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.

My Thoughts on Today's Bible Readings

What does the parable in today's gospel reading mean? In Jesus' times, wine was stored in wine skins, not bottles. New wine couldn't be stored in old wine skins as since these wines were still fermenting, they gave off gases which exerted pressure on their containers. New wine skins were elastic enough to take the pressure, but old wine skins burst easily under the pressure as they were no longer elastic. If Jesus' teaching were the new wine, then new 'containers' would have to be fashioned to express these teachings. Either that or the old 'containers' would need to be made more 'elastic' (read flexible) to contain these teachings. Take for instance what the Pharisees said to Jesus about His disciples' observances of fasting. They saw fasting regularly as good and feasting regularly as bad when it came to the Jewish religious life. Jesus however gave a new interpretation: there's a time for fasting and a time for feasting. It is good to fast in order to grow spiritually, but it is equally good to feast with one's friends as a sign of love and fellowship not only with those friends but also with God from whose bounty those food came. In other words, do everything with love.
This doesn't mean that we are to reject the old in place of the new, or that the new laws of Christ replaces the old laws of Moses. Rather we should say that there is a right place for the old as well as the new. The Lord gives us wisdom so we can make the best use of both the old and the new. He doesn't want us to hold rigidly to the past and to be resistant to the new work of his Holy Spirit in our lives. He wants our minds and hearts to be like the new wine skins — open and ready to receive both the old and the new.

Bible Readings for Today (5 Sep, Fri - 22nd Week)

1 Corinthians 4: 1-5
One should think about us this way – as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful. So for me, it is a minor matter that I am judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not acquitted because of this. The one who judges me is the Lord. So then, do not judge anything before the time. Wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the motives of hearts. Then each will receive recognition from God.

Luke 5: 33-39
Then the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus, “John’s disciples frequently fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours continue to eat and drink.” So Jesus said to them, “You cannot make the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them, can you? But those days are coming, and when the bridegroom is taken from them, at that time they will fast.” He also told them a parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old garment. If he does, he will have torn the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. Instead new wine must be poured into new wineskins. No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is good enough.’”

Daily Bible Verse

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