The Marian Dimension of Mother Teresa’s Dark Night

Not so long ago, with the publication of Blessed Mother Teresa’s letters to her spiritual director much misinformation was disseminated about her “dark night,” namely, that is Mother had lost her faith. The arch-atheist, Christopher Hitchen’s and other anti-Catholic enthusiasts were quick to vilify this holy woman, whose trial should be a source of edification.

Recently Zenit interviewed Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford, cofounder with Mother Teresa of her community of priests, the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, about his new book Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady.

Blessed Teresa, like Our Lady, took the road to Jerusalem in obedience to Jesus: Unless you pick up your cross and carry it, you cannot be my disciple. Perseverance in the dark night of faith is spiritual chivalry, spiritual prowess and largess, and in the case of Mother Teresa, it is an extension of the Marian Way of Beauty.

One cannot argue with likes of a blasphemer like Hitchens. In an debate between him and Bill Donahue of the Catholic League he referred to the faith-based defense of Mother as “white noise.” All we can do is say to Hitchens is “come and see.” His only hope is the Way of Beauty . . . and of course, prayer and fasting. Here is an excerpt of the Zenit interview with Father Langford:

Q: What did you learn about the Blessed Mother from Mother Teresa?

Father Langford: The book is a compendium of what I learned of Our Lady over the years, from watching and listening to this Saint of the Gutters. It is a simple apologia for Our Lady’s role, wrapped not in polemics, but in the humble sari of one of the gospel’s most credible and approachable witnesses.

It is impossible to observe Mother Teresa’s faith without being reminded of the faith of Our Lady. Though her darkness bore other names and other dimensions, Mary of Nazareth lived her own night of faith.

Consider Joseph’s months of doubt; finding no room in Bethlehem; the flight into Egypt; the years of Jesus’ absence from Nazareth; the hours of his agony on the cross; and her own agony as he lie in the grave. From these came the lessons of faith she shared with a young Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa’s own life, and her sense of the role of the Mother of God, was that of “an ongoing Visitation,” a “going in haste” to bring God to others. This Marian vision was based on Mother Teresa’s own experience, but also firmly rooted in scripture.

The Gospel account of the Visitation in the first chapter of Luke shows obvious echoes of the “visitation” made by the Ark of the Covenant to David, also “in the hill country of Judea.” No one disputes that the Ark carried a special anointing of grace and divine presence, that it was itself a “theotokos” (“God-bearer”), though only made of wood.

Can God not do the same and more, in a latter Testament, with a new and better Ark? Are we scandalized that God can make of flesh what once was? Or has our generation understood “neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”

In the end, Mother Teresa would not be one to argue, but simply to say of this Marian mystery, as she so often did of the mystery of Christ hidden in the poor: “Come and see.”


13 thoughts on “The Marian Dimension of Mother Teresa’s Dark Night

  1. Wow … this blog has been busy while I’ve been away. 🙂 I am really hoping to one day read Father Langford’s book on Blessed Mother Teresa. Right now, I’m in the middle of atleast 5 books … no exaggeration! sigh. But, there’s been a side of me that is reluctant to read this book. One reason is that she requested that these notes and dialogues be destroyed so by reading them, I would feel like I was betraying her request in some way. Maybe I’ve misunderstood something here. But, there’s another reason. I’m curious as to whether one can see her hope and her conviction through her darkness … otherwise, I fear I may be shaken.

    When I think of this great woman, I cannot imagine sacrificing all she did and suffering all those years without a deep and profound knowledge of Our Lord. In my own times of darkness, I usually hear St. Peter say, “To whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.” Then through my confusion, lack of understanding and lack of *feeling* His constant presence, I somehow know that there is nowhere else for me to turn and no one else to whom to turn and I must somehow keep plugging along. I cannot bail out for there really is nowhere else .. down deep, I know the truth even if I cannot wrap my brain around it. Blessed Mother Teresa clearly had a far better understanding of this than I otherwise how on earth could she have continued as she did? Truly, it was beyond human comprehension and nothing else makes sense. This is what disturbs so many of the “Hitchenses” of the world. Down deep, Blessed Mother Teresa’s almost supernatural strength, influence and wisdom scares them to their very core. How can it not?

    We all want to believe that she was at great peace at all times and had this constant and conscious awareness of Our Lord … but I fear that this was OUR mistake. We built her up to be more than human and this is never fair to do to our religious. Now we must step back and rethink this … we must realize that she was every bit human and had all the dark nights, longings and confusion and yet, in spite of them, she remained utterly faithful and obedient and allowed God to do amazing things through her. She should humble us all.

  2. I had a smidge more time this evening to check out some of the above links. I looked at that ‘Edwards’ link and noticed that he’s at it again with our Pope now. How very sad. If he’s so convinced of our ‘error’ and his ‘righteousness’, why on earth does he waste so much precious time bashing us? sigh.

  3. Mother Teresa did many corporeal works of mercy, and she deserves praise for those works. However, why do those works instantly translate into her having an authentic “dark night of the soul?” Some may reply, “She was also a Catholic.” It is true that she professed many Catholic beliefs but it takes more than the profession of many Catholic beliefs and the performance of the corporeal works of mercy for a dark night of the soul to take place.

    Mother Teresa’s “dark night” is based on the presupposition that she was holy. Therefore, her “dark night” is interpreted as a true sanctifying dark night of a Saint. But is that truly the case? Is her life being interpreted correctly? Mother Teresa said, “There is so much contradiction in my soul” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, 169). Perhaps, it was this kind of contradiction to which she was referring, “There are millions who live in Indian cities and villages in ignorance of God and of Christ, in abominable sinfulness. We shall bring them to Christ and Christ to them” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, 116). But then said taught, “We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men—simply better—we will be satisfied” (Mother Teresa: Life in the Spirit, 81). She wanted to preach, “The Kingdom must be preached to all” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, 133). But the kingdom she preached was, “I convert you to be a better Hindu, a better Catholic, Muslim, Jain, or Buddhist” (Mother Teresa: Saint of the Poor, 38–39).

    If St. Francis, St. Claire, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, etc., read Mother Teresa’s words in the last paragraph, it is safe to say they would not conclude that her words were the words of a Saint who experienced the dark night of the soul. It is also safe to say that Mother Teresa’s words are not the “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye” (Jn. 2:5) of Our Lady.

    I believe the common presupposition of Mother Teresa’s “dark night” must give way to a new interpretation of her person. I am sorry for any pain my words and the information I am presenting may be causing some readers. I will leave you with this consolation. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “the lover is not satisfied with a superficial apprehension of the beloved, but strives to gain an intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to the beloved, so as to penetrate into his very soul” (Summ. Theol., la. 2ae., q. 28, a. 2). Accordingly, anyone who loves Mother Teresa cannot desire to represent her other than who she really was. Take all Mother Teresa’s words before the Blessed Sacrament and ask Our Lord if her words are the words of a Saint who experienced the dark night of the soul.

    Pax et Bonum,
    Mark M Zima

  4. Mark,

    I am sorry for any pain my words and the information I am presenting may be causing some readers.

    I do not find your words painful, and I should hope that others do not. I am sorry that you, a Catholic, have chosen a public forum like this to express your opinions contrary to the teaching of the Holy Father.

    I trust Holy Mother Church and her beatification process. That you should defame someone like Mother Teresa, publicly for all to see, and assert your opinions, however astute, in contradiction to a declared beatification is both scandalous and presumptuous. I will not have it here. Period.

    The lives of the servants of God whose causes have been introduced for canonization are scrutinized by a “devils advocate,” as you well know, and Mother Teresa’s words would not have been the first to pose theological difficulties which were eventually resolved, leading the way to beatification and then canonization. That you should present rogue opinions to the faithful in the pews contrary to the teaching of the Holy Father is presumptuous to the point of ridiculousness.

    I am not going to argue this with you. Even if there were a basis for your contention, which I do not for a second grant, then responsible, humble and qualified theologians whose consciences were so convicted should, according to the proper domain of their mandate, discuss this within scholarly and magisterial circles; however, for an armchair theologian as yourself to write such things, either in a book or a blog, and discuss them as though an authentic Catholic life could be based on such arrogance is irresponsible and reprehensible.

    I will say the same thing to you that I would say to a Modernist: if you think you know better than the Pope and are willing to declare it publicly, even to those who are even less qualified to make theological distinctions than yourself, then perhaps you are not ready live as a Catholic.

    I have much sympathy for Traditional Catholics who have suffered and continue to suffer by the neglect of fathers within the Church, but that is not an excuse to create more dysfunction within the family. I suspect your position on Mother Teresa is just a small part of a larger hermeneutic of discontinuity. (Full disclosure: Mark and I know something about each other’s theological inclinations as we have met and spoken before).

    I sympathize with those who struggle interiorly to remain within the Bark of Peter and who express their spiritual needs respectfully. But I have no respect and will show none for this kind of scandal.

    Take it somewhere else.

    I am sorry that you have brought it to this. I could not respond to your public and presumably learned comments in any other way.

  5. Mark,

    I hesitate to say more on this since Father Angelo addressed it very authoritatively. But, I will say this (as not even CLOSE to being able to be called an armchair theologian): First of all, we cannot even begin to try and make a judgment on a person by some of his/her writings! They are a mere subset of the person! Clearly, there are MANY people who have met and worked with Blessed Mother Teresa who are able to connect the dots … yes, her writings imho are just dots! Without help to make the connections, it’s easy for someone like yourself to connect the dots incorrectly! As for your struggle with what you feel is a conflict of will in Mother … i.e. you feel that one minute she claims to want to convert and the other minute she only hopes to make these people better people. I think you are taking a very superficial look at this and it’s tragic. Excuse me for my poor memory, but I recall a saint who once stated that we must always preach the gospel and when absolutely necessary, we can use words! So, Blessed Mother Teresa to me is the IDEAL of one who preached the gospel with few words. She was there to SERVE and to LOVE!!! Were she to be too pushy and too wordy with her Faith, they would have rejected her help and therefore would have perished. She knew this. She gave a reason for her belief when asked, otherwise, from what I can see of her, she allowed them to see Jesus through her! (Even if they didn’t know that Jesus was whom they were seeing!) Gosh … we should all learn from her. If this isn’t sainthood then what IS??? I, for one, would love to be able to shut my mouth a little more often to let Christ shine through me WITHOUT my pigheadedness clouding people’s vision. She was so gentle in one breath and yet so very bold in the next. She was quiet when she needed to be and vocal when she had to be. I would trust our Holy See in this process … they’re not in the business of canonizing anyone who is unworthy. They know far more about Mother Teresa than you or I.

  6. Neither criticism of Mark Zima’s commentary on Mother Teresa listed above address the issue. That is, depite the many good works and inspiring words of Mother Teresa, there is public record of works and words of Mother Teresa which contradict her teaching and living of the Catholic Faith. Mother Teresa is not cannonized, but beatified. Beatification can be reversed, and Mark’s book, Mother Teresa: The Case For the Cause provides both the Congregation For The Cause and the public valuble information which must be intellectually resolved in the light of criteria for sanctification. Emotional response just does not cut it. Critics of Mark Zima’s book would do well to read the book, and then respond with critical argument. Dr. Marian Horvat has done an excellent review of Mother Teresa: The Case For the Cause.

  7. alice,

    I had no idea he wrote a book thus I did not read it and cannot address it. Quite frankly, I’m not interested in his opinion. who is he, anyway?? I think I’ll wait and see what the authorities decide on this. Anyone who tries to second guess the authorities, imho, has a possible ego problem to contend with! (sorry) Unless this man has worked with Blessed Mother Teresa for years, talked with her extensively, and is intimate with her writings as well as with her thoughts around the writings, then … ????? The priest who wrote this, who does have this seat of being intimate with her writings and thoughts, did not come to Mark’s conclusion. Hmmm. Mark’s words, therefore, become slanderous, quite honestly. Be careful. I’m sure Mark means well but I believe he’s placing himself where he does not belong. Father Peyton said, “The proud man stands upon a pillar but so does the humble. The porud person poised on the pillar of inordinate self-esteem; the humble upon Christ. Proud people will never climb down the pillar of self; egotism hugs the heights; they must be toppled off. And when they fall, they realize how shaky the ground under the pillar of pride. But humbled souls need not climb the pillar; Christ will lift them up. Christ was set for the fall; He is set for the rise as well. ” I believe Mark is setting himself up to heights at which he does not belong.

    Cannonized sainthood, as far as I can tell, is not for debate of the average Joe-shmo. We are to be obedient and humble and trusting of the leaders of our Church to make a proper decision. No? Small talk about it is just slanderous, as I said before.


  8. Alice,

    I have regularly argued on this blog with all sorts of people from Protestants, to Freemasons to homosexuals and have always defended the Church. My argument here is an intellectual one, not an emotional one as you suggest. I choose not to address the issue directly raised by Mark, because he indirectly raises a more important one. If I could resolve this more important issue as Mark and yourself apparently have, then I would be willing to argue with both of you the question of the sanctity of Blessed Mother Teresa. It is not possible for me to resolve the first question as Mark and yourself have and therefore I will not debate the sanctity of Mother Teresa.

    This more fundamental issue is the public rejection of the beatification of Mother Teresa and the public questioning, nay more, the excoriation of the Holy Father, whether explicit or otherwise. I am well aware of St. Thomas Aquinas’ position on the correction of a prelate, and of the arguments used by some Traditionalists based on the behavior of St. Paul toward St. Peter, when the latter dissimulated on the question of the obligation of Judaic Law relative to the Jewish converts to Christianity. Quite frankly, neither Mark, Mrs. Horvat, nor yourself, nor myself for that matter, are St. Paul. To make the comparison is laughable.

    Traditionalists will often reference Padre Pio and his defense of Tradition, especially the Mass, but one thing Padre Pio would never do was to presume to be in a position to publicly correct the Holy Father. He was more than harsh to those who spoke against the Church or his superiors in religion.

    Quite frankly, that any of us little ones would presume to stand in judgment of Mother Teresa when she has been so embraced by Holy Mother Church is more than preposterous. Words fail me. . . but I will try. You speak about the goodness of the Blessed thus:

    despite the many good works and inspiring words of Mother Teresa, there is public record. . .

    I cannot begin to describe how arrogant and presumptuous that sounds coming from someone who professes to be a devout Catholic. This is a matter of defending the honor of one of the holiest women that our age has known.

    The only thing I can conclude is that Mother Teresa must appear as an icon of the Post-Conciliar Church and has some symbolic significance for those who take exception with the living magisterium on much more fundamental grounds.

    As I said before, If someone qualified had a conscientious problem and submitted it in the proper forum, then that would be one thing. But for amateurs who profess to be Catholic to be rabble rousing and hocking a book in the process against the Holy Father and a Blessed of the Church is beyond anything I can consider respectable.

    There are all kinds of intellectual arguments that can be marshaled against the faith which the average Catholic in the pews will not be able to defend against. That anyone one should be suggesting to such people that they should trust a rebellious spirit rather than the visible head of the Church is irresponsible.

    A blog is a good place for debate, but I will not dignify Mark’s explicit argument with a reply, because the result will be the scandal of the faithful. I did not ask for these comments, and surely Mark realized he was opening a can of worms. Of all the things to focus an intellectual polemic on when so many issues plague our Church!? It is mind boggling.

    Peddle this stuff some place else. Thank you.

  9. I believe a good and healthy debate on issues in the Church really does clarify points of concern for us all. I also realize that if the topics we are discussing are people we respect or beliefs we hold near and dear it is very difficult to be detached. When someone comes along and questions our beliefs or what appears to slander someone we love the first response we initiate back to such person, most of the time, is to attack the person. I have tired very hard over the years to not do this to fellow questioning Catholics and non Catholics alike. This has been very hard over the past many years due to the recent and very public mistakes of our prelates in the Church.
    I would suggest those individuals attacking Mark Zima and you might not mean to do this but your words on this site are oozing of hatred so please just stop.

    I have read Mark’s book on Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa has been a woman that I have respected for years for her work with the poor but trying to be objective I also read her writings which I really had concern on how authenticly Catholic they were compared with Church teachings. Mr. Zima’s book as with his comments above are not an attack on Mother Teresa but an observation of her life by her actions and words. As in his book he lets the reader come to their own conclusions about if Mother Teresa is a Saint in the eyes of the Catholic gospel. I am sorry but I was startled when I read from mutiple sources that Mother Teresa said that her role was for her to help – a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic – I realized that is not the Catholic gospel. I do hope that somehow she was corrected by a fellow Catholic of such a false teaching.
    If she really believed such a teaching I can really understand why she would have many dark nights of the soul do to the seperation from God such a belief would bring to any person.

    Since Vatican II has allowed the laity a much more of an active role in the duties of the Church I think it is our obligation to assist our prelates in the decsions of the Church that concern us all. I undertand the magisterium is in charge and obedience is necessary but blind obedience is not authentic Catholism. Mother Teresa is a Blessed but not a Saint. Is this not the most perfect time to discuss the life of Mother’s Teresa in all aspects. If she really is a Saint I am sure Our Father above will see to it that she canonized and if she is not a Saint then I believe in the end his will, will be done. I do think he uses us all, however, to make sure his divine plan is complete.

    Since my hope is in Our Father above I do not fear any person, as Mark, questioning any person in the Church I respect. I have a great love for the Saints and pray to them nightly. I will not, however, hold any person up as a Saint until the Church confirms the person as such. We as Catholics should be very careful in holding a person as Mother Teresa up as a Saint that is not which today seems to the be standard response from most Catholics.

    Again, I write these few paragraphs in the spirit of ecumenism as so set forth in the Catholic Chruch today. Attack the person less and discuss the issues more.

  10. Michael,

    I do not know if you are Catholic or not, and that makes a difference to me. I assume that you are; however, I know that Mark is a Roman Catholic. Mark, the Catholic has a made the fact that he takes issue with the beatification of Mother Teresa by Pope John Paul a matter of public record. Moreover, he does not think the Blessed was holy at all, irrespective of her “good works.” Without faith it is impossible to please God. No? As you yourself say:

    she would have many dark nights of the soul do to the seperation from God such a belief would bring to any person.

    Mark’s argument represents a casual, amplified and commercialized disregard for the papal office, and both of you are apparently blind to what might be the consequences of being wrong. My remarks have been formulated with this in mind.

    I believe a good and healthy debate on issues in the Church really does clarify points of concern for us all. I also realize that if the topics we are discussing are people we respect or beliefs we hold near and dear it is very difficult to be detached. When someone comes along and questions our beliefs or what appears to slander someone we love the first response we initiate back to such person, most of the time, is to attack the person. I would suggest those individuals attacking Mark Zima and you might not mean to do this but your words on this site are oozing of hatred so please just stop.

    For Catholics “a good and healthy debate on issues” over which good Catholics may disagree does “clarify points of concern.” This is not one of those issues.

    I have heard these arguments against the holiness of Mother Teresa before, a long time ago, before she had even died. I was not bowled over by anything Mark said and I was not emotional about it. I am sorry if I have offended anyone, I did not intend to say anything ad hominem, but merely to remove the scandal to the faithful and defend the honor of Blessed Mother Teresa.

    I won’t grant Mark’s presuppositions, and, therefore, won’t respond to his argument. I have made my reasons clear and they are intellectual reasons, not emotional ones. I can hardly say anything that will not be perceived as an attack upon Mark, since Mark has decided he knows more than the pope. That was Mark’s choice, not mine.

    I don’t pretend to compare myself to Padre Pio, but my diction was mild compared to the words the saint dished out to those who would speak badly, especially in public, about the Holy Father and the Church. At least on this matter, I am in good company. I have no problem if you consider my responses a rebuke. They were intended, in charity, to be so.

    None of us who have participated in this discussion are in a position to question the legitimacy of the beatification, and even if we were this is not the forum to do it. You may disagree with everything I said, but I would appreciate it, if you would at least understand what I mean. I thought I made myself clear to Alice.

    Mark and yourselves are not even close to theologians–I don’t need to prove the pope is right and Mark is wrong. That Mark and yourself should suggest that I should beggars the imagination. Have you all gone so far in your contempt for the post-conciliar Church to think that now anything the pope says or does is subject the rational discourse and approval of anyone in the pews, or even someone who has studied theology? Are you suggesting that the faithful who are not theologically astute should trust Mark rather than the pope?

    Furthermore, this is not a merely abstract argument. If John Paul II was right, and of course he was, then Marks book is blasphemous. My words betray a bit of fire in the belly over this, I admit, but I am not worried or hurt by Mark’s words. I find them offensive and unworthy of both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.

    I think it is our obligation to assist our prelates in the decsions of the Church that concern us all. I undertand the magisterium is in charge and obedience is necessary but blind obedience is not authentic Catholism.

    Yes, I know this is what some Traditionalists believe. Unfortunately, it is flatly false that it is the “obligation” of the lay faithful or even priests to “assist our prelates in the decisions of the Church that concern us all.” That is the job of the magisterium, most especially of the pope.

    The term “blind obedience” is bandied about like the buzz word it is, whenever someone is asked to do something which is contrary to their judgment. If blind obedience means deference to authorities in the face of what one knows with a well-formed conscience to be sinful, then that is certainly not authentic Catholicism. But if blind obedience means to accept in faith an exercize of papal magisterium, or any ostensibly appropriate act of a competent authority with obedience, in spite of the fact that one does not understand it, then that, my friend, is the life of the saints. We are not called as Catholics to police the pope.

    Just in case I have not been clear. I will not have anymore of this here. Everyone who has read this post knows that Mark has a book. You have the whole internet to advertise. You can start your own blog and say whatever you want. But I will not tolerate any more of this dishonor here.

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