Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The greatest way to imitate Christ

Anon wrote the following:

“There is a book coming out about Mother Teresa that is a compilation of correspondence from her to her confessors and others spanning 60-plus years. The letters (if authentic) show that for most of her life she lived in a state of constant spiritual pain because she did not feel the presence of God and even doubted the existence of God and heaven. The book claims that she described herself as living in utter darkness. I know that prior to this it was known that she experienced periods of spiritual crisis, but this book apparently says that it was present throughout most of her adult life. What do we make of this? Occasionally on this blog people talk about spiritual struggle and the answer generally is: you must be open, you must sin less, you must confess your sins, you must pray, you must listen for God, you must give to others. Mother Teresa did those things probably more than any of us can imagine. Why would God torture her?”

I met Mother Teresa twice and have read many of her writings and teachings. I can say with great confidence that she not only taught others to live with joy but she lived it herself and experienced real joy. It was the joy of Christ. Does this mean that she was always laughing and carrying on with people? No, but it does mean that she whatever crosses she endured in her life, she experienced real joy because she was found worthy to imitate Christ in such a great way.

I use two of her quotes all the time along these lines:

“ The best way to imitate Christ is through suffering”
“Those who are closest to Jesus on earth are those who suffer the most”

I really don’t think that she read this in a book somewhere. As far as I know, these are two original quotes (with some help from the Holy Spirit). She learned this through her own experience. It was through her own trials, but also through the pains of those she served for over fifty years. She might have witnessed more suffering on a daily basis than anyone who’s ever lived; she amassed much wisdom about the value of suffering.

Why would God allow her to experience such darkness? It’s really the same question of why He would allow His own Son to experience such suffering. The answer to both of these questions is focused on identifying with the experience of the poor who are highly favored by God. The poor - Christ, the Blessed Mother, Mother Teresa, the saints, etc. – have a great dependence on and need for God, much like children do. God has great love and trust for people like MT that, in their great anguish, they will call out to Him all the more which is what she did for so many years. She acknowledged this trust when she said, “ I know God will not give me more than I can handle…I just wish He didn’t trust me so much”.

My take on all of this stuff from the new book (and I don’t know how much is accurate) is that she is speaking mainly for all those she served all those years. She once said that the greatest human pains are rejection and loneliness. Christ felt these in the garden on Holy Thursday; she said he was in greater pain that night than on Good Friday. She linked that pain to the men and women she served in Calcutta whose families had left them to die at train stations. Again, the Father allowed Christ to experience such pain so that he could identify with all those who have been abandoned, rejected, hurt, etc., and so they can identify with him.

I don’t doubt that MT experienced real spiritual darkness. But, I do think that she witnessed their darkness and pain for so long that she took it on herself. One last quote that she probably said to herself as much as she said to others which shows that, at the end of the day, her faith was rock-solid: “Don’t ever get so sad that you lose sight of the Resurrection”. No matter how much she suffered in this life, we believe she is enjoying the fruit of her faith in the Resurrection: eternal life.


At 4:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now that I've read the book, I see what both you and she are saying. But it's a bitter pill. She had the faith of a saint. A lesser person would have committed suicide rather than live with what she lived with, and where she lived for that matter. I long for relief from what ails me, as well as for relief for people I know who suffer much every day, one from a disabling mental illness. MT never lost faith in her belief that her suffering was for a larger good. Most of us non-saints don't have that, and most of us suffer less and not in Calcutta.

At 5:31 PM, Blogger fran said...

"The best way to imitate Christ is
through suffering."
"Those who are closest to Jesus on earth are those who suffer the most."

On Sunday's post, there were comments on seeing "beauty in suffering." I think the two quotes from Mother Teresa say it all. Can anyone think of anybody they would rather imitate, than Christ? Is there anybody we would rather be closer too, than Jesus?

The beauty is not in the physical aspects of the suffering, but in how it draws us closer to Jesus and binds us to the cross with Him.

At 10:11 PM, Anonymous mindy said...

"The beauty is not in the physical aspects of the suffering, but in how it draws us closer to Jesus and binds us to the cross with Him."

Maybe I'm not sure if I'm understanding exactly what you mean. I have known people who seem to move farther away from Christ as a result of their suffering, even having gone so far as to blame Him for it (and become angry with Him).

Is the idea that because one is in pain that they are able to understand, empathize and appreciate His? I don't mean to be obtuse, but this has been (and apparently still is) an idea that eludes my comprehension.

In one way, I think we are all bound together in the common experience of suffering. We empathize with one another's pain and, yes, it can be bonding. I can remember one instance when a friend of a friend's child was seriously ill and I felt, after many hours of on-my-knees praying, a personal connection with this child and his family, who I'd never met. I do remember thinking that it was really something that I cared so much about, to the point that I was emotionally invested in, another who I didn't even know.

At 10:00 PM, Blogger fran said...

"Is the idea that because one is in pain that they are able to understand, empathize and appreciate His?"

Yes, I think so, because it is, as Mother Teresa says, and imitation of Christ. Isn't anything that imitates Christ beautiful? Isn't anything that brings us closer to Christ beautiful?

When we draw close to Him in the celebration of His death and resurrection in the Eucharist, when we draw close to Him as we adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament on Friday nights, are these not beautiful? Yes, indeed, they are.
So, if in suffering we are drawn closer to Him and now actually experience in the smallest of ways something of His suffering, is that not beauty as well? Aside from being in heaven with Him, I cannot think of any other earthly way to experience this closeness, this beauty.

I, too, have seen people move away from God's love during or after times of suffering. I have also seen people move closer to him, during suffering, in the most amazing ways.


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