has the dark night of the soul taken the form of radical doubt, doubting not only one’s own state of grace, but God’s promises and even God’s existence. A wise Benedictine, John Chapman of Downside Abbey, made this point in a 1923 letter to a non-monastic friend: “[I]n the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries most pious souls seem to have gone through a period in which they felt sure that God had reprobated them. . . . This doesn’t seem to happen nowadays. But the corresponding trial of our contemporaries seems to be the feeling of not having any faith; not temptations against any particular article, but a mere feeling that religion is not true.”

For this annihilating temptation, Chapman wrote, “the only remedy is to despise the whole thing, and pay no attention to it—except (of course) to assure our Lord that one is ready to suffer from it as long as he wishes.” The “feeling of not having any faith” is painful because it is an authentic purgation, during which “faith is really particularly strong all the time,” and one is being brought into closer union with the suffering Christ.

This was exactly the way Mother Teresa learned to deal with her trial of faith: by converting her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God. It would be her Gethsemane, she came to believe, and her participation in the thirst Jesus suffered on the Cross. And it gave her access to the deepest poverty of the modern world: the poverty of meaninglessness and loneliness. To endure this trial of faith would be to bear witness to the fidelity for which the world is starving. “Keep smiling,” Mother Teresa used to tell her community and guests, and somehow, coming from her, it doesn’t seem trite. For when she kept smiling during her night of faith, it was not a cover-up but a manifestation of her loving resolve to be “an apostle of joy.”

One can better understand, having read The Soul of Mother Teresa, why she insisted that adoration of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament should occupy the center of the Missionaries’ daily work; and why she felt it imperative to establish purely contemplative communities that would make the Missionaries of Charity an order of adoration as well as apostolic service. Adoring Christ in the Sacrament is also a way of dark knowing and dark loving. To all appearances he is absent, as Aquinas says in the Tantum ergo Sacramentum, so faith must supply what is lacking to our feeble senses. Humanly, there were times when Mother Teresa felt burnt out, but faith supplied what was lacking even to troubled faith; spiritually she was often desolate, but her vow endured and her visible radiance—to which everyone attests—was undiminished. This lifelong fidelity should not be confused with a Stoic determination to keep going in the face of defeat. It was something else entirely: objective Christian joy.

Read the entire article here.
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12:57 PM
Alphabet soup.

Was reviewing the Greek alphabet for school when I came across this cool website about different writing systems around the world. I was pleased to find that the site included a page on Alibata, the script used to write Tagalog, Ilocano, and other languages in pre-colonial Luzon); Tagbanwa, the ancient script used in parts of Northern Palawan; and Surat Mangyan, the script still being used by the Hanuno'o Mangyans in Mindoro.

Speaking of Mindoro ... I also learned a few days ago that I'm one-eighth Mindorenyo. My maternal grandfather's mother, a Dimayuga, hailed originally from Mindoro.
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Friday, June 27, 2003
9:24 AM
It's been ages.

Wow, has it actually been an entire month since I last posted??? (Sorry to my labs, who's been checking this page fairly regularly!) Quick updates: my mom and younger bro are here for the U.S. summer, one of my oldest friends is getting married on Sunday, and school has started.

Oh, and ... I love my job. :)
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