Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bl Teresa of Calcutta

Saints are funny people. What do you do with them? Do you read of their lives in admiration? Do you borrow saints without thinking about the Catholic Church, which gave birth to them? St Francis of Assisi has always been a favorite saint of mine, as a Protestant and a Catholic. "Make me an instrument ..." - what a prayer. And I love that he is always portrayed, in statuary and pictures, as if even the animals recognized his holiness and responded to his love for them and for all creatures. Thomas à Kempis (though not canonized a saint) and St Thomas More were minor heroes for me as well. À Kempis, of course, for The Imitation of Christ and More mostly because of an agnostic's portrayal of him in a modern play, A Man for All Seasons. (Robert Bolt also wrote the screenplay of one of my favorite movies, The Mission.) As a Protestant I also loved St Augustine for his Confessions.
     The saints of the Catholic Church are phenomenal individuals, though some of them are quite funny and strange, and some even folkloric and ridiculous. But all of them gave themselves to God wholly. St Joseph of Cupertino is talked about as not being particularly bright, but would be given to moments of levity. Literally. And as he rose off the ground, he was always taken by surprise - evidenced by the expression on his face. I love that picture, a dumb and lovable saint with saucered eyes floating a few inches off the ground. Many people today dismiss St Catherine of Siena as a troubled woman with an eating disorder, but she exhorted and chided popes, and they listened.
     Some saints we find easy to dismiss or dispute. Some are more difficult.
     Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed Teresa, is a modern saint (certainly the canonization process is not yet finished, but it seems inevitable) who is difficult to dismiss, though certainly often disputed. Never more often discussed, derided, or damned, than now, with the disclosing of many of her personal letters that describe the deep, felt darkness of her later life.
     It disturbs me at some of the reactions I've read concerning these "new" revelations of her inner struggle. Some people have found their fodder. Though, honestly, these are simply the same people who dismissed and despised and pitied her before. I suppose it's easy to reason that our faith is better, righter than someone else's. And, if you do not agree with Catholic theology, then how do you solve a problem like Teresa? If you say she was a saint, godly, then you kind of have to admit something about Catholicism, even if it's that there can be Christians in a heretical Church. Or there's the simpler way - condemning her because of her faith and chalking up her life to the fruit of fear.
     At the Evangelical college I attended, one of the head residents had a picture of Mother Teresa on her wall with the Matthean verse, "Come unto me all you who are burdened and heavy-ladened and I will give you rest." A nice poke in the eye. Unfortunately, and I say this to my shame, I felt the same for some years.
     Ironically, her darkness provides excellent food for discussion among hard-core fundamentalists as well as Catholics. The hard-core fundamentalists think it supports the opinions they've held about Teresa for years - she didn't feel Jesus' presence because she didn't know Him, she didn't have Him. And the Catholics think it supports their opinion that she was a saint because the saints often suffer deeply with Christ.
     Certainly there's a lot of middle ground. Many Protestants understand her as a lover of Christ as well. And my hats off to you, because it was difficult for me to see it at times, more concerned with my theology than my family.
     But how her dark night appears to others wasn't our Lord's great concern (not that He will not use it as a witness for Himself). Rather, her darkness was given to her for her justification, her sanctification. It was given to her because she wished to embrace Jesus, and she embraced Him in his suffering - such severe suffering experienced by so many who are marginalized and poor and diseased. And, eventually, she learned to love the darkness, knowing that in it she was with Jesus, crucified. And Jesus was kissing her.


paul said...

Beautifully said, Scott.

Frankly, anyone who cannot see that Mother Teresa was a mighty laborer for Jesus through her ministering to the world's most downtrodden, is blind (or blinded by agenda).

Her admitted darkness or struggles only further testify to her honesty and humanity.

Christ's invitation is both to rest & also to pick up our crosses. I suspect Teresa fully experienced both.

Scott Lyons said...

Thanks, Paul. I agree.

I continue reading people on this subject and it intrigues me how much Teresa fascinates Christians - whether they see her as a sister or not - and indeed the entire world.