As we mark the death anniversary of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, many people are surprised and disturbed to learn about the new revelations about her - how she was tormented by a feeling of God's absence and even doubts about God's existence.
It seemed that after a mystical experience of Jesus that led her to devote her life in the service of the poor, she went through a very long dark night of the soul - which lasted for over 50 years! Even as she became known world-wide and was hailed as a living saint, deep within she was suffering from this darkness. Everyone presumed that she felt close to God, that is why she was able to carry out her great work of charity. All along, it was God's absence that dominated her life.
Although I am surprised, I am not disturbed by this revelation. In fact I feel relieved. I can understand what Mother Teresa has gone through because I too have gone through a very long dark night. It is embarassing to admit that I, a priest and a theologian, have also gone through a very long dark night. I know how it feels to pray wondering if there is really Someone out there who hears my prayer - or am I just whispering to the wind. It is God's absence rather that his presence that I feel most of the time. The last time that I really felt intensely God's presence was during the EDSA people power event that toppled the dictator Marcos. A few months before that, I had been grieving over my mother's death which led to a crisis of faith and vocation. The peak experience was momentary. After that, I continued to feel God's absence even if I no longer doubted His existence. I am convinced that my faith does not depend on my subjective feeling about God's absence or presence. I believe - even if I do not feel God's presence. I consider the few moments when I felt intensely God's presence as a gift. I only wish that God would give me more of this experience. Meanwhile, I continue serving the invisible and seemingly absent God in the neighbor that I see.
At least, Blessed Mother Teresa and I have something in common. She would be a great patron saint for the many of us who are struggling with our faith. In the long dark night, her life will reflect the light of Christ.
A PSALM OF LONGING
"like a deer that yearns for running water,
my soul longs for you" (Ps 42)
Day and night I yearn for you,
with all my heart,
with all my soul,
with all my mind
and with every cell of my body.
O, how I long to see your face,
to hear your voice,
and to touch you.
Oh God! it's crazy
yearning to be close to someone
hidden and distant.
How can I possibly love
and be loved by someone
I cannot see nor touch?
O, how I long for that day
when we will come face to face
and see the beauty behind the veil
and we will be fully one.
It will be eternity.