Via Media

Via Media

More Mother Teresa

A few interesting reactions from here and there:
Carl Olson has some excerpts from Christopher Hitchens on MSNBC. The man (Hitchens) is pathological in his hatred of Mother Teresa. What is it in her that riles him so? We can only guess.

Whatever else can be said about Atheistic Flavor of the Year Christopher Hitchens, the man has a penchant for rhetorical flourishes, which only go so far to cover up his obsessive dislike for Mother Teresa and his flimsy “damned if you doubt, damned if you don’t” argument against the Catholic Church. Here are some of Hitchens’ measured, careful reflections, courtesy of
• “These scrawled, desperate documents…” | Mother Teresa, in other words, didn’t have a laptop. Funny, when Catholics talk about how happy they are to be Catholic, Hitchens says they are idiots. When they admit that they sometimes have doubts and frustrations, he calls them idiots. Sense a distinct pattern here?
• “So, which is the more striking: that the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favorable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe?” | What is even more striking is how Hitchens misrepresents or misunderstands faith and belief. But what do you expect from a man whose book, God Is Not Great, is chock full of howlers and mistakes that would make most 8-year-old atheists blush with shame?
• “…it is the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels.” | Which explains why so many people accept theism, rejecting atheism and the dogmas of nihilism and secular humanism.


Southern Baptist Dr. Albert Mohler:

The Christian Gospel is the good news that God saves sinners through the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ — his cross and resurrection. Salvation comes to those who believe in Christ — it is by grace we are saved through faith.
But the faith that saves is not faith in faith, nor faith in our ability maintain faith, but faith in Christ. Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves.
There is a sweet and genuine emotional aspect to the Christian faith, and God made us emotional and feeling creatures. But we cannot trust our feelings. Our faith is not anchored in our feelings, but in the facts of the Gospel.
As an evangelical Christian, I have to be concerned that part of Mother Teresa’s struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. She was certainly not worthy of salvation. Nor am I. Nor is any sinner. The essence of the Gospel is that none is worthy of salvation. That is what makes salvation all about grace. As the Apostle Paul taught us, the wonder of God’s grace is that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.
Our confidence is in Christ, not in ourselves. We are weak; He is strong. We fluctuate; He is constant. We cannot trust our feelings nor our emotional state. We trust in Christ. Those who come to Christ by faith are not kept unto him by our faith, but by his faithfulness.
I possess no ability to read Mother Teresa’s heart, but I do sincerely hope that her faith was in Christ, and not in her own faithfulness.


Fr. Andrew Greeley, in his regular column today:

Was there no one in the deep sub-basements of ABC who knew about the Dark Night of the Soul — an experience in which someone on the road to sanctity feels abandoned by God and has to cling to faith and vocation by sheer stubborn faith? Could not someone at a local chancery call ABC and say, hey, you idiots, that feeling of abandonment is one more proof that she was a saint?
Catholics know that doubt and fear are part of the human condition, and absolute certainty is rarely if ever granted, and merits skepticism if it’s offered. St. Teresa of Avila experienced the Dark Night; Juan de la Cruz did, too, and wrote one of the greatest of poems in human literature about it (“Once in the Dark of Night”). St. Therese of Lisieux lived through it in the last years of her brief life. Jesus’ Agony in the Garden was quite literally a Dark Night. So was his cry, ”Why have you forsaken me?”
When I’m asked if I experience doubts, I usually answer, ”No more than 20, but that’s before breakfast.”
I suspect that some Catholic source tried to explain these matters to the ABC reporter, but the reporter’s paradigm for all things Catholic is scandal and had been given that paradigm by his news editor, who already had the lead for the story in mind. How could the clip have begun with ”Catholic experts on sanctity said today that the revelation of the secret letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta were simply one more proof that she indeed was a saint and a very great saint at that.”
No, it was a much better ”grabber” to summon up an atheist to proclaim that the soon-to-be saint was a hypocrite. Like I say, a medicine man with poisoned arrows in the rain forest would get a better break. He would be someone novel.

Comments read comments(17)
post a comment

posted August 31, 2007 at 8:13 am

Perhaps Hitchens is a good canary? Given his militant antagonism to Christianity, his allergic reaction to Mother Teresa becomes a sort of commendation?

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 8:34 am

Reading Dr. Mohler’s comments makes me even more thankful that I’m not a Baptist anymore.

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 10:27 am

Rather patronising to Mother Teresa whom Mohler seems to have entirely misunderstood. Surely everything that we have read about Teresa in the last few days confirms precisely that she DIDN’T trust in herself but wholly in Christ, in His strength and not her own.
“I have to be concerned that part of Mother Teresa’s struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. She was certainly not worthy of salvation. Nor am I. Nor is any sinner”
This barely makes sense to me. He says he’s CONCERNED that she didn’t consider herself worthy of salvation; then he says she was quite right.
Being painfully aware of her own unworthiness for salvation didn’t mean that Mother Teresa despaired of God’s grace, but exactly the opposite: she depended on it entirely.

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 10:27 am

It probably seems to odd to most of us Catholics that folks are so shocked that Mother Theresa experienced doubts. I can not understand why it is such a big headline-grabber. Fr. Greely summed it up very nicely. And as far as Hitchen’s goes: he is no different from Sean Hannity, Michael Moore, Ann Coulter or Al Franken. They are all blow-hards saying ridiculous things that enable them to be the center of attention. Hitchens just does it with a British accent.
And yet, I feel obligated to pray for him just as I pray for the rest of us sinners.

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 10:30 am

If Dr. Mohler read the book or some of the actual excerpts rather than react to biased news reports, he would discover that Mother Teresa’s faith was not in her faithfulness but in Christ. The media really took this all out of context. On Point (NPR) had a pretty (fair) good interview with the editor of the book (also postulator for her cause) and another priest. Additional letters were read and information presented that I have not seen in other media accounts (have not read the Time article yet). She said that while she struggled in her quiet prayer when she was working with the people she felt a presence.
These were letters written to her spiritual director. Judging her solely on these would be like judging someone’s health soley on the syptoms they reported to their doctor. None of the good is not discussed. One does not witness to the world the way she did, accomplish the things she did, fueled only by faith in self. The letter show her public image was no solace to her. She could only do what she did for love of Jesus.

report abuse

Carl Olson

posted August 31, 2007 at 11:07 am

Not to be self-serving, but here is the link to all of my heated comments about Hitchens (Amy’s link doesn’t seem to be working above), written after midnight under the influence of two Pepsis and a venti iced mocha. :-)

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 11:11 am

You go, Father Greeley!
(We will now consider that boring Blackie-West Wing book cancelled out.)

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 11:12 am

Forgot to say that… it’s very disturbing that some Christian pastors show such discomfort with suffering, doubt, and feelings of abandonment.
What do they think Jesus felt on the cross? Peace, joy, and banana splits?

report abuse

Heath White

posted August 31, 2007 at 11:28 am

I think a slightly fuller quote brings Mohler’s concern out better:
“As an evangelical Christian, I have to be concerned that part of Mother Teresa’s struggle was that she did not consider herself worthy of salvation. She was certainly not worthy of salvation. Nor am I. Nor is any sinner. The essence of the Gospel is that none is worthy of salvation. That is what makes salvation all about grace. As the Apostle Paul taught us, the wonder of God’s grace is that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”
The concern here is that “despairing because one is not worthy of salvation” seems to have, as its flip side, the possibility of “being confident because one is worthy of salvation,” which no one ought to be.
Also, he’s perfectly clear that lots of Christians doubt and there is no intrinsic problem with that.

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 11:48 am

Well, that’s better. I’m glad to hear it.
Amusingly, I just last night finished my public domain audiobook of The Dark Night of the Soul and put it up on So there’s the reply from St. John of the Cross (or St. Juan de la Cruz, if you prefer).

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 12:15 pm

“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, ‘My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.'” – St. Paul
“I can’t express in words — the gratitude I owe you for your kindness to me — for… I have come to love the darkness — for I believe now that it is part of a very, very small part of Jesus’ darkness & pain on earth. You have taught me to accept it [as] a ‘spiritual side of your work’ as you wrote — Today really I felt a deep joy — that Jesus can’t go anymore through the agony — but that He wants to go through it in me.” – Mother Teresa to Neuner, Circa 1961

report abuse


posted August 31, 2007 at 3:30 pm

I possess no ability to read Mother Teresa’s heart, but I do sincerely hope that her faith was in Christ, and not in her own faithfulness.
I read this quote from Mother Teresa recently:
It is not how much we really “have” to give but how empty we are — so that we can receive fully in our life. Take away your eyes from yourself and rejoice that you have nothing — that you are nothing — that you can do nothing. Give Jesus a big smile each time your nothingness frightens you.

report abuse


posted September 1, 2007 at 12:49 pm

Apart from my wonderment at Fr. Greeley, I’m also struck again by the need we have to pray for one another. God seems to be careful about giving this intense kind of trial only to those who have already been brought along in faith. But the fact is, we never know who may be going through what temptation. “Let us encourage one another daily while it is still called ‘today’.” (Heb. 3:13)

report abuse

Donald R. McClarey

posted September 2, 2007 at 8:17 am

This whole tempest regarding Mother Teresa’s feeling an absence of God only lacks a teapot! The Apostles who had Christ, God incarnate, before them, were beset by doubts. Some Christians go their entire lives without experiencing any doubts, others like Mother Teresa, are beset by them. Nothing unsual in the slightest. However, the modern World is so tone deaf to anything to do with the spiritual life, that this simple fact is treated as a vast revelation! This silly controversy did do something however that I thought impossible: It increased the vast regard in which I hold Mother Teresa. Her Christian witness is all the more splendid in that she had a turbulent spiritual life and not a placid one that some saints are blessed with.

report abuse


posted September 2, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I think it’s quite beautiful that Mother Teresa shared in Christ’s suffering by experiencing a period of darkness like he experienced on the cross. I also think that stories like these emphasize the importance of participating in the Church. Participation in the rituals of the Church sustains us through those times when we cannot sustain ourselves. It is for that reason above all others that I believe the Church is wise to require Mass attendance and participation in the Sacraments.
As for Mohler’s response, it simply confirms my befuddlement at Evangelical theology. Here I always thought the message of the Gospels was that the Kingdom of God is at hand (some prominent evangelicals like Brian McLaren would agree). It amazes me that Evangelicals could question the salvation of a servant of God like Mother Teresa – a woman whose eternal salvation will (I expect) be confirmed by the infalliable authority of the Church which God Himself established, a fact that is recorded in the Gospels along with the other facts Mohler finds so important – and then assume that the worst sinners among us will attain eternal salvation so long as they believe they are saved by Christ. Forget theology and scripture; that doesn’t even pass the laugh test.

report abuse


posted September 3, 2007 at 10:19 am

I think there are two reasons that Hitchens finds Mother Teresa so threatening. One is that her holiness testifies to her faith, and to God. He senses that God manifests himself through saints like Mother Teresa. The second reason is that her holiness is a reproach to his lack of holiness. He feels he must tear down anything that appears to be better than he is.

report abuse

Karen LH

posted September 4, 2007 at 6:26 am

I don’t think that Christopher Hitchens disbelieves in God. I think he’s angry with God.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

There is nothing I shall want
A couple of weeks ago, a memorial Mass for Michael was held here in Birmingham at the Cathedral. The bishop presided and offered a very nice, even charming homily in which he first focused on the Scripture readings of the day, and then turned to ...

posted 9:24:16am Mar. 05, 2009 | read full post »

Revolutionary Road - Is it just me?
Why am I the only person I know..or even "know" in the Internet sense of "knowing"  - who didn't hate it? I didn't love it, either. There was a lot wrong with it. Weak characterization. Miscasting. Anvil-wielding mentally ill prophets.But ...

posted 9:45:04pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Books for Lent
No, I'm not going to ask you about your Lenten reading lists...although I might.Not today, though. This post is about giving books to others. For Lent, and a long time after that. You know how it goes during Lent: Prayer, Fasting and ...

posted 9:22:07pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Why Via Media
How about....because I'm lame and hate thinking up titles to things? No? about...St. Benedict? Yes, yes, I know the association with Anglicanism. That wasn't invovled in my purpose in naming the joint, but if draws some Googling ...

posted 8:54:17pm Mar. 04, 2009 | read full post »

Brave Heart?
I don't know about you, but one of effects of childbirth on me was a compulsion to spill the details. All of them.The whole thing was fascinating to me, so of course I assumed everyone else should be fascinated as well in the recounting of every ...

posted 10:19:45pm Mar. 03, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.