A lot has been said recently about Mother Teresa and a new book that follows her faith journey for 50 years. Many have marveled at the possibility that this nun, founder of an order that serves the most marginalized people in Calcutta and throughout the world, may have been troubled with apathy, ambivalence, and disillusionment with her faith. The “controversy” is sure to boost book sales and has already called into question Catholicism and religious faith in general. What the average American doesn’t seem to understand is that faith isn’t static. Mother Teresa lived a holy and faithful life but she was a real woman with real feelings and real experiences. In other words, her crisis of faith was evidence that faith impacted her life. So often, religious people are expected to be perfectly sure of their beliefs, perfectly pure in their thoughts and actions, or just plain old perfect. As a person of faith myself, I can attest to the beauty and power of imperfection–and the importance of doubt.
A few months ago, someone important to me commented that I didn’t seem religious. It stung at first. I countered with my own conviction of my personal faith. But I have continued to ponder that observation. Am I not religious if others cannot tell I am? How would I need to live so that others would know that I am religious? How crucial is it that others can identify me as a person of faith? In homily after homily, we are called to live lives that will bring Christ to others. We are called to evangelize by our way of being. Am I not a very good Christian? It is a crisis of faith.
In the last few months, I have faced dark hours. I have railed against God. I have isolated myself at times from my home parish. Some Sundays I have not gone to Mass. Some days I have not prayed the Morning Prayer. In moments of great pain or anger, I have tried to turn away from my faith. But then there is solace. Somehow, the light that emanates from my faith refills my being and I am comforted. I am drawn back to prayer and to the community that has allowed me to grow in my faith. I recognize that it is my faith that has sustained me through the years. It is my faith that keeps me from being a permanent victim, from becoming a person of bitterness and resentment, from surrendering to my emotional issues and my challenges in maintaining mental health. I may not abide by every doctrine and dogma of the Catholic Church but I love my faith and I struggle daily to live it.
So is it possible that Mother Teresa felt distant from God for 50 years? Yes. Is it possible that this saint, who devoted several decades of her life to caring for lepers and AIDS patients, sometimes questioned the meaning of such stewardship? Yes. Faith is a beautiful crisis.
“For it is when I am weak, that I am strong.”