Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light Paperback – Oct 13 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Mother Teresa was one of the most revered people of the 20th century, so it is no surprise that 10 years after her death people still want to know what impelled this poor, humble Albanian woman to give her life to God so completely. Kolodiejchuk, a Catholic priest and friend of Mother Teresas who is actively promoting her cause for sainthood, assembles a startling and impressive collection of her writings, most of which have never been seen by the public. Two themes especially shine through in Mother Teresas letters, namely, her absolute conviction that she was doing Gods will, and a deep and surprising chasm of darkness within her that some would call the dark night of the soul. It is also apparent that this saintly woman was no pushover. In her quest to found the Missionaries of Charity, she aggressively pursued approval from her bishop, fully confident that God desired this work to be done. Kolodiejchuk is at times a bit presumptive in his interpretations of Teresas letters, as no one can say for certain what was in her mind and heart at all times. What we do know, in part thanks to this volume, is that Mother Teresas vocation to care for the poorest of the poor will continue to inspire people for generations. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Come Be My Light is that rare thing, a posthumous autobiography that could cause a wholesale reconsideration of a major public figure – one way or another. It raises questions about God and faith, the engine behind great achievement, and the persistence of love, divine and human. That it does so not in any organized, intentional form but as a hodgepodge of desperate notes not intended for daylight should leave readers only more convinced that it is authentic – and that they are, somewhat shockingly, touching the true inner life of a modern saint. —David Van Biema, Time MagazineSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
The reality is that the world would likely not know of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta apart from the work of Malcolm Muggeridge who found her and who then produced the film, "Something Beautiful for God". When I was a secondary school teacher I showed this film to my classes year in and year out. I still wonder what happened to that tiny baby girl to whom Mother talks at one point and tells Muggeridge that there is a light in the baby's eye and she thinks "she will make it".
I have had the opportunity to visit the motherhouse of the community in Calcutta. I had hoped to see the babies there but couldn't because "The children are having chicken pox", the sign outside the orphanage said. I was offered the chance to wait to meet Mother Teresa herself as she made her way to the chapel but decided I wasn't up to that. I might actually have been afraid to meet her and I still don't know why. Would she have seen the progressive version of Christianity which is now my own approach to the tradition? And would she perhaps not have approved?
I'm glad the book was written. I could do without the pious language of the priest who is her postulator. I can deal with it in terms of Mother Teresa herself because it was the language of the spirituality of the Roman Catholic Church when I was growing up.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
From a psychological perspective, research into the nature of faith, such as that done by James Fowler in "Stages of Faith" suggest that Mother Teresa, in continuing to serve Christ by serving others while experiencing the absence of the presence of God, was revealing the highest level of faith. Hers was not the trust of a child, nor the blind faith of those at lower levels of belief, but the highest, deepest, and most dependent reliance.
From a historical perspective, Mother Teresa's experience has been so common for so long that it has its own name: "the dark night of the soul." Great believers of the past, of all shapes and sizes, types and denominations, have experienced lengthy bouts of agonizing doubts.
Amongst Catholics, to name a few, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Saint Teresa of Lisieux (from whom Mother Teresa took her religious name) all endured the absence of God's presence. Of many representative Protestant believers, Martin Luther is a primary case study. So intangible was Luther's Christ, that Luther developed an entire "theology of the Cross" to explain the paradox of a God who is most present in His very absence. Historical biblical characters (think Abraham, Moses, Solomon, Thomas--the Patron Saint of Doubters--among many others) all lived lives of faith even while doubting.
So what diagnosis would or should a physician of the soul offer concerning Mother Teresa? First, it is important to recall that she did have soul physicians--her confessors and spiritual directors to whom she wrote this now debated letters. Kolodiejchuk produced the book as proof of the faith-filled perseverance that he sees as her most spiritually heroic act." One need not be a Catholic, nor a Catholic apologist, nor even a Mother Teresa backer to acknowledge the psychological, historical, and spiritual realities behind the inner spiritual life of the former Agnes Bojaxhiu (Mother Teresa's birth name).
Personally, rather than taunt her for her torment, I applaud her. More than that, I identify with her. Her candor combined with her tenacious clinging to Christ gives me hope that my doubts are a severe mercy of God designed to harpoon me to His Spirit while the irrepressible tsunami of God's absence batters my soul.
Her clinging faith reminds me once again of the clinging faith of enslaved African American Christians. Nellie, a former slave from Savannah, Georgia sounds like a modern-day Mother Teresa with her startling candor.
"It has been a terrible mystery, to know why the good Lord should so long afflict my people, and keep them in bondage--to be abused, and trampled down, without any rights of their own--with no ray of light in the future. Some of my folks said there wasn't any God, for if there was He wouldn't let white folks do as they have done for so many years".
When her mistress questions her about her faith, a slave known to us only as Polly explains her hope. "We poor creatures have need to believe in God, for if God Almighty will not be good to us some day, why were we born? When I heard of his delivering his people from bondage I know it means the poor Africans."
Mother Teresa's faith was not a case study in self-contradiction. Instead, she placed her faith in Christ rather than placing her faith in her faith. Entrusting her soul to an invisible Savior, the world saw Christ in her even when she could not see Christ in the world.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Soul Physicians, and Spiritual Friends.
For the first time we are able to get a glimpse of the inner workings of her brain and heart. "I am told God lives in me -- and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul," she writes in one of her letters that help shed light into her plight to feel the presence of God. Mother Theresa suffered for her faith. "There is nothing but emptiness and darkness," she declared. They say suffering is needed for Sainthood. She definitely passed that test. Some may find it disappointing that a person as holy as Mother Theresa struggled with her faith. I personally found it rather consoling. It helps me relate during those moments of doubt and questioning.
She might have questioned her faith; she might have felt the emptiness of God's presence, from time to time, but she never questioned her mission to serve and to do God's will. These types of dichotomies abound the entire book. Here is a perfect example: "But when I was eighteen, I decided to leave my home and become a nun, and since then, this forty years, I've never doubted even for a second that I've done the right thing; it was the will of God. It was his Choice."
Although Mother Theresa had asked that these letters, that spanned decades, be destroyed upon her death, they have been published in this book that will inspire millions to live her example of faith; to live her example of sacrifice and to get closer to God. She didn't want her writings to divert attention from Jesus, that's why she wanted them destroyed. The result, however, is quite the opposite.
Many people have made the struggle of her faith the cornerstone of this book. I feel, however, that they have missed so much of the inspiration; the beautiful writing; her poems; her dedication and her beautiful heart.
As an aside note, I really enjoyed the way Mother Theresa ended her letters. Here is one, addressed to Father Michael, which spoke on her desire to be an instrument of Jesus: "I pray for you that you let Jesus use you without consulting you. Do the same for me."
This is a very inspirational book that I will read again, for sure. Enjoy!
and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul."
I wrote this quotation on the white board at the beginning of a recent Sunday School lesson on the Israelites' wilderness wanderings and asked the kids who they thought had written it. Their guesses ranged from Kurt Cobain to Alanis Morissette to Sylvia Plath...people we associate with acute depression or drugs or angry rejections of the world. No one supposed the meek, humble, seemingly always-at-peace saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. This response from my junior and senior highers mirrored the response of Christians all over the world when these private letters and journals of Mother Teresa were made public for the first time a couple months ago.
For those who have not yet seen the book, it offers a remarkably candid and penetrating insight into the depth of Mother Teresa's spiritual life, revealing a surprising and tragic absence of any sense of God's presence or comfort with her for most of the final 50 years of her life. I have found myself reading her letters and diary entries with a mix of voyeuristic curiosity, heartwrenching concern, and a desire to glean wisdom from this luminary of Christian history.
Many times Mother Teresa begged that these papers be destroyed, and I can't blame her for desiring that; I would be mortified if my deepest thoughts and feelings-- intended for myself, for God, or for my closest confidants-- were made public. And there would be an added sense of betrayal, as opposed to, say, posting something on a myspace page that eventually made its way to unintended eyes. Ultimately, the Catholic Church decided that Teresa's own spiritual experience belonged not to herself, but to the Church. And, in spite of feeling like part of the betrayal when I immerse myself in her descriptions of the depths of her soul, I do have to agree that the potential benefits of Mother Teresa's personal writings for the spiritual development of every Christian outweigh other concerns.
Some of the valuable lessons from Mother Teresa's words:
A Deeper Understanding of Spiritual Darkness
"There is no God in me--when the pain of longing is so great--I just long & long for God--and then it is that I feel--He does not want me--He is not there..."
Although the darkness and sense of abandonment that Mother Teresa suffered was, it seems, more profound than that which most of us are likely to experience (corresponding to her unusually high calling), her words will connect powerfully with anyone who has gone through a period of doubt, darkness, or depression, as well as enlightening everyone's understanding of the complexities of such a spiritual state. Too frequently those in the Church rush to interpret spiritual dryness as a sign of spiritual failure or unfaithfulness; indeed, Mother Teresa initially regarded her own feelings of being abandoned by God as resulting from her own sinfulness. But there is not always such a simple, formulaic explanation for these "dark nights of the soul"--would it not seem rather naïve and foolish to conclude from Mother Teresa's spiritual condition that she was not praying enough, or that she wasn't being faithful enough to God's call?
As surprising as the revelation of Mother Teresa's spiritual darkness may seem to us, it is consistent with the Apostle Paul's understanding of the Christian's sharing in Christ's sufferings. But rarely do we accept this suffering as the call of a modern-day Christian--and never do we expect this suffering to include Christ's anguished cry from the cross: "My God--why have you forsaken me?!"
This is not to imply that those in spiritual anguish--Mother Teresa included--are free of sin, but that there is not a set correlation between our faithfulness and the happiness--or even the joy--that we experience.
And yet these feelings of spiritual darkness are often compounded exponentially by feelings of guilt and failure..."I'm not a good enough Christian," "I'm not faithful enough," "It's all my fault that I can't seem to experience the joy of Christ right now."
Mother Teresa reminds us that there is an element of mystery to suffering in this age, that its causes cannot be identified the way we diagnose the roots of lower back pain or of a toothache.
An Extraordinary Model of Faithfulness
"I know there have been things which could have been better, but in all sincerity I have tried to refuse nothing to God to answer His every call."
So often we want to know what God desires of us--so long as that calling does not interfere with the plans we have already made for our life, or draw us into a place where we would feel uncomfortable, or where we would have to give up things or freedoms we are unwilling to surrender. Even things as simple as rearranging our schedules, repairing a relationship, or making small sacrifices in our standard of living we tend to reject as too difficult--as if God were asking us to go evangelize a colony of single-celled organisms on Mars.
Mother Teresa voluntarily spent decades of her life in utter poverty, without even the comfort of God's presence with her--and she did not leave her mission field to seek the limited pleasures and comforts the world could offer, all because she knew that she was doing what Christ (or "the Absent One," as she came to call Him) had called her to do. Her faithfulness--with so few spiritual comforts and supports--is both humbling and inspiring.
A Powerful Witness to Hope
"The joy of loving Jesus comes from the joy of sharing in His sufferings...In all of our lives, as in the life of Jesus, the Resurrection has to come, the joy of Easter has to dawn."
It seems particularly cruel that Mother Teresa's darkness did not ultimately lift before she died in 1997. Even the most famous of the spiritually desiccated, St. John of the Cross, suffered in his similar condition for a mere 40-some years before finally experiencing God's presence again in his final years. How could Mother Teresa love so deeply while feeling so abandoned? How could she keep going for half a century? How could she experience any joy at all? Mother Teresa lived her life in a condition of pure faith and hope, trusting that God's reality was greater than her sensation of His absence, that the hope of resurrection was a concrete certainty, that "the Absent One" would indeed return, as He had promised in the scriptures. Her life defines "hope"...a life built on Christ's promises, and not on her own experiences. Her witness can be heard as a word of hope to all who suffer, have suffered, or will suffer from the agony of Christ's absence--there is a greater reality than what we can perceive, there are mysteries that we cannot comprehend, and there is a hope that transcends our understanding.
Many of the great saints and mystics experienced this dark night and Blessed Mother Teresa was no exception. She has been unfairly criticized by many, especially some media sources. They paint a picture of someone who actually did not believe but simply went through the motions - a kind of faith facade. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read this book and see for yourself what she really experienced and how she managed to overcome her anxieties. The Lord Whom she loved and served saw her through it all until the end.
One has to ask themselves logically why a woman of her age and length of service to humanity years would even go into the areas she did. What drives someone to leave a relatively comfortable life and embark into areas totally foreign to them being subject to all manner of inconvenience and potential dangers? Why would anyone ever 'volunteer' for such work as Mother Teresa chose picking up and carrying maggot-infested people from the gutters and taking them to a shelter, albeit a warehouse she was able to obtain, and clean the maggots from them, give them food and drink, comfort and assurance so they could die with dignity?
Critics abound everywhere and do so from the comfort of their air-conditioned dwellings sipping a latte' and knowing that their next meal is in their grasp. They shower with imported soaps, get facials and manicures...yet, they are able to criticize an elderly Nun who is out in the world remaining free of its attractions so as to see in all men and women the Christ she so loved and served. Dark night's incidentally are actually a sign that God has favored someone. It is a test of sorts and in my judgment and that of millions of others, Blessed Mother Teresa passed that test with flying colors.
Read this book and see for yourself the strength and character that was Mother Teresa.