Bound to the Destitute

Gethsemane at night. amazonaws.com/

Who wrote this?

Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me? The Child of your Love–and now become as the most hated one–the one–You have thrown away as unwanted–unloved. I call, I cling, I want–and there is no one to answer–no one to whom I can cling–no, No One–Alone … Where is my Faith–even deep down right in there is nothing, but emptiness and darkness–My God–how painful is this unknown pain–I have no Faith–I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart–and make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them–because of the blasphemy–If there be God –please forgive me–When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven–there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.–I am told God loves me–and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

Whenever I read this text aloud in classes, workshops or retreats, rarely does anyone guess that this was written by the now canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, during the many years she endured what has been called her “dark night of faith.” It’s absolutely stunning, and seems to betray the woman of smiles whose bold spirit, profound aphorisms and tireless service to the poorest of the poor captured the world’s attention for decades. When I first read the collection of her private letters, I had to catch my breath. But, having been a student of St. John of the Cross, mystic of the dark night, as well as of St Thérèse of Lisieux, I began to connect the dots. In fact, after reading these words from Mother I immediately searched for a quote from Thérèse I’d come across years before that sounded very much like Mother’s lament.

Thérèse:

I get tired of the darkness all around me. The darkness itself seems to borrow, from the sinners who live in it, the gift of speech. I hear its mocking accents: ‘It’s all a dream, this talk of a heavenly country, of a God who made it all, who is to be your possession in eternity! All right, go on longing for death! But death will make nonsense of your hopes; it will only mean a night darker than ever, the night of mere non-existence!’ … For love of you, my God, I will sit at that table of bitterness where poor sinners take their food, and I will not stir from it until you give the sign. I am willing to remain there alone to eat the bread of tears, until it shall please you to bring me to your Kingdom of Light.

That last line was, for me, the key that unlocked the mystery of this darkness both women suffered.

When I served back in 1991 at the Gift of Peace home and hospice for homeless men and women infected with HIV-AIDS, one of the Missionary of Charity Sisters spoke to me of Mother’s vision for their life of vowed poverty. I wrote down her insight that night in my journal:

…Sister told me, “Mother reminds us that we freely vow poverty to share in the poverty of Jesus, who shared in the poverty of the world’s poor whom we serve. Most of these poor live in poverty and despair for reasons beyond their control. Charity commands us to share their lot as much as we can, like Jesus.”

This made me think of a passage in St. Paul: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). I’ve never really thought of this passage as a paradigm for Christian life, how it shapes the way I think about my own life and faith as a call to such radical solidarity. I am a child of my culture, placing autonomy over communion.

Sister also said to me, “We choose to live our life very near to the poorest of the poor, the lonely, the destitute, to lighten their burdens and so they see we are not above them, but with them. This is the Christian way. Not God above us, but God with us. Jesus. Our poverty, Mother says, is a lifelong fast that gathers up food to offer to the hungry and drink to give to the thirsty. Not just material food and drink, but the food of love, companionship, friendship, joy, hope. It is truly heaven — isn’t it? — when none hungers or thirsts, because all share all with all? We must give the poor a taste of heaven, now, like the disciples did in the church of the apostles.”

She was referring to this striking passage in Acts: “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need” (Acts 4:34-35).

These Sisters, Missionaries of Charity, are living signs in the church of this apostolic exaltation of the common good; of the vocation of each disciple of Jesus to be a Simon of Cyrene, called to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). “You received without paying, give without pay” (Matt. 10:8).

The same logic Sister applied to her evangelical vow of poverty — the logic of divine charity — applies to Mother’s experience of darkness and abandonment. In her vow to serve the poorest of the poor, she bound herself to their terrible lot, leaving to God the implications of that binding. She chose to shoulder the destitution of the poor, and God received her Yes as consent to make of her life a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1ff). This is the “logic of exchange” that burns deep in the heart of Christ’s sacrificial offering on Golgotha. And, so, those of us who, through Baptism, have been bound to the cross of Christ also partake in this marvelous exchange. “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

How great is the folly of God who, in Christ, has chosen to overthrow the kingdom of darkness by turning Hell’s dark arts into the very weapons wielded by the Children of Light.

Mother said of herself in one of her letters,

I have begun to love my darkness,
for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part,
of Jesus’ darkness and pain on the earth.
If I ever become a saint—I will surely be one of darkness.

Surely she is that. Deo gratias.

Grant me the grace, O Father of the poor, to see in my burdens, bound to your Son’s cross by the eternal Spirit, a mysterious offering that can lighten another’s burden. Such a lovely providence, my God! Only in heaven will I come to know the joy my small offerings brought to others’ lives, as well as the joy others’ offerings have brought into my own. Oh the beauty of your Christ’s Body! May it be so now, dear Father, and into the day of our eternity. Amen.

14 comments on “Bound to the Destitute

  1. Nos says:

    HEAVENLY FATHER, grant us all this grace, and let us not judge the priest and the levite for we know not what was in their hearts that day,that we be as giving as the Samaritan was that day to all ,not just those we perceive to be in need… dearest Thomas thank you so so much for r e minding me of all the blessings and good Samaritans in my life…all our love to all the Neals H.A.K’es…P.B.W.Y.A.A

  2. Jennifer says:

    Wow! This strangely both terrifies me but also deeply, deeply, encourages me. Mother’s quote about coming to love the darkness, plus your prayer begging the grace to make see some redemptive purpose for this suffering makes a mountain of a difference -the light in the darkness. But until then… the despondence of stark doubt without such a glimmer? That would be… I don’t know the word… Crippling? Annihilating? Gut-shredding agony?

    Lord, you are good. Jesus I trust in you.

  3. Jennifer says:

    Wait, what comment where? I;m so confused. Well, anyway, glad you were prompted to write this. This is one of those stick-to-the-rib posts. 🙂

    • This comment:
      Jennifer commented on Bound to the Destitute

      Wow! This strangely both terrifies me but also deeply, deeply, encourages me. Mother’s quote about coming to love the darkness, plus your prayer begging the grace to make see some redemptive purpose for this suffering makes a mountain of a difference -the light in the darkness. But until then… the despondence of stark doubt without such a glimmer? That would be… I don’t know the word… Crippling? Annihilating? Gut-shredding agony?

      Lord, you are good. Jesus I trust in you.
      🙂

      • Jennifer says:

        How can my reply to your comment inspire you to write the post that I commented on? This makes no sense? Well, Ill have to leave this discussion for the Twilight Zone today as I have kids to teach 😉

  4. Jennifer says:

    oh wait, I get it… there’s a new post for today. I hadn’t seen it yet. lol

  5. Nos says:

    chuckle !!!!!!!CHUCKLE ” small scale” these two are American comedic treasures… I laughed so hard I lost consciousness, had to revived by
    shoeless joe Jackson… just kidding kiddo Thomas oh my how hilarious… seriously I watched the video alone then went out to the living room and asked my wife,”who would you consider the funnious comedy duo??????? without missing a beat she say s who’s on first A. & C. I started laughing all over again… thank you thank you thank you. Keep emma coming oh sage of the south!!!!!!!’

    • Jennifer says:

      For sure… Who’s on first is much more hilarious than a chuckle… I didn’t get to watch the video this morning, I just saw what it was…And yes, we are familiar with a and c up here in the hinterlands. I was chuckling at the zaniness of the misunderstanding I had over what Tom was saying. I was starting to think I was dreaming…

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