Today we celebrate the feast of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa was a modern-day saint whose holiness was evident even in our own time. What was not as evident was that she experienced a dark night of the soul for the last 50 years of her life. From 1946 until her death in 1997, she did not feel the presence of God, yet she still continued to radiate his love and mercy to the poor in Calcutta and to those around the world.
Dr. Dianne Traflet, an associate dean and professor of pastoral theology at Seton Hall University, stopped by Morning Air® to discuss Mother Teresa’s dark night, and the lessons we can take from her example.
“We can speak of her dark night as an experience of emptiness,” Dr. Traflet said. “But truly one that was exceedingly painful and accompanied by doubts in the presence of God. So what does it mean to us? What can we learn from Mother Teresa when we have dark times?”
1) Let Your Yes Mean Yes
Mother Teresa had a call within a call. She knew she was called to be a nun, she said yes to God for that. But then she had a call within a call to go to the slums of Calcutta. But that call was very distinctive. She heard God say to her, ‘Come. Come carry me into the homes of the poor. Come be my light.’ And she also heard very distinctly, in the depths of her heart, ‘I thirst.’
In her darkness, in her pain, she recommitted her ‘yes’ to every aspect of her vocation. When the going got rough she tried to say yes again in various ways to those different aspects of her vocation. I think this is very important for us. When the going gets rough, do we begin to say no? Or do we say yes?
2) Get Close to Christ So You Can Radiate Him
It’s fascinating to me that when she experienced darkness we experienced light through her. I actually did meet her and I never would have known that she was experiencing the dark night. Whether we heard about her, saw pictures, or saw her interviewed, we would never know that she was experiencing darkness. Well, that was very specific because she made an effort to smile. She would say, ‘A hearty yes to God and a big smile for all’ no matter what she was going through.
Even though she couldn’t see God at times, or she couldn’t feel His presence, God was in her heart. He was a part of who she was, and she was reflecting God’s presence, God’s love for us. So even though she didn’t have the spiritual goosebumps of being that close to God, even though she couldn’t feel it, she was close to God. And we were better for it. She helped to transform our lives, because when we looked at her we weren’t just seeing Mother Teresa, we were seeing Christ.
3) God Gives Us Tools, Even in the Darkness
The basis of our faith is not extraordinary phenomena. It is not a vision, a locution, something incredibly miraculous in our lives. It is sometimes walking in faith, believing what we don’t see. There are going to be times in our lives when maybe we do experience some bit of doubt. We do sometimes say with Scripture, ‘I believe, help my unbelief.’ And that is what we see with Mother Teresa. I do believe, help my unbelief, and in the process help me to recommit to my vocation, help me recommit to my yes, and help me to reflect you to others.
Of course, God is going to help. He gives us the Eucharist, He gives us the sacramental life of the Church. He gives us good people, good communities of faith, He gives us His Mother. And that’s what we see with Mother Teresa. Eucharist, prayer, constant Rosaries, constant prayers before the Blessed Sacrament. These were important spiritual tools for her to live out her vocation. And they are important to us as well.
4) Carry Your Cross with Joy
I think we have to have another understanding of joy. I once read a definition of joy as the pure echo of God’s presence. I think I would take out the word ‘echo’ and just say that joy is God’s presence in our life.
There are moments in our life when we see people who are suffering and we see a smile on their face. What is that about? It’s God’s presence. And it could also be that they have that peace of knowing and doing God’s will. That does give us joy and hope. Let us know God’s will, let us do it. That is where we are going to find our peace and joy.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!