The unfortunate publicity and distortions to the point of calumny that have surrounded the publication of the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light , edited by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., the postulator of her cause, have caused confusion to many and much pain to the Missionaries of Charity and their close friends. One leading newsmagazine even published a long article by Mother Teresa’s most severe and profane critic without any other commentary. The author attempted to psychoanalyze Mother Teresa’s experiences, which is both insulting and absurd. He never knew Mother, never had the chance to observe her behavior or life, and he has no serious training in psychology. As a psychologist who knew Mother Teresa for thirty years, I feel I must make some response to this absurdity and offer some helpful explanations for those who were surprised by the darkness revealed in Mother Teresa’s personal letters.
Although I was not privy to her spiritual darkness, and I never received the kind of letters from her that her spiritual directors received, I was well aware that there was a seriousness, even a somberness, about her. I assumed that this sorrow was occasioned by what happens every day in the world. When there were tragedies, she would talk about them and encourage us to turn trustingly to God to bring good out of evil.
During the thirty years when I knew Mother Teresa well, I never observed anything other than a tremendous faith and charity. Her writings reveal what Saint John of the Cross describes in his Dark Night of the Soul :
[T]he soul not only suffers the void and suspension of these natural supports and apprehensions, which is a terrible anguish (like hanging in midair, unable to breathe), but it is also purged by this contemplation. As fire consumes the tarnish and rust of metal, this contemplation annihilates, empties, and consumes all the affections and imperfect habits the soul contracted throughout its life.
Even in modern times, outstanding mystic souls have been known to suffer intense periods of darkness. St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes :
When I want to rest my heart, wearied by the darkness which surrounds it, by the memory of the luminous country to which I aspire, my torment redoubles; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: "You are dreaming about the light, about a country fragrant with the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these things; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Dream on, dream on; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for, but even deeper night, the night of nothingness!"
It would be wise for the informed reader to take this opportunity to read what the great mystics have said about darkness, particularly of their own experience. Not all pass through this terrible trial, but certainly it is there for many saints who are outstanding mystics. Mother Teresa was such a person.
What many current articles do not mention is that toward the end of her life the darkness lifted. Fr. Brian records the sisters’ observation when Mother Teresa returned to Calcutta shortly before her death: "After her return from Rome [and New York] . . . Mother had been extremely happy, joyful, optimistic, and talkative. Her face was always radiant, full of fun. The Lord must have revealed to her the impending end of her life."
Our readers may find it interesting to know that I personally observed this joyfulness the day before Mother returned to Calcutta. I was asked by her sisters to offer Mass for her. She was so weak that she could not stand, but attended Mass lying on a cot. My confrere Fr. Andrew Apostoli and I were utterly astonished after Mass when she was "bubbly." She laughed and told us with great joy the number of sisters and convents they had throughout the world. Mother never spoke about this before, and she was not doing so in any boastful way. Rather, she was rejoicing "with triumphant exultation" at the great blessings God had been able to grant through the Missionaries of Charity. Many memorable events took place during the thirty years I knew Mother Teresa, but this by far was the most remarkable.
In the midst of all the ill-advised and stupid analyses done of Mother Teresa by her critics, who know little or nothing about the spiritual life, my own conviction, after watching her carefully for three decades, was that Mother Teresa was not only a saint but also a prophetess, pointing the Church in a new and right direction in the difficult and puzzling age that dawns on us. It seems to me that she was like Catherine of Siena, who prepared the Church for the Renaissance, and Teresa of Avila, who pulled the Church out of the doldrums as the turbulence of the Reformation period broke over it. Should we be surprised that a prophetess receives such bad treatment? By no means. There are many examples in Sacred Scripture of exactly the same thing. In fact, Mother Teresa, who sought to emulate Jesus in so many ways, now does it by encountering vicious calumny and detraction.
The wise person, Catholic or non-Catholic, not only disengages himself or herself from this, but also intelligently and with good information stands against the tide.