Monday, September 24, 2007

Hans Urs von Balthasar and Mother Teresa's "Dark Night of the Soul"

The Swiss theologian may not have had Mother Teresa in mind when he wrote this, but I couldn't help but think of the recent media flap spurred by Time magazine (Mother Teresa's Crisis of Faith Time August 23, 2007) and disgruntled atheist Christopher Hitchens (Teresa, Bright and Dark Newsweek August 19, 2007):
Active faith means following Jesus; but Jesus' mission leads him on a course from heaven deeper and deeper into the world of sinners, until finally on the Cross he assumes, in their stead, their experience of distance from God, even of abandonment by God,a nd thus of the very loss of that lucid security promised to the "proven" faithful. This paradox must be borne; and from the Christian point of view the juxtaposition of temporal moments -- of hours, days, years -- exists not least for the purpose of rendering possible the sequence of these seemingly incompatible Christian life experiences.

Paul experienced and formulated this paradox. He knows two things: that even amid all his sorrows (which can reach to the point of "despairing of life") God "comforts" him, and that his, Paul's, "sufferings in Christ" redound to the consolation and inner strengthening of the Church (2 Corinthians 1: 4-7). One can sense the many varied nuances possible here. A person can experience extreme affliction outwardly and at the same time be inwardly "comforted," that is, know that he is living fully within God's will: many martyrs knew this. It can also happen that a person experiences darkness in the depths of his being -- is submerged in God's "testing" -- and in his darkness radiates light to others, though he himself does not feel or realize it at all. . . .

It is God who arranges the "theological states" of the believer, plunging him at one time into the deep waters of the Cross where he is not allowed to experience any consolation, and then into the grace given by resurrection of a hope which brings with it the certainty that it does not deceive. No one is able or permitted to fit these "theological states" into a system that can be manipulated and surveyed to any extent by man. Their every easpect, even when they seemingly contradict one another, is christological and therefore left to God's disposition. [pp. 37-38]

* * *

The law of renunciation can become very difficult for the individual in times when genuine ecclesial life finds feeble expression and numerous sects offer the enticement of immediate "experiences." But no one who experiences this difficulty should think that the mystic, whith his apparently immediate experiences of divine things, has an easier life. For every true mysticism, however rich it may be in visions and other experiences of God, is subject at least as strictly to the law of the Cross -- that is, of non-experience -- as is the existence of someone apparently forgotten in the desert of secular daily life. Perhaps the mystic has to pass through dry periods that are even more severe. Where this is not the case, where we are offered acquirable techniques to attain a mysticism without bitterness and the humiliations of the Cross, we can be certain that it is not authentically Christian and has no Christian signficance.

[Excerpts from Hans Urs von Balthasar, New Elucidations (Ignatius Press)]
  • Author of new Mother Teresa book responds to Time Magazine article Catholic News Agency:
    In an interview with the Spanish daily La Razon, Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, author of the book Come Be My Light and postulator of Mother Teresa’s cause of canonization, said the revered nun “lived a trial of faith, not a crisis of faith,” and that she overcame it showing that the love “is in the will and not in feelings.”

    Come Be My Light is a collection of letters Mother Teresa written about various aspects of her life, some revealing that she suffered spiritual darkness for decades. Father Kolodiejchuk expressed regret that Time Magazine twisted the meaning of the book, whose title comes from “the words Jesus spoke to Mother Teresa in 1947. Time Magazine, even with the cover photo (of a Mother Teresa who appears depressed), has greatly manipulated world opinion. The book is about a trial of faith that Mother endured for 50 years, which is very different from a crisis of faith. This is not something new in the saints. This phenomenon of the dark night is well know in spiritual theology,” he said. . . . [MORE]

  • The "Atheism" of Mother Teresa, by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap. National Catholic Register Sept. 9-15, 2007 Issue:
    Some have completely misunderstood the nature of these writings, thinking that they oblige us to reconsider the personality of Mother Teresa and her faith and holiness. Far from undermining the stature of Mother Teresa’s holiness, these new documents will immensely magnify it, placing her at the side of the greatest mystics of Christianity. . . .

    How wrong author and atheist Christopher Hitchens is when he writes “God is not great. Religion poisons everything,” and presents Mother Teresa as a product of the media-era.

    But there is an even more profound reason that explains why these nights are prolonged for a whole lifetime: the imitation of Christ.

    This mystical experience is a participation in the dark night of the spirit that Jesus had in Gethsemane and in which he died on Calvary, crying: “My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me?”

    Mother Teresa was able to see her trial ever more clearly as an answer to her desire to share the sitio (thirst) of Jesus on the cross: “If my pain and suffering, my darkness and separation give you a drop of consolation, my own Jesus, do with me as you wish. ... Imprint on my soul and life the suffering of your heart. ... I want to satiate your thirst with every single drop of blood that you can find in me. ... Please do not take the trouble to return soon. I am ready to wait for you for all eternity.”

  • Pope John Paul II on the "dark night of the soul", by Carl Olson. Ignatius Insight Sept. 9, 2007.

  • The Dark Night of Mother Teresa, by Carol Zaleski. First Things May 2003:
    Mother Teresa is not the only modern saint to have undergone such a trial of faith; one thinks also of precursors like St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), founder of the Passionists, and St. Jane Frances de Chantal (1572-1641), foundress of the Visitandines, but above all of Mother Teresa’s namesake, St. Thérèse of Lisieux (1873-1897), the French Carmelite famous for her “Little Way" . . .

April 9, 2005 was the Feast Day of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta:

  • Across India, rich and poor remember Mother Teresa Sept. 5, 2007:
    At Shishu Bhavan, Kolkatta the house where the MC welcomes abandoned children, orphans and babies saved from abortion, dawn mass was celebrated.

    Mother Teresa consistently battled against abortion, asking mothers to “gift” her their unwanted children.

    “I think – she said in ’94 – that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion….if we can accept that even a mother can kill her child, how can we tell people not to kill one another?”.

    Fr. Bosco, the priest who celebrated mass in Shishu Bhavan, tells that after the celebration the flock of children dressed in festive costumes sang for Mother Teresa “the happiness of these little ones is infective – he adds – they bring such joy to us”.

  • Marking the feast of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a beautiful post (and photographs) by Cardinal Seán Patrick O'Malley, OFM Cap.

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