Wisconsin State Journal (MADISON) The big religion news over the weekend is the revelation that Mother Teresa, the "Saint of Calcutta," had an ongoing crisis of faith.
"I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd my heart and make me suffer in untold agony, " she wrote at one point.
Mother Teresa, who died in 1997, would have celebrated her 97th birthday Sunday had she lived. She spent most of her life in Calcutta, working with the poorest of the poor and tending to those dying on the streets. She is now under consideration for sainthood.
Since most of us look to her as the epitome of faith, a woman who gave up everything material to care for God 's poorest children, the apparent fact that she had grave doubts even to the existence of God is, initially, staggering. Why would anyone do that kind of work if she didn 't have faith?
It 's the wrong question.
Mother Teresa worked with the poor because she believed that 's what God had called her to do. The fact that she didn 't always believe in God and didn 't always believe that her life had a purpose was, in some ways, irrelevant.
True faith isn 't a happy assurance that everything is proceeding as it ought to proceed. If you really feel that God is at your side sustaining your every move, then it 's relatively easy to suffer hardship and pain.
True faith comes more from a place in the soul that keeps you doing what you must do, even as every fiber of your consciousness rebels.
It doesn 't take a Mother Teresa to exercise that faith. We see it displayed in parents of severely brain-damaged children. We see it in the witness of parents who remain in loveless marriages in order to raise their children. We see it in people who struggle with cancer or other dread diseases, enduring months of chemotherapy and drug trials that, in the long run, may prove futile.
Do we really think it is easy for these people? Do we think they never succumb to doubt and despair?
If Mother Teresa didn 't have a crisis of faith, she would have had to be blind or totally unfeeling. All around her, every day, she saw incredible suffering, pain and neglect. Often, the best she could do for the people she was sent to serve was to help them die in peace.
Do we really think she could end each day with a song in her heart?
She wasn 't blind.
One problem we have when we attribute super faith to those who do good works in spite of material obstacles is that we take ourselves off the hook. We assume it is easier for the Mother Teresas and the other "saints " of the world to face temptations, heartaches and betrayals than it is for us because they have such "faith. "
Probably not so. They contend with the same doubts, fears and despair that we do. The difference between them and us is that they keep on trucking.
The important thing about Mother Teresa and about all those like her who persevere in the face of doubt is that she did what she believed she was called to do, even without the reinforcement of the faith we all believed was her foundation.
"Give God permission to use you without consulting you, " was one of her favorite admonitions.
That 's actually what real faith is all about.