Sinner & Saint: Mother Teresa’s Doubt

Yesterday, the Vatican declared Mother Teresa a saint. The “saint of the gutters” and founder of the Missionaries of Charity received this honor less than twenty years after her death through an expedited process facilitated by the Church. While the notorious nun is not without controversy (with Christopher Hitchens famously calling her a fraud), her legacy clearly left a mark on the world and continues to inspire many. Despite the accusations that she did not truly help those in need, St. Teresa remains one of religion’s most beloved and revered figures.

Even though her charity work is her most enduring legacy, it is the 2007 book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light that sticks with me. In it are letters she wrote to her spiritual mentors in which she shared her doubts, fears, and insecurities. When discussing the possibility of sainthood she said, “If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of ‘darkness,'” she wrote. “I will continually be absent from Heaven—to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth.” This is not the sort of statement people expect from a saint.

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It was after she claimed to hear the voice of God that St. Teresa had periods of intense loneliness and abandonment that she referred to as the “darkness.” She wrote extensively about this feeling, and claimed that she did not feel God inside of her, but a blank soul instead. As someone who also struggles with periods of sadness, despair, and loneliness, I am inspired by her ability and willingness to not just carry on, but use these feelings to gain empathy for others.

A 16th-century priest called these depressive feelings a “dark night” that many saints experience for a period of their lives. I would argue most people have a “dark night” at some point. Nearly everyone I know has grappled with doubt, bitterness, and desperation in their lives. What a world it would be if we used this very human experience to help heal the wounds (physical and otherwise) of others.

Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith is evidence that even the most faithful among us have times (and in her case, decades) when we have internal difficulties. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, we can all be inspired by her ability to press on despite feelings of sadness and doubt.

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