Father John J. Lombardi
Much has recently been written about the Life of Mother Teresa, especially since the book, "Come Be My Light" by Fr Brian Kolodiejchuk was
issued, of her writings and journals.
Herein is revealed a tremendous, sometimes intimidating darkness-that she experienced trials, absences of God Presence, severe spiritual turmoil
and challenges-for decades. While reading some of her passages this may shock, distress and even disturb some; however, it can actually help us.
"There is no God in me." Mother Teresa wrote in a letter: "---When the pain of longing is so great---I just long and long for God."
Fr Fred Miller, professor at Mt St Mary's Seminary recently said at our Grotto that contrary to some people's views of all this, Mother Teresa
wasn't an atheist; she wasn't despairing and that, actually, these "dark experiences" were a partaking of the Lord Jesus' Passion, a "tasting of His own darknesses,"
and a call to deeper holiness. Mother Teresa was called to serve Jesus in His distressing disguises and thereby, in a unique way, help His thirst. Fr. Miller said this
new book may be the most important new book of our times. Wow!
"It was the redeeming experience of her life when she realized that the night of her heart was the special share she had in Jesus' passion….Thus
we see that the darkness was actually the mysterious link that united her to Jesus. It is the contact of intimate longing for God. Nothing else can fill her mind. Such
longing is possible only through God's own hidden presence" -Fr Neuner, SJ, spiritual director, from the book, "Come be My Light".
What does Mother Teresa's life teach us? Many things…
God is Mystery-we sometimes think, "If I do 'this' and 'that' I will 'get God' or understand Him or know Him fully". After all, we're Americans
and we can "solve" and overcome and accomplish a lotta things. Like using building blocks in a child's toy swing set which we eventually put together we feel we can
fully, encompass God or, at the end of some process (Lent or a retreat or adult maturation) we think we deserve a godly revelation or fuller understanding of God
without mystery or beguilement. What we need amidst these expectations is a healthy dose of honor and fear of the Lord. If anyone deserved a deeper appearance of God it
was Mother Teresa, and yet God either "hid" Himself from her, or revealed Himself to her in unbeknownst ways, or concealed Himself in other ways, or her personal trials
affected some perceptions she had (or could have had) of Him. The same could likely be described for other saints and, possibly for some of us…We must always remember
there is always more to God to understand, love and worship, so don't box Him in. Understand what you can of God and also understand what you cannot understand of Him.
This will both free you and help you. And: while God is a "Divine Friend" He is also a consuming Fire (Hebr.12:29 ); we will sometimes get burned in getting close to
Him and purification. Fr. Miller said in his talk that God loves to hide. This is so true, as we all know, and is even more exemplified by Mother Teresa's surprising
Saints are not plastic: We sometimes think saints are inhuman, non-feeling, ready-made examples and 'religious robots" of love and peace. Now,
this Mother Teresa is actually a woman, who could at once experience tremendous troubles and also experience beautiful union with God. How is she any different from us?
Mother Teresa wrote, prayed: "Before, I could spend hours before Our Lord-loving Him-talking to Him-and now, not even meditation goes properly-nothing but 'my God'-even
that sometimes does not come. Yet deep down somewhere in my heart that longing for God keeps breaking through the darkness." Maybe good, plastic holy cards can
sometimes put an unnecessary sheen on both the picture and life of a given saintly person and we thereby remove any gritty and earthy humanness they resonate and
communicate and which God speaks thru. Mother Teresa got upset at times; she was troubled and vulnerable at other times; she knew she had darknesses and needed others.
For some reason we don't always want to know, see or communicate that in our discussions of the saints. However, knowing this may actually help us carry on-as many have
said to me about these "revelations" of Mother Teresa! They may even give hope to atheists and lukewarm persons: for in their struggles, they may think: she was, then,
human, and carried difficult feelings and thoughts, as I do, so, why not believe?
Holiness is a process: sometimes we may think-esp looking at halo-embossed paintings of the saints, that, holy persons never struggled, doubted
or, worse, once they "made it" they never go thru turmoil or troubles again. Some saints like Mother Teresa and Saint Teresa of Avila, towards the end of their lives,
went thru great struggles: Mother Teresa had her ups and downs and yet persevered in her vocation. Mother Teresa wrote: "My very life feels contradictory. I help
souls-to go where-why all this? The torture and pain I cannot explain." We will have ups and downs; question is - will we persevere long enough for God to sandpaper and
purify us into saints like Mother Teresa? We should always remember heaven is the only place where there is no struggle; here on Earth we can always fall back into sin;
and we need constantly choose Christ in all we say and do. Conversion is a lifetime process and never finished until we die.
The Saints are human: they had darknesses, depression and -dissonances. Mother Teresa joked, played and cried over the same things we did, do.
She was shrewd and also innocent and, while denying her egoish self, she allowed God to build upon her good self to make a saint. It all added up: loneliness and
happiness; rejections by others and affirmations of her talents; darknesses in the spiritual life and experienced the Lord in the Eucharist…So, how can you blend your
human personality and temperament God gave you (or allows you to have) to help you become more holy, more human? "The glory of God is man fully alive" (St Irenaeus).
While we do adulate the saints, we may unfortunately fail to imitate them because of our false notions of holiness. Saints need, needed, conversion and compassion, just
like you and me, and, more importantly, they demonstrated Dark Faith-without consolations and felt presences of God-to keep going on. It is, surely, a mystery, just why
some saints experienced such mystical phenomenon and ecstasies and others so many darknesses and why some actually experienced both.
Feelings aren't everything: we are often pulled to and fro by our emotions and passions and yet how wrong this is. We must use our wills and
intellects to balance and temper our swaying hearts, and choose to believe and follow Him no matter the external challenges and internal battles. They are human like us
and have to work thru many of the same boring, troublesome, dramatic and doubtful things we do.
Saints are mystically countercultural: Mother Teresa had a tenacity to pray often and not become merely a social worker (remember: we're human
be-ings, not human do-ings). She decided to dedicate herself and Missionaries of Charity to slake the thirst of Jesus (is this modern enough for us today?); to embrace
His poverty (while most people want a share in His Kingdom and Crown); and to serve the poorest of the poor (we like service to "moderate situations"). These mandates
are not popular in today's materialist world which stresses the physical and comfortable and egotistically pleasing…
Mother Teresa was focused: in the midst of this multi-tasking world she wanted to live like Jesus and love Him more in the poor-and this meant
leaving behind her religious order she was in and formally and formidably creating a whole new religious order. She could have gotten-or been thrown-- off course many
times. But because of her tenacity-holding-onto-ness (to Jesus, His calling) she prevailed over many challenges. There were many obstacles and upsets along the way, but
she did it, she persevered in absolute poverty and service to the poor. In 1947 she heard a Voice (of Jesus) say: "My little one come-carry me into the holes of the
poor-'Come be My Light'-I cannot go alone-they don't know Me-so they don't want Me. You come-go amongst them, carry Me with you into them.---How I long to enter their
holes, their dark unhappy homes. Come be their victim-in your immolation-in your love for Me…You will suffer, suffer very much-but remember, I am with you. Fear not, it
is I…I shall never leave you if you obey." Obedience-to Jesus or anyone-is not a popular word. But because Jesus spoke to Mother Teresa and wanted her to do something,
she acquiesced, even though "the Voice" did not explicitly hearken much after that epiphany. Mother Teresa had to focus on His Command and do it no matter what-esp to
go into "the holes of the poor"…How do you need to re-focus yourself -on Jesus--and pick and choose a few, given things to concentrate, thru Jesus, with Him and in Him.
In Conclusion: How can you overcome obstacles in your life to love and serve Jesus more? How can you serve Jesus in His distressing disguises
-nursing home, hospital, homebound? How can you practice tenacity-holding-on-to-ness? Now, think of the paradox: "Come, Be My Light"-- were the words Jesus commanded to
Mother Teresa, and He says to us all "Ye are the Light of the World" (Mt. 5:14). Even thru all Mother Teresa's darkness and "seeming separation" Jesus worked His
wonders. Now, think: how He can still work thru you.
This Sunday's Gospel has three like-stories-including "the most famous story ever told" which is "The Prodigal Son" (Lk. 15:1ff). The other
stories are the "lost coin" and "lost sheep"; all three have in common the themes of being lost and restored. While we focus on the Prodigal Son, the story is just as
much about the Prodigal Father-the one who forgives prodigiously. Prodigious, in "The American Heritage Dictionary" means: "impressively great in size, force or extent,
enormous; extraordinarily marvelous…(from the Latin), prodigiosus-- portentious, monstrous." St Peter Chrysologus states that the Parable is about impatience: the
prodigal soon didn't want to wait his time to have his riches from his father but imprudently left and squandered what he was given. Are you impatient? Also, note: the
son didn't want to share wealth or friendship with his family-he was not community minded. Are you like this? Also, let us remember, the Heavenly Father seeks, saves
and sends us. God the Father and Jesus seek us out like a "hound of Heaven" to save us from sin and hell and death (1 Tm 1:12-17; the second Sunday reading) and send us
forth to proclaim His Mercy. When was the last time you went to Confession to receive His Divine mercy and forgiveness, and the reconciliation with your brothers and
sisters in the Church? "The sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin."
Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi