Monday, October 01, 2007

crisis of faith

about a month ago, i had a chance to read the time magazine article on mother teresa (find it here). i found it fascinating -- and not a little disturbing. in brief, a book of mother teresa's letters are being published. these letters reveal that despite her public persona, she did not sense the presence of God for nearly 50 years.

the article was not at all what i was expecting. my first reaction was frustration that mother teresa's enemies couldn't leave the memory of this wonderful woman intact. but that was not the case at all. the letters are being published by some within the church who are hoping that she'll eventually be canonized as a saint. they believe that these letters make her faithfulness even more extraordinary, given the agony she endured as she served in this long absence of the felt presence of God. and the article was relatively sympathetic to her plight, especially for a secular publication.

so why did it trouble me? it's not that i think that spiritual leaders should be perfect. on the contrary, i think it essential that christian leaders be transparent about their struggles and even their sin. people don't need perfect leaders. they need leaders who can demonstrate how broken, sinful human beings can trust in a perfectly faithful, loving God.

but a leader who has a very different public face from his or her private experience is problematic. isn't it an issue of integrity? why not just admit that her long hours in prayer and decades of service to God had not kept her from struggling to connect with him? did any of her confessors give her this counsel? i doubt that very many people would have thought less of her or her amazing ministry.

but as i acknowledged in a facebook note, i'm probably not in a great position to critique mother teresa. her courage, perseverance, and radical service to jesus are both an encouragement and a challenge to me. and if my life has a fraction of the impact hers did, i'll consider myself blessed indeed.

then the King will say to those on his right, 'come, you who are blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. for i was hungry, and you gave me something to eat; i was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; i was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; i was sick, and you visited me; i was in prison, and you came to me.'

then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? 'and when did we see you a stranger, and invite you in, or naked, and clothe you? 'when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?'

the King will answer and say to them, 'truly i say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.'

matthew 25:31-40


Bora said...

The book is on my list to read. I also found the revelations moving and troubling. MT had asked for her papers to be destroyed after she died, but she must have known (she was wise and saavy to what the world was like) that there was a very good chance that they would become public. I think that if she had really wanted her darkest hours to remain private, she would have overseen the destruction herself.At least this is what I think as a writer.

Integrity issues, perhaps. Though she might have been working with a different cultural model of what constitute private versus public information. And what a burden to be considered a living saint by millions! She bore it all, even her private suffering, with such grace.

Mother Theresa said, "When I see Jesus face to face, I will tell him, 'I loved you in the darkness.'"

gr8god said...

thanks for your comment, bora.

i agree with you that mother teresa probalby had some inkling that her papers would be released. but the fact that she explicitly requested that they be destroyed did give me pause about their posthumous publication.

as for working with a different cultural model, i'll concede that that's probably true. the question which remains for me, however, is whether such a model can square with biblical teaching. culture is not above the critique of jesus; in fact, every culture is, at different points, called to repentance in subjection to the kingship of God.

i have a great deal of respect and empathy for mother teresa, which i hope comes out in the post. i think it's partially due to that respect that these revelations so troubled me.

H. S. Chin said...

I agree that Mother Teresa has done some remarkable work during her time.

However, i've recently read that her religious beliefs are actually questionable as she's made statements that seem to show that she has Universalist beliefs. Given that she has always been portrayed as a devout Roman Catholic, i was rather surprised when i read about that. It seems totally contrary to the image we have come to know of her through the media.

What do you make of this?

gr8god said...

i haven't read enough of mother teresa's own writings to adequately evaluate her spiritual beliefs, except to know that i have serious areas of disagreement with her.

as for what i make of it, i will only say that if she was a universalist, then those of us who think of ourselves as having our theological houses together should consider ourselves challenged. after all, if this poor woman with the misshapen theology did all that she did out of love for jesus, shouldn't we be willing to sacrifice at least as much for the truth?