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Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The
Private Writings of the "Saint of Calcutta"
Reviewed by Dr. Susan K. Hedahl
This collection of writings consists primarily of letters, retreat notes and numerous exchanges between Mother Teresa and her different confessors over the decades. The editor is the head of the Mother Teresa Center. What is collected here presents a profile of the major crises and turning points in Mother Teresa's life (that of an Albanian woman whose baptized name was Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu).
As a sister of the Loreto Convent, on her way to Darjeeling for a retreat, "on Tuesday, September 10, 1946, she had a decisive mystical encounter with Christ." (38) The call was to serve the poor. Metaphorically, this call was described in her repeated references to it over a lifetime, and the draft of Rules for her group, as: "The General End of the Missionaries of Charity is to satiate the thirst of Jesus Christ on the Cross for Love and Souls." (41).
That these words of Jesus from the Cross - "I thirst!" - should become part of her way of thinking missionally, also reflects the unnerving revelations of this work as whole: namely, that she suffered from profound and on-going spiritual darkness for most of her life.
The editor describes it this way: "The darkness she experienced and described in her letters...was a terrible and unrelenting torment. In the lives of the saints, it is almost without parallel; only the experience of St. Paul of the Cross is comparable in length." ( 335)
Despite this darkness, she persists in her mid-thirties in convincing her superiors (all the way to the Vatican) to grant her permission to start a new order. Appendix A is a copy of the her handwritten, 1947 document outlining the Rules of the Missionaries of Charity. (341 ff.). Those who were the recepients of the work are described as "the sick, the dying, the beggars and the little street children...The beggars will be sought and visited in their holes outside the town or on the streets." (341). The simple, specific and graphic descriptions of the Rules are moving to read. Three major vows form the community - Absolute Poverty, Angelic Chastity and Perfect Obedience. Undergirding the work is worship: "For this reason Holy Mass must come the daily meeting place, where God and His creature offer each other for each other and the world." (345).
The language of Mother Teresa's faith life, coming as it does from an older age of Catholic piety, seems highly emotional, sometimes strange to modern ears and sometimes obsessional. Yet, it accurately reflects her determination and devotion to serve God. For Lutherans reading this, whose theological heritage seems mostly fixed on Paul's post-Resurrection Christ, the very visceral Jesus of history to whom Teresa relates with such passionate intensity is unnerving, particular the focus on his sufferings. Says the editor: "She was called to share in a distinct way in the mystery of the Cross, to become one with Christ in His Passion and one with the people she served. Through this sharing she was led to a deep awareness of the "painful thirst" in the Heart of Jesus for the poorest of the poor."( 335)
This work is about one of God's most persistent servants and about a thirsty God and a follower who brought the waters of God's life to many. For any thoughtful reader, the question becomes: What is my own thirst for God like?