An additional word regarding yesterday’s post about the trial of dark faith of Mother Teresa.
The kind of trial Mother endured was, in the history of saints, rare both for its intensity and its duration. St. John of the Cross, in the Spiritual Canticle, says that those saints who are chosen by God to effect great things in the Church and the world, and have “many spiritual children,” often receive both spectacular graces and great trials (cf. Isaiah 53; Luke 2:35). With graces and trials complementing each other. This is very much the meaning of what Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “to whom much is given, much will be required” (Luke 12:48).
St. John of the Cross also says that those who endure these darkest of nights are truly to be given the title of “martyrs” as their gift of self — “laying down their life” — is both radical and total. These saints are called in the Jewish tradition the “pillars of the world,” giving us their massive shoulders to stand on. They offer the faithful an amplification of certain truths of faith, realities all of us face, though we may never face them in the dimensions these Pillars did. Unquestionably, Mother was one of these giants.
In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, St. Paul boasted that the Cross marked his life in a way that, he argued, testified eloquently to the authenticity of his apostolic and paternal vocation:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one–I am talking like a madman–with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.
All of us face darkness, trials of faith, desolation, dryness. St. Paul, Mother Teresa, St. Thérèse, St. John of the Cross all show us, by their heroic witness of extreme faith-hope-charity, that nothing we endure in this life, bound to the Cross of Jesus, is without value and meaning and power. Jesus says this to St. Paul: “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). In a world redeemed by Love crucified, nothing that is brought into the ambit of God-and-neighbor love is lost, for love makes all things new. Love descended into Hell, choosing this darkest of prisons as the epicenter of the Big Bang of the new creation. Omnia vincit amor, “Love conquers all.”
Into every darkness, invite Jesus, who bears with Him the triumph of hope.
Mother Teresa gives us the face of a ship’s captain who, in the midst of the nighttime storm, retains her “great faith” (Matt. 8:26) because she knows that even in the darkest tempest Jesus, though asleep, is God-with-us, ready to awaken at our cry and calm the storm with a word of command (Matt. 8:26).
Pope Benedict XVI spoke of this form of sanctity eloquently:
Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too—a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favourable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day—knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, apostle of hope in the night, pray for us. Amen.
I’ll end with a musical rendition of St. John of the Cross’ poem, One Dark Night. He composed it while he was imprisoned in a latrine for 9 months, starved and abused. In that night, he found Christ with Him calling him to union with Himself.