How often do Christians feel that God has abandoned them or may be nothing more than a fantasy? If these believers are honest with themselves, they have to admit that the temptation for unbelief or feeling abandoned by God is — at times — common to everyone.
In investigating Mother Teresa’s life and its cause for sainthood, the inner, contemplative life of Mother Teresa revealed her humanity and vulnerability. In letters to her spiritual advisers, she wrote of a loneliness and desolation in her relationship with God that began in 1948, soon after she began working with the poorest of the poor and the dying in the streets of Calcutta. This was the precursor to her founding the Missionary Sisters of Charity two years later in 1950. Doubt, loneliness and feelings of abandonment lasted until her death in 1997, and was known only by her spiritual advisers.
Mother Teresa was first a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Loreto where she worked as a teacher in the convent school. She enjoyed her work.
In 1942, at the end of her yearly retreat, Mother Teresa made a vow to give herself “utterly and unreservedly” to Christ — to give God everything that He may ask, not refusing Him anything. On September 10, 1946, while traveling by train from Calcutta to a religious retreat house in another city, Mother Teresa realized that she was being called to serve Jesus in the poorest of the poor. She also received locutions and visions where Jesus asked her to form the Missionaries of Charity and recruit Indian nuns.
Jesus told her the following:“I want Indian nuns, Missionaries of Charity, who would be my fire of love amongst the poor, the sick, the dying, and the little children. . . .” The chief motivation behind the Sisters of Charity was not to engage in social work but — instead — to adore Jesus Christ in the littlest and weakest of His children and to win them to Christ.
Teresa received this call-within-a-call when she was 31 years old.
Shortly after beginning her work as a Sister of Charity, Mother Teresa’s visions and locutions of Jesus stopped, and she entered into the “dark night” of her soul. This, though, runs contrary to how the world perceived her.
Instead, they viewed Mother Teresa as an extraordinary woman with a high religious calling in union with Christ as she extended herself daily to the people in the streets, living among them, caring for their leprosy, and helping them through agonizing deaths. She seemed to exude an uncontainable inner joy. But this was not the case.
Instead, in her letters to her spiritual advisers and counselors, she wrote about her doubts, loneliness and feelings of abandonment by God. She felt that He wasn’t there, that heaven was empty, and expressed strong feelings that her own life amounted to nothing, that God didn’t want her, that God was not really God — that He didn’t exist at all.
In essence, when she began working within her highest calling, she no longer felt an emotional, physical or spiritual connection with the faith that she had dedicated her entire life to.
What makes Mother Teresa truly a candidate for sainthood was the way she responded to her bitter, negative feelings. Instead of running away from her calling and abandoning it, she kept her vow to Jesus. Mother Teresa converted her feelings of abandonment by God to absolute abandonment to God. On the outside, she kept her promise to be an apostle of joy by manifesting optimism, joy and faith to those around her. She stayed true to her vow to Jesus and allowed God to purify and refine her with the dark night of her soul. Mother Teresa always kept smiling.
We can all learn from Mother Teresa’s sufferings. When we feel tempted to give up on God, redirect our lives and escape our difficulties, we can look to Mother Teresa as an example of abandonment to God by faith, instead of by feelings. This is what we have all been called to do. Those of us who carry our crosses daily — even in the midst of doubt and inner turmoil — will reap great rewards in heaven.
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