Over the last several weeks I've been slowly reading the posthumously published book Come, Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta [a.k.a. Mother Teresa (Doubleday). As the title hints, this could be considered hagiography, as Fr. Brian Koliedjchuk examines and explains the life, letters and journals of Mother Teresa. We Protestants haven't commonly included such writings in our spiritual readings, with the possible except of Fox's Book of Martyrs. Perhaps we have been missing something.
When this book was published much was made of how astonishing it was that Mother Teresa suffered spiritual anguish and lasting profound darkness and doubt about whether God was blessing her efforts. "How could she work under all that darkness?" was the cliched comment.
That, however, is not at all the quality that I find makes reading this book a worthwhile spiritual exercise. I don't want to say that we take doubts and darkness for granted. Rather, as Fr. Koliedjchuk makes clear in many helpful observations, Mother Teresa trusted God despite her doubts, shared her doubts and darkness with her superiors--spiritual directors, confessors and select colleagues; she trusted, chewed on their advice--even if it wasn't always helpful.
That is what I find most compelling--Mother Teresa's trust and obedience. She was not always patient--despite her vows. Her superiors upbaided her for that occasionally. She was, as letter after letter shows, persistent to the point that the pleading widow of Jesus' parable in Luke 18 would look like a wallflower by comparison. Yet withal she was trusting and obedient.
For example, the several-year long process of developing the Sisters of Charity and being separated from the Sisters of Loreto is chronicled fascinatingly in this book. Again and again Mother Teresa's own personal ambition was tested, held up, delayed, considered, debated. But she stayed with the process. In a word, she trusted the church, her superiors, even when she rarely got her way.
The discipline in this? For Protestants who are, in North American society at least, encouraged to be entrepreneurial, to follow one's own spiritual dreams, not to worry all that much about accountability and obedience (except in awfully subjective, easily warped and self-directed ways) to God?
How can we learn from the Roman Catholic masters from whom we were separated--and whom we villainized for many years. Perhaps one spiritual benefit of ecumenism for all Christians is to examine ourselves, scour our motives, use the agonizingly slow, maddening wheels of the church to move with us and we pastors and leaders with them.
Whaddya think, friends?