On Sunday, September 4, before 120,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint. Née Agnes Gonxhe Bojaxhiu, she is now “St. Teresa of Kolkota” — though even Francis admitted she would probably still be simply called “Mother Teresa.”
Standing in the midst of this iconic moment was Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, the man who had been charged with gathering the evidence to prove Mother Teresa’s candidacy for sainthood. After 17 years of waiting, he was now enjoying the fruit of his labors. Yet Rev. Kolodiejchuk is known for more than proving Mother Teresa’s saintliness — he also played a role in exposing her humanity.
In 2007, Rev. Kolodiejchuk edited Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. The book, a compilation of private letters and writings of Mother Teresa, shocked the world with the revelation that for almost 50 years the woman whom in life the world considered a living saint experienced a crisis of faith.
“Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love — and now become as the most hated one — the one — You have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want — and there is no One to answer — no One on Whom I can cling — no, No One,” wrote Mother Teresa in a personal prayer-confession to Jesus.
“When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”
Mother Teresa’s “dark night” of the soul was far more than a fleeting sense of doubt; it was a harrowing, and seemingly unending, sense of abandonment. The “saint of the gutters,” while spending herself in the life of self-abnegation she became famous for, was herself living in the gutters of spiritual uncertainty.
For decades, Mother Teresa has had her critics, including the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, who in 1994 released a highly critical documentary with the derisive name “Hell’s Angel.” The publishing of the personal letters nine years ago provided more ammunition to skeptics. The question cannot be denied:
How can someone, held so highly, so pure and unblemished, in the world’s eye, struggle with doubt in the deepest way possible, yet sincerely maintain faith?
The truth is Mother Teresa’s story can only come in this set of colliding realities. She was a saint in life — and earned the official title in death — precisely because she held on to faith, in the most public way anyone has ever had to, even when it took everything within her to do so. Faith, to Mother Teresa, and to many other saints in history as others have noted, did not mean absence of doubt, but rather ardent, loyal belief precisely in the face of doubt.
Atheists and skeptics criticize Christians because they want a squeaky clean experience of God. Yet true faith dwells in the grime and the dirt, in the corners of Kolkota and Mogadishu, and in “dark nights” of our human souls. It hangs on a cross, in a darkening day, as Son cries to Father, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)
Mother Teresa once famously said, “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.”
Heaven, indeed, is not accessible if it doesn’t descend into our dark world.
Of all the saints to have lived, Mother Teresa might become better known for her imperfections than her impeccability. Yet if her story tells us one thing it is that we don’t have to be perfect to be a “saint.”
It was from India where Saint Theresa launched her world wide ministry of mercy. As a nation, we are proud of her.