Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003, is probably the single modern person whom most people saw as having been a living saint. This collection of Mother Teresa’s letters has provoked controversy in the secular press because commentators have not understood what they read, not realizing or understanding what she was writing about. How could this nun whom many thought was very close to God and who possibly received messages or enlightenment in reality have suffered for most of her life the experience of the absence of God? Some have accused her of faking or being a hypocrite; indeed, she even writes about possibly being a hypocrite and misleading people.
Mother Teresa suffered what is called in spirituality, according to St. John of the Cross, the dark night of the soul. Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a member of Mother Teresa’s priests’ community and her postulator (promoter) for canonization, comments that Mother Teresa’s “darkness” was one of the longest known periods of darkness for a person. Her patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, also experienced darkness doubts about her faith. Other saints also have endured the the same: one other saint known to have experienced this darkness for a long period of time in their lives was St. Paul of the Cross, which Kolodiejchuk mentions.
From childhood, Mother Teresa had a close relationship with Jesus. She revealed to her spiritual directors that, in the 1940s, she experienced hearing the voice of Jesus (saying “I thirst for souls!”) and “seeing” a few visions. At first Mother Teresa was not sure what to make of this and other comments by Jesus. She thought maybe it was the devil, and she discussed this with her spiritual director and others. After they prayed and let time pass, they realized it was Jesus truly speaking to her, not the devil or her own inner voice.
She had these experiences when she felt called on September 10, 1946 to found a new order to help the poor. A few years after founding the order, she no longer had these experiences. In their place were darkness and a feeling of aloneness. She desired to be one with Jesus, but she could feel nothing of his presence. This went on up to the day of her death, but she continuously desired to experience Jesus’ presence in her soul and in her life and remained faithful to Jesus and to her calling. She was able to teach others about spirituality and how to become holy, but she herself did not experience any consolations from Jesus. She saw how others were growing in holiness and felt abandoned by Jesus. Still, she was a source of encouragement to others, exhorting her community to always “smile”, especially to “smile at Jesus” in the disguise of the poorest of the poor. Writing about the darkness she endured is hard to write clearly about. This is spiritual material, not earthly.
Fr. Kolodiejchuk presents in Come Be My Light several letters from Mother Teresa to her spiritual directors and others. At times she asked her correspondents to destroy the letters, but many realized that these letters would one day be of great help to others. She informed very few people about her experience of darkness. At first she had an extremely hard time living with it, but as time passed she accepted it as God’s will for her. Even though her interior self was enveloped in darkness, she was able to give her all to Jesus in whatever he wanted of her. She had committed herself totally to Jesus’ will early on and would not go against God’s will.
The darkness became in reality a gift from God that kept Mother Teresa from becoming full of pride of self. When she was honored with awards and popularity, she paid no attention. She was totally engrossed in God’s will and in working for the poorest of the poor; she recognized Jesus as being in them following the Gospel text of “what you do to the least of my brothers or sisters, you do to me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Fr. Kolodiejchuk keeps most of the letters and notes in the style that Mother Teresa wrote them, using dashes for punctuations as it took less time for her to write. He also includes some responses to Mother’s correspondences to her spiritual directors or Church superiors. His commentaries about the letters clarify what the letter is about and what events were going on.
On the front book jacket is a picture of Mother Teresa, and on the back cover is a quote from her: “If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven—to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” This is a wonderful quote for those who are suffering from darkness of different kinds. She is a tremendous example for those who have doubts about their religion as she maintained her immense faith in Jesus. She gave her all for him and his poor, in whom she was called to serve him.
Fr. Kolodiejchuk explains Mother’s spirituality and what she meant by the poorest of the poor and such terms. He includes two appendices – the first her rule for her order dated 1947, the second notes she made for a retreat in 1959. There are endnotes and a short index.
It is good to have read this book and see what the secular press was making a fuss about as they could not understand that it was about spiritual things and not earthly. This book is very highly recommended to those interested in spirituality, Mother Teresa, and for those undergoing their own darkness in its various forms like the dark night or possibly depression and other illnesses. Mother Teresa’s example gives hope to all of us. She did not have an easy life, as many might have thought. What this collection of letters shows is that it is possible to be faithful to God even in the most trying circumstances. May Blessed Teresa of Calcutta pray for us! May she be canonized soon!