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Mother Teresa 3: Determination

posted by xscot mcknight

M. Teresa had the determination of a terrier, and chps 4-6 illustrate this over and over in the book Come Be My Light.
Here’s the big picture. M. Teresa, to fulfill the mystical vision she got from Jesus about forming the Missionaries of Charity for the poorest of poor in Calcutta, had to get permissions at various levels:
Her vow as a Loreto sister had to be annulled since it was conventual.
Her spiritual director had to give her permission.
The Archbishop of India had to give her permission.
The Pope, or Rome, had to give her permission.
When she first told her director, Fr. Van Exem, he told her to keep the idea to herself for months. Then she was given permission to work with the Archbishop, a certain Perier. The latter simply wanted time to gain clarity of her motive and the will of God. He deliberated for a long, long time — about a year. Then Rome was slow and then she was saddled with some criticisms and some envy and some politics and it took a long, long time for her to have a vision and to establish a ministry.
The determination of M. Teresa is a powerful testimony of her will, her confidence in the vision, and her commitment not to let go until God had gained the upper hand. Her determination reflects her faith.
“Day after day,” she writes to the Archbishop, “hour after hour, He asks the same question: “Wilt thou refuse to do this for Me?” I tell Him that the answer is with you” (66).
The Archbishop both knew the power was in his hands and he knew as well that he had to discern God’s will for the missionary work in Calcutta. The time of testing drew out of M. Teresa clarity as to what the Missionaries of Charity would do: essentially they would sell out for God, their fires would burn for the missionary work to the poor, they would totally depend on God and identify with the poor.
Involved in this time of testing were some potent experiences of union with Christ. I think these times of union also influenced her perception of darkness: “There [where she was then residing] as if Our Lord just gave Himself to me — to the full. The sweetness & consolation & union of those 6 months passed but too soon” (83).
She speaks of a three-fold vision of being summoned by Jesus and the crowd of the poor to “Come,” of Mary’s words for her to “Bring them to Jesus — carry Jesus to them,” and a vision of darkness enveloping the crowd and words from Jesus and Mary to go to the crowd. “Will you refuse to do this for me?”
Once she gained approval, however, there were still challenges and tests. She got final permission from Rome on August 8, 1948. 9 days later, August 17, 1948, “clad in a white sari with a blue border, Mother Teresa … set out to begin a life as a Missionary of “Charity” (121). She chose to leave with just five rupees



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Jarrod Saul McKenna

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:47 am


I’m really enjoying your reflections Scot on Mo T. Keep them coming!! Hamo from backyardmissionary’s got me doing a simular thing on Gandhi. Here’s the latest if your interested:
http://www.backyardmissionary.com/2007/09/gandhi-and-prosperity-gospel.html



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Ted Gossard

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:56 am


Good thoughts on determination. If it’s of God as he works in the life of someone then it’s going to be well nigh impossible for them to let it go. Not to say everyone will persist as Mother Teresa did, and eventually lose out.
But this is certainly an important aspect of faith in my own life. Without determination with the vision related to that, my faith would be puny at best or in shambles, or a faith different than what is spelled out in the story of God we find in scripture.



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Ted Gossard

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:58 am


…and I might add, I need this continued determination, though perhaps for me in the sense now of looking more to God and less to myself, knowing that I want to act, but wanting to do so according to his will and grace, and not in my own will and thoughts.



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Diane

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:59 am


I think it was useful that Mother Teresa had to “test her leading” with people of spiritual weight, and I can see that it helped her clarify her vision, but at the same time it irks that she had to get permission from her archbishop to do what God told her to do. (I recognize, of course, that I’m a product of my culture.) What if the archbishop had said no and shut her down? What if she hadn’t had such a tenacious personality? Have archbishops shut down other women who weren’t as strongwilled (especially as women are traditionally taught to be submissve)? Is this why we have fewer nuns and sisters or why some women in the RC church are taking matters into their own hands? I wonder if Teresa would have gone out on her own (I think not) if refused permission … but should she have?



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Mark

posted September 11, 2007 at 7:39 am


Diane:
There are loads of people out there who believe God is telling them to do things. Loads.
Within Catholicism, the hierarchical structure of needing permission, etc., has sometimes caused great suffering to those determined on mission and reform. In fact, it’s sort of the constant theme – but in retrospect, it seems to have great value in that it really does function to winnow the wheat from the chaff. If you look at Catholic history, those movements that often endured great opposition from fellow Christians or reluctance from Church leaders are those that still exist and flourish today. Franciscans, Jesuits…etc. All met resistance. For a reason, we can only conclude.
And as for the current situation, contemporary religious orders basically do what they want, and have since Vatican II, and those that most emphasize the “Freedom” to do whatever are those that are dying. THose that emphasize careful obedience are flourishing.



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Mike Mercer

posted September 11, 2007 at 8:30 am


Scot, these chapters really bring out the importance of the COMMUNITY in individual decision-making and guidance. Though I do not ascribe to the absolute hierarchy of the RC tradition, I can’t help but think how much healthier the church would be if we had wise spiritual leaders and structures in place by which the “visions” of those who hear God “speak” to them could be tested and refined. Certainly M. Teresa’s determination is noteworthy here. In my reading, even more noteworthy is her willingness to submit her determination to a process wherein her vision could be tested.



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John McBryde

posted September 11, 2007 at 8:56 am


For those interested, Father Benedict Groeschel — who knew her for thirty years — has written a short article on Mother Teresa and her Dark Night of the Soul, over at First Things.
See: Mother Teresa Remembered (Sept. 11, 2007)
http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/



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John W Frye

posted September 11, 2007 at 9:23 am


The Quakers (read some of Parker Palmer’s books) have what they call a “clearness committee” where there is an intention intersect between “the individual and God” and “the community’s voice” in guidance. Both are valued, neither gets to act alone.



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John W Frye

posted September 11, 2007 at 9:24 am


Oops! In comment #8 above that should read “…intentional intersect…”



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JACK

posted September 11, 2007 at 10:27 am


Diane:
FWIW, this type of testing of a call within Catholicism is not something reserved merely for women. It isn’t a gender thing.



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Julia

posted September 11, 2007 at 12:33 pm


In addition to what Jack has said about testing of a call..
Mother Teresa, as a professed member of a religious order, took vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. Your regular parish priest does not take the vow of poverty and therefore can own property, but still must be chaste and obedient. However, the parish priest’s obedience does not extend as far into his personal life as it does with members of religious orders. A big part of this obedience involves where you live, what work you do and how you spend your time.
As a lay person, I haven’t taken a solemn vow of obedience and could start a mission aimed at helping the people Teresa served without getting any religious permission – unless I wanted to be able to claim I was connected with the local diocese or wanted funding from the diocese. There are reasons for this; e.g. a de-frocked ex-priest in my area still fools people into thinking he is operating a Catholic travel service when actually he is just taking people to Catholic destinations such as Lourdes and Rome. There are scoundrels and misguided people in all walks of life and bishops and heads of religious orders try to head them off at the pass.
By the way, St Teresa of Avila had to battle her share of ecclesiastics who didn’t like uppity women. She was even investigated by the Inquisition!!!



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Julia

posted September 11, 2007 at 12:48 pm


Post Script:
By way of Amy Welborn, here is a link to a bit on a philosophy professor’s month in Calcutta working with Mother Teresa in 1975 as a young man. He asked her to pray for him to get clarity about what to do with his life and she said no, she would pray for him to have trust in God. When asked,she said she never had real clarity about what she was supposed to do; she just had trust.
http://www.slu.edu/x17408.xml



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Mike Mercer

posted September 11, 2007 at 1:16 pm


I still think there must be a better way than the Protestant free-for-all that so often produces circus ministries and monstrous egos (as well as hairdos!). Most of the American evangelical church, at least, has been thoroughly enculturated into radical individualism.



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Patrick Hare

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:04 pm


Mike M.
As the behavior of some American Cardinals sadly demonstrates, Protestants have no monopoly on egos. I’ll concede the hairdos though. ;o)
But American Evangicalism is the child of rugged American frontier individualism, to be sure. There needs to be a balance between personal faith and participating in community with its attendant authority. (as well as caring for creation – I remember reading those three aspects of the gospel somewhere . . .)



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Diane

posted September 11, 2007 at 4:41 pm


Mark,
Thanks for the information. I think I am trying to comment on the intrinsic tension between obedience to God and obedience to a religious institution. We would hope the two would be in complete identity, but we know we live in a fallen world … As I said, I recognize that I speak in the voice of the culture, and I value the implicit critique of individualism offered by the RC Church and MT. I am not, however, ready to swing into unquestioning obedience to earthly authority …
St. Francis is an interesting case in point. He was a peripheral RC when he began his ministry, entirely lay, and not subject to the chain of command that governed Teresa. He began a bottoms-up grassroots revival movement that the church tagged on to, not vice versa. He resisted creating an institutionalized order in the tradition of the Benedictines and the Dominicans because he envisioned something more dynamic, changing and fluid. He capitulated only once he realized he was dying, and like many dying people, recognized his only hope was to try to influence as far as possible the order that was inevitably going to bear his name. His statement in his will that he got his directions directly from God, not the church, did not sit well with the hierarchy. So, to me, he exhibits some of the tension that exists between church and God. I think it’s healthy.
John Frye: Hi. I am, at least in part, a Quaker and yes, the Quaker clearness process is similar to the RC subjecting of call to community discernment, though the Quaker methodology is more equalitarian. Quakers have often been likened to Catholics in their emphasis on community. However, the Quaker community has been influenced by the individualism in our society. Sometimes clearness committees become rubber stamps for individual self-will. However, when they function well, they do a very good job of aiding the discernment process. They are not hierarchical.
Jack, I know that both men and women in the RC world must test their calls, and I hope I didn’t imply otherwise. I wonder, though, given the subordinate position of nuns and sisters in the RC world (by which I mean they can not be ordained), if they carry a more significant burden in proving that their leadings come from God.



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Fred

posted September 11, 2007 at 5:37 pm


Diane,
the equivalent to nuns and sisters in Catholicism are not parish priests but religious brothers. True, the religious brothers are for the most part ordained, but that was a historical development mostly due to the needs of missionaries. Perhaps a better comparison today would be lay ecclesial movements (or even better, secular institutes), which are composed mostly of non- ordained people.
I’m not sure what you mean when you refer to St. Francis as a peripheral Catholic. He was lay. Tierney’s Western Europe in the Middle Ages notes that the reforms of Francis were not original to him but had been proposed unsuccessfully by earlier reformers; the difference with Francis was that he insisted on strict adherence to the bishops even when they were heavily restrictive.
As a religious sister, however, Mother Teresa would have faced more trouble than a lay woman – the main issue being released from vows…



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Mike Mercer

posted September 11, 2007 at 6:07 pm


Any other good examples/experiences of the discipline of spiritual direction out there?



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Fred

posted September 12, 2007 at 4:53 pm


Mike,
An interesting comparison might be Maurice and Therese, a set of letters between a priest and St. Therese of Lisieux. I haven’t read it yet, but the priest is the one seeking assistance from Therese.
Fred



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JACK

posted September 12, 2007 at 6:21 pm


Diane,
You say “subordinate position” because they cannot be ordained.
I certainly understand where that comes from. Believe me, there’s a definite history of clericalism in the Catholic Church. The old phrase was the laity are to “pray, pay and obey”. Of course, the result was not that this clericalism just among the clergy (which are deacons, priests and bishops), but also among the laity. I cannot tell you how many laity I meet define what it means to “serve God” based on the things that are reserved to the clergy. (Which in reality are really a few things only tied to certain of the sacraments. Many of the administrative tasks priets perform are not inherent to the ordained.)
But there is a long history of a recognition that this clericalism is a wrong understanding of the value and contribution of the laity. In fact, I would argue that one of the primary fruits of Vatican II is a fuller recognition that the primary vocation of all is that of baptism, to holiness. So I really would suggest that the fact they can’t be ordained makes it harder. (And there are plenty of men who can’t be ordained too, although some of the hurdles are a matter of discipline and not inherent to the sacrament.) Honestly, I think the Church’s refreshing attitude towards claims of personal revelation is to question.
Fred’s right to mention the countless lay ecclesial movements as a modern example of this type of fruit. You must understand that there has been a constant tension through the years between the institutional nature of the Church and the movement of the Spirit. New forms of life have popped up that have defied all the prior categories and there has been an adjustment process to that, that’s taken centuries. One in fact could argue that it wasn’t until the rise of secular institutes and lay movements that the Church recognized in its canon law a place for the form of life that St. Francis in some ways initially envisioned. There’s a fascinating development, for example, of some of these more ancient order (I’m thinking of the Carmelites for example) who had developed third orders as a way to allow lay members who don’t take vows (because technically religious brothers and sisters are still laity) to participate in the charism and spirituality of these orders. The Carmelites have in fact begun a lay movement called the Ecclesial Carmelite Movement that is a re-establishment of the charism for the laity in the context of a movement versus a third order. I’ve not gotten my hands around the distinctions they are drawing but I think it is fascinating.
Without diving to much further into the intricacies of Catholic Church polity and canon law, my main premise is that this process takes a long time. Centuries even.
I myself am a member of a lay movement. I’ve seen in the short time that first hand. There can be a resistance to what’s new on the part of individual members of the clergy (and the laity for that matter). But I’ve also seen, in the broad picture, the church does not resist the Spirit. My movement has only been around for some fifty years or so, but it is remarkable to see how much it has been embraced by the Church today versus years ago. In fact, I would posit that in some ecclesial bodies, we would have been forced to leave that body, that it could not adapt to include our new form of life within it. But the Catholic Church, when you look under the hood, really does accept a multitude of forms of life as valid for the Christian, all under one roof.
At the same time, I can speak to the benefit from the testing, first hand. I have no doubt that some of the new lay movements of today won’t exist in a hundred years. For some, they will have lived out the purpose the Spirit had for them. Others, it will be because there were defects in their character, things that went wrong. Let me be blunt: there are quacks among us in the lay movements. So it is actually that obedience to the Church that gives me confidence in these new forms of life. That they won’t become cults of their own and that members won’t lose sight of what they are: a way to life out the Christian vocation, not the way. An “accent”, if you will, to the universal faith, not a different language.
I don’t know if that is helpful.



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JACK

posted September 13, 2007 at 9:27 am


Should have been “So I really would suggest that the fact they can’t be ordained DOES NOT makes it harder”. Bad typo.



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