Unless you are Christopher Hitchens you can find a lot to admire in Blessed Mother Teresa. The new book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light
The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta will only make you admire her all the more.
The book is written by Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. who knew her for 20 years and is the postulator for her cause for sainthood. Fr. Kolodiejchuk has given us a book that will surely be a classic on the spritual life. The book mainly contains letters that Blessed Mother Teresa wrote starting from the period she received her "call within the call" along with private letters from her Bishop, spiritual directors, and quotes from other people. Fr. Kolodiejchuk weaves his own commentary to give us both background and to better understand her writings.
The first third of her book deals with correspondence that originate from when she first heard her new call riding a train to Darjeeling on the way to make a retreat in 1946 to when she was allowed to carry out her call on Dec 21, 1950. The book reveals much more about her original call and what Jesus was asking of her than has been previously released. We also get information on a private vow she had made prior to this new call that informed much of how she responded. The media has reported in connection with this correspondence and how she had requested that her letter be destroyed. Much has been made of this in a negative connection, but the reality is that she wanted hidden her original call from Jesus since she always wanted the Missionary of Charity to be about God’s work and not her own. During this time she was thoroughly tested both by her spiritual director and her bishop and in all things she was totally obedient. Her letters show a "holy impatience" to get started prompted by Jesus asking her originally "wilt though refuse?" During this period she wrote many letters to her bishop begging him to let her go. Her bishop though acted quite properly in making sure that her call was God’s will until he was quite confident that this was so. Her pleading letters are quite beautiful and give you a real insight in how she would totally give of herself to save just one soul.
One thing that really came out in this book is the role of the various spiritual directors in her life. She was truly blessed in having good and holy spiritual directors that guided her in the spiritual life. This has been certainly true throughout history, but it is rare that we give the spiritual directors their due such as in the case of Saint Claude de la Colombière who was Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque spiritual director and of course St. John of the Cross who gave such excellent spiritual direction to Saint Teresa of Avila.
She had been with the The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Loreto Sisters) for 19 years when she heard her new call and the letters reveal how happy she had been with them and how difficult it was to leave them when she went to the slums. From her spiritual director we learn that she was already in a high degree of union with Jesus in her prayer life while still with the Loreto Sisters and we learn of a new spiritual journey after she leaves them. The second major part of the book deals with the aspects that have been so played up in the media regarding her spiritual darkness. Through John of the Cross the Dark Night of the Soul has been thoroughly detailed of the time of spiritual dryness and feeling of total absence of God where prayers and spiritual reading have no effects. The extent of Blessed Mother Teresa’s dark night though is rather extensive since it deals with close to fifty years of her life with the Missionaries of Charity. Her letters reveal the depth of her hidden suffering where she could not feel God’s presence at all and they also show the depth of what became blind faith in Jesus and her truly inspiring love in the face of total darkness. The media is scandalized by this because they can not imagine acting on something that was not solidly built on feelings. They think it is hypocrisy to smile and radiate joy while at the same time to be so empty. Though to be fair this was also a worry of Mother Teresa that her spiritual directors ably handled for her. Her darkness was only relieved for about a month of time after ten years in her new call where she was given extraordinary graces and once again felt the presence of Christ as she had done before. Her darkness is often alluded to in her letters to her spiritual directors and to her bishop and she hid nothing of her spiritual life. Though because of the good advice she was given she was eventually able to embrace and to love her darkness and had even written that if she ever became a saint that she would be a saint of darkness. Her letters really give you an amazing peek into this darkness and her response to it that can do nothing but make you love her all the more. Her absolute love for Jesus, especially in the Eucharist, and her love for each individual she came in contact with certainly made me feel that yet I have put no trust in Jesus or responded as I should. Her words can certainly make you reevaluate everything about your prayer life in how to respond despite your circumstances.
The last part of the book deals with her latter years before her death and while the subject of her darkness still appears but her concerns are mostly about the problems of continuing pouring herself out and the other demands made on her time due to her celebrity. Her celebrity and public speaking were truly crosses to her and she did them out of obedience and not out of any desire to bask in the limelight. Her prolonged darkness makes you wonder about God’s motives in giving her such a prolonged dark night. Though in God’s plan we can see how this might have strengthened her humility and made her immune to the problems of celebrity so that for her everything was God’s work. This was one of her major concerns that her weakness as she saw it would get into the way of God’s work. In reality she didn’t just see herself as a pencil in God’s hand, mostly she only saw God’s hand. This aspect of her really shines throughout the whole book. The main part of the book before the appendices runs 340 pages that really puts flesh onto her life.
I had an appreciation for Blessed Mother Teresa before reading this book, but not a devotion towards her. This book has totally changed my idea of her from a much shallower (though positive) understanding of her and I will be certainly spending much more time asking this "Saint of darkness" for intercessory prayers. I consider this a "must read" book and one that will be valuable for everyone.