Mother Teresa’s Vision of Hell
Who would have ever thought that Mother Teresa had doubts about the existence of God?
I was absolutely fascinated when I read TT Mundakels book Blessed Mother Teresa. It was so inspiring to read about how Jesus called Mother Teresa, and how faithfully she lived up to her calling. For many people the world overCatholics, Protestants and non-ChristiansMother Teresa is the epitome of saintliness and faith in God. It then becomes a shock when one reads about the recent book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light.
According to the book, Mother Teresa experienced an absence of God for the greater part of her life after she had founded the Missionaries of Charity. She confesses in her private correspondence with a number of confessors that she experienced dryness, darkness, loneliness, and torture. Says the book: She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God.
Mother Teresa experienced the dark night of the soul in the most extreme form. She felt abandoned by the same Jesus who had called her. As she wrote to one of her confessors: Such deep longing for Godandrepulsedemptyno faithno loveno zealHeaven means nothingpray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything.
The public figure we have known: the Saint of the Gutters, the Nobel Prize Winner, the woman of God who taught us and her followers to love God, to love the poor and to praythis icon thought she lived a life without God after Christ had called her to serve the sick, the dying, beggars and street children, and to help them to live with dignity and to know Gods love.
One might think that Come Be My Light was written by a critic of Mother Teresa; but no, it was written by a member of the Missionaries of Charity to advance the cause of her canonisation.
There are several lessons I think we can learn from this newly revealed side of Mother Teresas life. First, her agony as a result of the absence of God is a window into what hell is. Hell is not a place where the condemned are burnt in physical flames of fire. Hell is a state of agonising desperation because one is hopelessly separated from God. It is the agony that the rich man feels in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk 16: 19-31).
As St Augustine put it: you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they can find peace in you. God allowed Mother Teresa to experience hell on earth to prepare her for the joys and peace of heaven. She had a taste of what Jesus experienced on the cross when he thought God had abandoned him and was moved to cry out: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Second, if a saintly person such as Mother Teresa can doubt the existence of God, there is hope for many of us ordinary people who are tempted to doubt that there is a God. Another aspect of this is that feeling that God is close to you is not the only evidence of a truly Christian life. Mother Teresa did not feel Jesus, but he was holding her hand as she continued to spread his message of love.
The last lesson is for those in leadership positions. Many Christian leaders can be so engrossed in working for God that they have no time for God. We can be so busy saying public prayers, performing works of charity and other good works that we forget about our spiritual life.
Despite her enormous public successes, the thing that mattered most for Mother Teresa was her personal relationship with God. The agony was a yearning for complete union with God.
What matters most in the life of a Christian leader is not the public achievements, but being what Jesus wants us to be and doing what Jesus wants us to do. This Mother Teresa achieved with distinction: she accomplished Jesus mission for the poor people of the world and at the same time underwent a heroic spiritual struggle in regard to her personal search for God.