Friday, 5 September 2008

Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul

First, a little background. Here's something on the phenomenon known as the dark night of the soul.

In the Christian tradition, the dark night of the soul refers to instances when people who had developed strong prayer lives and consistent devotion to God suddenly finds traditional prayer extremely difficult and unrewarding for an extended period of time. Such individuals may feel as though God has suddenly abandoned them or that their prayer life has collapsed. In the most pronounced cases, belief is lost in the very existence of God and/or validity of religion, rendering the individual an atheist, even if they bravely continue with the outward expressions of faith. However, the dark night is perceived by many to be a blessing in disguise, whereby the individual is stripped of the spiritual ecstasy associated with acts of virtue and thus is guided into performing such acts out of a true love for God.

Mother Teresa suffered from this "dark night" for nearly fifty years (from 1948 almost up until her death in 1997) during which she felt no presence of God whatsoever- neither in her heart nor in the Eucharist:

"Where is my faith? Even deep down … there is nothing but emptiness and darkness … If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul … How painful is this unknown pain—I have no Faith. Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal, … What do I labor for? If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true."

She was neither alone nor was she any less of a saint in feeling this. Many other saints endured the same test, such as Mother Teresa's namesake, St. Therese of Lisieux, who called it a "night of nothingness." Contrary to the mistaken belief by some that what she endured would be an impediment to canonization, just the opposite is true; it is very consistent with the experience of canonized mystics. In fact Mother Teresa wanted very much to have faith:

"Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see, — Listen and do not hear — the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak ... I want you to pray for me — that I let Him have [a] free hand."

and thus this seemingly lack of faith on her part does not affect her path to sainthood.


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