Mother Teresa was the best of modern Catholicism and an icon of faith. But faith was not easy for her. In her letters, published a decade after her death, she describes feeling abandoned by God for most of her years in ministry. Her felt abandonment was in stark contrast to a period of mystical experience in her early ministry, making the loss of God’s presence even more difficult to bear. Some modern commentators have suggested that her faith struggle makes her a poor model for Catholics. I think it makes her an even better one. Think of the courage it took to keep going in her ministry day after day, year after year. People looked up to her as a spiritual role model and yet in her own prayer-life she no longer felt God’s presence – just an emptiness, an ache for something that once was. Here is a truly realistic role model for young people trying to understand faith: faith isn’t easy and “feeling” the presence of God may not be part of the package, at least not most of the time. Faith is a decision that has to be made over and over, just like the commitment to love one’s partner.
Perhaps it was her own “dark night of the soul” that made Mother Teresa more appreciative of other people’s faith journeys. Who was she to deny the presence of God in someone else’s life, or to deny the validity of a religious path other than Catholicism? It was this openness to other world faiths that made Mother Teresa so inspiring to me.
“There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. We believe our work should be our example to people. We have among us 475 souls – 30 families are Catholics and the rest are all Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs – all different religions. But they all come to our prayers.”
“There are so many religions and each one has its different ways of following God. I follow Christ.”
Mother Teresa, The Simple Path