I wanted to take a moment to return to my Sunday post on “deification” that used Mother Teresa as an example of the divine “love in the gutter” that is, for Christians, God’s highest revelation of the self-emptying nature of His love for fallen man.
My desire to return to this again comes from my own personal wonder and awe before Mother’s witness to the will to love God and others in a manner devoid of the “cash value” that comes to us in the form of a psychologically pleasurable awareness of God’s nearness and love. The revelation of Mother’s personal crisis of dark faith in the publication of Come Be My Light made it eminently clear that Mother had engaged in a “great exchange” that marks the divine economy of salvation: I surrender my possession of some good so that another might receive that good. As St. Paul wonderfully words this economic logic,
For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:6)
Though few Christians seem to be called to the extreme dereliction that Mother was called to, the core insight that underlies her internal passion is applicable to all who have been plunged into Christ’s paschal baptism: all I have is for others, and when suffering (which is the form that dispossession of the good takes in this life) comes my way, I choose for love’s sake to offer those same goods, torn from my grasping hands in suffering, to others for their good. You might say that Mother freely embraced the hopelessness and despair of those she served who, through no choice of their own, lived in hopelessness and despair so that they might know hope and despair. O marvelous exchange.
The witness of these saintly giants — these mystics of faith’s dark night — shines as a blazing light of fiery love for those who stumble beneath the shadows cast variously over each man and woman. Her face, for me, is like the face of the captain of a storm-ravaged ship whose defiantly serene countenance refuses to reveal his inner storm so that the ship’s timorous crew might not fear. And her face could only be thus because she, in turn, beheld His.
The Other Teresa
Interesting to note that St. Therese, Mother’s namesake, also tasted this darkness for the last year and a half of her 24 years. She was convinced that God allowed her to eat the “bread of pain” that “atheists” eat, and to dine at the “table full of bitterness where these poor sinners eat” so that her faithful and loving endurance of their despairing darkness might serve as a “remedy of mercy” and win them the grace of conversation. Again, in the words of St. Paul,
We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:8-12)
Let me leave you with these words of Mother from Come Be My Light, and as you read them and recall any good you have personally received from Mother’s life, love and witness, give thanks to God for her selfless self-offering with Christ for you:
There is so much deep contradiction in my soul. Such deep longing for God – so deep that it is painful – a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. Souls hold no attraction – Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me and yet this torturing longing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything. For I am only His – so He has every right over me. I am perfectly happy to be nobody even to God. . . .