Who shall find a valiant woman? far, and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her (Proverbs 31:10).
St. Bonaventure comments on this passage of Sacred Scripture in the context of his exposition of the Gift of Fortitude, and applies its interpretation to the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She is the valiant or strong woman, who stands at the foot of the cross and is worth the price of Redemption. She bore that price in Bethlehem, offered that price on Calvary and possesses that price now in heaven.
The interesting thing here is that St. Bonaventure uses a woman, the Woman as a matter of fact, as the icon of Courage. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta follows in the Blessed Mother’s footsteps.
The recent flap over Mother Teresa’s private correspondence affords an opportunity to reflect on the nature of faith and its relation to Fortitude or Courage. Was she a hero or a coward? It is a sign of the times that this question is for many anything more than a no brainer.
Christopher Hitchens would have us believe that faith is so patently contrary to reason that a person can only kid themselves for so long until they finally collapse under the weight of the evidence for atheism. Accordingly, Mother’s expressions of temptations to doubt God’s existence, and her feelings of abandonment by God, Hitchens interprets as her descent to closet atheism. Not only was she an atheist, she was intellectually dishonest about it and continued in the charade for the whole world to see until her death .
Interestingly, a talk show host and Baptist pastor by the name of Paul Edwards blogs on the subject of faith versus reason in Mother Teresa’s interior trial and favorably quotes Christopher Hitchens, the atheist!
In spite of his agenda to demonstrate the futility of belief, Hitchens has made an astute observation when he says,
It seems, therefore, that all the things that made Mother Teresa famous—the endless hard toil, the bitter austerity, the ostentatious religious orthodoxy—were only part of an effort to still the misery within.
Edwards asserts that Mother relied on reason instead of faith, on her good works rather than the gift of God, and when her own power to believe betrayed her, she threw herself into her work with even greater gusto–all as a result of her pride and her exlcusive trust in her own powers!
Now I have heard everything. Something is up when an atheist and a Baptist preacher double team a dead nun who did nothing her whole life but help the poor for the love of God.
In an interview, Mother recalled the first time she picked up a dying man and took him home to care for him.
Such a beautiful day . . . to meet Christ face to face in the poor. He was there — the hungry, the sick, the naked Christ — and the thought of Him in this distressing disguise gave me great joy, peace and strength.
The fact that the tiny little woman had the strength to carry the man home is a miracle in itself. This was just the first of thousands of miracles that would take place over then next half century.
Come on guys, have a little humility. Mother Teresa, did not rely on her own strength, nor was she intellectually dishonest. The plain truth is that she manifested the power of God made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
What then of her inner turmoil? It is not incompatible with faith, nor is faith under such circumstances contrary to reason. The proof is in the pudding. No one could sustain the uninterrupted life of heroic charity that belonged to Blessed Mother Teresa apart from the grace of God. Hitchens I can understand, but that a believing Christian would ignore the overwhelming historical evidence of Mother’s heroic charity is stunning. Mother was not a social worker, she was a woman of prayer who was compelled to come to the aid of God’s children.
The Blessed sustained her life of faith and charity in spite of the intense internal suffering and feeling of isolation. Perhaps she was making reparation for those who do not believe, like Christopher Hitchens, or those who scoff at the works of God, like Paul Edwards, or for you and me, who have led lives of ease while so many suffer intense poverty, especially the spiritual poverty of our secularized, godless and unfeeling world.
One thing is for certain, Mother Teresa had the courage to persevere and do the right thing no matter what the obstacle, and to keep her hand to the plow for the love of God, no matter what the cost.
Hitchens has tauted reason over faith to the prejudice of reason itself. We are on the brink of unreason when we can no longer distinguish right from wrong, when we defend sodomy as no different from monogamous heterosexual marriage.
Edwards has abandoned reason and the works of justice that accompany reason elevated by faith, in favor of the most contrived defense of the indefensible. He should take an unprejudiced look at the life of this Saint of charity and the true motivations behind it.
In the end, Benedict XVI ‘s warning to both Islam and the West of their compartmentalizing of faith and reason, respectively, proves to be truly prophetic. In Blessed Mother Teresa we see a right ordering of the natural work the mind elevated to the heavens by the gift of faith.
A honest and reasonable look at Mother Teresa’s life will show that she did what we all know is right. Through the lens of faith, and in the midst of our own trials, we will realize that her perseverance was heroic.
She puts us all to shame.
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Hello Father Angelo,
What’s so disturbing here is that Blessed Mother Teresa’s book that was published is not ALL of her thoughts and words. They are a small fraction of them, I’m sure. And, as many people do when they are feeling confused, they write! She probably wrote more often when she was in turmoil than when she wasn’t. How can anyone judge a person by one set of sentimetns? Besides, even though I haven’t read her memoirs (if that’s what we should call them), in a very odd sort of way, they gave me some peace. At times, I too struggle with my Faith and get confused and feel like I’m in a desert. When I realize that someone as amazing as Blessed Mother Teresa suffered in this way on occasion, I don’t feel so badly! Who am I compared to this woman?
Also, as for the justifcation by Faith, could you explain something to me? I may have worded things incorrectly in the past when I get into these debates with evangelicals, etc. I’ve had evangelicals tell me that Catholics believe that they’re saved by their works … or as Paul Edwards seems to say, saved by our sacraments, etc. I’ve always asked them how do THEY believe they’re saved. They say, “By faith”. Then I say, “You’re right. We don’t agree. We believe we’re saved by God’s grace and it is His grace that gives us the faith. And, if we claim to have this faith, there will be fruit on our trees.” Is this incorrect on my part? I’ve always added that why would priests visit people sentenced to death for a final confession if they weren’t going to have time to do good works after that to save themselves? They wouldn’t bother unless they believed that, like the thief on the cross with Our Lord, they had the chance to be there in paradise that day. Well, I just don’t want to word things incorrectly because there’s enough confusion, sadly, coming from our Church as it is. She doesn’t need me making a bigger mess of things.
As for your dialogue with Paul, those who wanted to hear I think heard. I’m so glad that God is bigger than all of this confusion. Right or wrong, Paul is convicted for Christ’s sake … it’s just too bad he has to slam others to make his view on things listened to.
In Jesus and Mary,
I think your defense of Mother Teresa is as eloquent as they come. Mr. Edwards has had enough of me. He began to delete my comments, though I don’t think they were out of line. Unfortunately, he judged that continued conversation would be fruitless. I am afraid he does not see his own prejudice. Yours is a “theology of the heart.” Perhaps he could benefit from your first paragraph.
Your defense of the Catholic doctrine on faith is correct. The Church does teach that we are justified by faith, but not by faith “alone.” Luther added the “alone.” It is not in scripture. Romans 3:28, for example, juxtaposes faith and observance of the mosaic law, not the integration of our assent to God’s word and our doing the word.
According the Council of Trent, justification and salvation are not identical. Justification is first grace and that is a gift. We are justified by faith, because faith is the beginning of justice.
From our point of view most Protestants misread St. Paul, because they confuse his opposition of faith and the works of the mosaic law, with the gift of faith and our cooperation with it. Unlike Luther, St. Paul was not preoccupied with the issue of a guilty conscience and how one was to resolve the gift of grace with man’s interior weakness. St. Paul was preoccupied with the issue of the Gentiles and whether justice had anything to to do with observance of the mosaic law, and even if justice could be obtained by any kind of “lawfulness.” St. Paul teaches that without the redemptive work of Christ, there is no salvation. Period. However, St. Paul never teaches that faith is simply the acceptance of Christ as our personal Saviour to the exclusion of our grace based cooperation with God.
This is what I tried to point out to Mr. Edwards.