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Mother Teresa 1

Yesterday’s mail included, much to my delight, the letters of Mother Teresa called Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. Last week the book stirred controversy because the depth and duration of her darkness became public. I’d like to spend some time with this book so today’s post is just to whet our appetite.
We can’t understand Mother Teresa without viewing her through the lens of asceticism, something almost entirely foreign to Protestants and especially to American evangelicals. She joined a long, long list of Roman Catholics who have surrendered the pleasures of life — marriage and sexual relations, the comforts of a private life, the growth of income and savings, and the independence of making our own decisions.
Furthermore, as I’ve already witnessed on the internet, some Protestants (esp conservative evangelicals) have already rendered judgment on her eternal salvation. Not for me to judge. I want to look at her private writings to see what we can make of this extraordinary woman.
She was born Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu in Albania in 1910 and her native language was Serbo-Croatian. At twelve she knew she was called to the poor but it was not until she was 18 that she left home and went to Ireland to become a nun. Later she established the Missionaries of Charity. She later writes: “and since then [leaving home], this forty years, I’ve never doubted even for a second that I’ve done the right thing; it was the will of God. It was His choice” (14).
The introduction, by her editor and the director of the Mother Teresa Center, Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., emphasizes her desire that the letters and journals not be made public since they would attract too much attention to her and not to Jesus. And the introduction raises the issue of her “darkness.”
We’ll be looking at Mother Teresa over the next two weeks I suspect. Join us.

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kurt usar

posted September 7, 2007 at 12:49 am

thank you for your very polite introduction
for me, a roman catholic,in light of those “revelations” mother theresa is a exemplary saint beyond comprehension almost.
yet, i am also disturbed.
namely by the fact that her letters, which where,to my understanding, part of the “beichtgeheimnis”
i am not familiar with the english term, secrecy of sacrament of repentence or the like,
were publicized.
this would be a break with canonical law, threatended with excommunication
best wishes kurt usar md graz,austria

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posted September 7, 2007 at 4:41 am

“some Protestants (esp conservative evangelicals) have already rendered judgment on her eternal salvation.” – can you provide som references?

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 7, 2007 at 4:42 am

Scot, I look forward to this. And I look forward to reading that book as well.
Good point about the world of asceticism. We’ve lost out in some important ways in not developing something of this for our lives, from scripture, surely.

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posted September 7, 2007 at 6:11 am

Scot, your second paragraph reminded me of what Fyodor Dostoyevsky said:
‘Men have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects,
but the joy in the world has grown less’
Why do we not see/understand that and live more simply?

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posted September 7, 2007 at 7:00 am

I’ve got a hold on it at the library, but it’s not in yet. Also very much looking forward to reading it. Some of the stuff in the secular press about this book (esp, of course the Hitchens Newsweek piece) has been utterly off-the-wall. (Although I was quite impressed in reading Hitchens’ piece to learn that the RC church had actually **invited** him to testify at her canonization proceedings. Now that’s leaving no stone unturned.)
I agree with the first post: When I first read excerpts from this back in ’03, I thought only “see, everyone has doubts and sadnesses.” But now, my instinctive reaction in learning of the depth of her “dark night” (using the term in the technical sense, not the popular one) is that the heroic Christian life she lived without subjectively-felt support from Jesus shows her to be “an exemplary saint beyond comprehension almost.”

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posted September 7, 2007 at 8:05 am

I’ll be here with my own copy reading along. :) Thanks Scot.

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Howard Walters

posted September 7, 2007 at 8:25 am

My copy was delivered in this morning’s mail, but I’ll not crack it open till tonight. All I have read thus far in the various comments/articles, etc. lead me to consider her a modern day Jeremiah. A woman whom God was convinced could live in dark faith without compromising her obedience. One of my favorite passages of scripture–from the Message rendering of Lamentations 3–has Jeremiah saying that God took him by the hand and walked him into the darkness. Regardless of Mother Teresa’s feelings, God never left this follower of Jesus. And by her great obedience to build the kingdom for the least of God’s children, she certainly has earned rememberance as a role model, if not as a saint of the church.

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Wolf N. Paul

posted September 7, 2007 at 8:46 am

I find it most extraordinary that her editor would “emphasize her desire that the letters and journals not be made public” in the very book in which he DOES make them public. Kurt Usar from Graz (comment #1) (Hallo, Landsmann!) has a point in that some of these could very well be covered by the Seal of the Confessional, so that making them public is highly unethical.
Where does that leave us as potential readers of these letters?

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Scot McKnight

posted September 7, 2007 at 9:23 am

Wolf and Kurt,
Gruess Gott!
It must be emphasized that Mother Teresa knew these private writings were not in any way connected to the confessional and therefore not bound to privacy canonical laws. That point is emphasized as well in the Introduction.
So, to say it another way: one cannot charge the priest with violating canonical laws by making these public. She was and is a public figure and this is the sort of thing that happens with public figures.

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posted September 7, 2007 at 10:10 am

it is unfortunate, but i never spent a lot of time on mother theresa until she passed away. i feel like i have missed out. i cant wait for further discussion on this because i feel like i have alot of catching up to do.
thanks for doing this review scot.

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john wiers

posted September 7, 2007 at 1:18 pm

For a very fine response to Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith from traditional Protestant perspective, the following article by PCA pastor Rick Phillips can’t be beat–
Pastor Phillips is fair and doesn’t condemn MT to eternal damnation, but he is most insightful in pointing out what the real problem that MT faced from a traditional Protestant (and as a traditional Protestant I believe very biblical)perspective.

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posted September 7, 2007 at 4:19 pm

Thanks for doing this. I have the book on my “want to read” list, but haven’t picked it up it yet.
I read the TIME article (which is still online) after hearing Lauren Winner’s teaching from the book of Esther. ( – yes, that’s Rob Bell’s church), and it is amazingly relevant to this aspect of Mother Teresa’s spiritual life. In brief, she states that we shouldn’t confuse the hiddenness of God with the absence of God. It was an idea that Teresa came to understand as she dealt with her “dark night.”

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Georges Boujakly

posted September 7, 2007 at 6:24 pm

I appreciate your reading of this book. I am looking forward to interactions about darkness and how to negotiate it while serving our fellow humans sacrificially in the name of God.
As to condemnations, I cry out: Kyrie Eleison!

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posted September 7, 2007 at 10:11 pm

Looking forward to this

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posted September 8, 2007 at 3:53 am

Scot über Teresa » Der Sämann » Blog Archiv » Scot über Teresa

Living in God’s absence: Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?
…her faithfulness in the midst of the “dark night [in her] soul” is at the same time immensely beautiful and horrifying. (FYI, Scot McKnight will be delving into this issue and this book over the next few weeks)
It brings to mind a Dostoyevsky q…—–
[…] Sollte mein Post über das Buch von Mutter Teresa Dein Interesse geweckt haben, dann verweise ich Dich wieder mal auf Scot, der eine Reihe zum selben Buch begonnen hat. […]

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posted September 8, 2007 at 10:08 am

I believe it is going to be very important that we read this book in the context of who it is written by and who it is written for. It was written by a catholic nun. So we need to read this in the context of Catholic Theology, not through our protestant lenses of what we think Catholic Theology teaches. I read Rick Phillip’s article and I almost cried laughing. That was the most warped view of Catholicism I have read in a long time. I guess it is true that whatever we read we can have it say whatever we want it to mean. Secondly her letters were not written to the public, this was written for a private dialogue. She assumed the reader knew what she meant by the things she said. She did not clear up any misunderstanding or misconceptions about what she believed. For example, when a catholic says praying to Mary, or is saved that usually means different things to Catholics than it does to Protestants. So, if you are reading this with the mind of Protestant your possible misconceptions (i.e. Rick Phillips) will be confirmed. So I hope when we read this we can do our best to keep the context in mind.

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posted September 8, 2007 at 11:50 am

I just read that piece by Rick Phillips, and while I see how his analysis makes sense from a Reformed perspective, I’m interested that I draw exactly the opposite lesson from the material. He believes the letters reveal that Teresa’s “faith [was] driven by spiritual experiences instead of by the truth of God’s Word,” and compares her to (some) contemporary charismatics, flitting restlessly from one high to another. To me, what seems revealed by her perseverance in ministry with Christ for decades, in the absence of any spiritual highs, is precisely that her faith was *not* driven by experience.

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Dianne P

posted September 8, 2007 at 1:58 pm

In the current worship culture that pervades the U.S., the focus is on marketing *upbeat* worship.
However, the old hymns and the psalms give expression to what we all know in our hearts – that there is a *dark night* of the soul. Sometimes it comes and goes, and sometimes it hangs around.
I don’t think Mother Teresa’s revelations would have been such a big shock to Christians of just a few years back. And I suspect that they’re less of a shock in more traditional or reflective traditions, such as Eastern Orthodox. But in the more evangelical (or evangelical-looking) churches of today, *upbeat* is the expectation and, in turn, creates expectations.
An interesting article by Morgenthaler that touched on this was in a recent issue of REV! – no. 7 in the Sept 8th post under weekly meanderings.

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posted September 8, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Thanks Scot, I’ve linked here from a post I’ve made on my site and look forward to reading more about this book and this topic.

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Shane Trammel

posted September 8, 2007 at 2:35 pm

An interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religios Affections may be helpful with regard to all this about Mother Teresa. You can see more about this book here –> Signs of the Spirit

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Shane Trammel

posted September 8, 2007 at 2:45 pm

An interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections may be helpful with regard to all this about Mother Teresa. You can see more about this book here –> Signs of the Spirit

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Shane Trammel

posted September 8, 2007 at 2:46 pm

I made a mistake in comment #21 and corrected it in comment #22. You may want to delete comment #21 and this one.

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Shane Trammel

posted September 8, 2007 at 11:35 pm

The post says “some Protestants (esp conservative evangelicals) have already rendered judgment on her eternal salvation.”
In light of this issue, the following post may be worth a read.
I would also like to point out that asceticism does not have anything to do with salvation. Take Martin Luther for example. He came to the realization that no amount of asceticism could bring him to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
So, it is not for us to know, if Mother Teresa finished the race with saving faith in Christ. We can speculate and some of that is OK is guess.
I think it is more important that we look at our own lives, reflect on our assurance, and fight the good fight, finish the race, and win the prize.
God Bless,

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Existential Punk

posted September 8, 2007 at 11:57 pm

She was just an amazing and authentic person. Many could learn from her gut-level honesty. i am saddened by all the hype given to Princess Diana on the 10 year anniversary of her death (There’s nothing wrong with this) but nearly no remembrance of the 10th anniversary of losing this power house of a woman. i look forward to reading more on your blog about her.

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posted September 9, 2007 at 7:29 am

I am looking forward to reading the book, and following your comments. Do you know where mere mortals can obtain a copy today? Every place I’ve looked says the book is due out in 2-10 weeks.

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posted September 9, 2007 at 6:00 pm

TomB #26
I think all the online sites are out of stock, but I was able to find it at my local B&N.

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posted September 10, 2007 at 4:00 am

Saschas Bock » Mutter Teresa

[…] Eine Blogserie, die wesentliche Aspekte des Buchs zusammenfasst, findet man hier: Teil1 Teil2 […]

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posted September 10, 2007 at 3:03 pm

I appreciate Phil and Beth’s comments, because I was stunned when I read that R. Phillips’ piece. I have to agree with Beth, although what I would tweak is her final wording. (I know people tire of me saying it without bothering to explain, but I really do think we need to distinguish feelings from experience. One is a subset of the other, but there is more to experience than just feelings.)
I also was shocked by how little the article seemed to linger on “Eli, Eli lamma sambacthani” from the Scriptures. Because it seems as though Mother Teresa was deeply connected with the last words of Christ, particularly “I thirst”. I took the article’s complaint about not relying on the Word of God for strength as an implied rejection of the “Christian” nature of Mother Teresa’s experiences (i.e., a real believer doesn’t experience this).

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