Beliefnet
Sean Callahan of Catholic Relief Services was CRS' Country Representative for India in the mid-1990s. Based in Calcutta, his office worked on a daily basis with the Missionaries of Charity, the religious order Mother Teresa founded and CRS' local church partner in caring for India's poor. Callahan had regular contact with Mother Teresa herself between 1994 to 1996. Callahan spoke to Beliefnet about Mother Teresa's daily life and the posthumous revelation that she often did not feel God's presence.

What would a typical day for Mother Teresa have been like?

6:00 a.m. would probably be the beginning of her public day. They had a Mass in the morning in a room that was rather interesting. It was somewhat ethereal, the whole experience.

The Mass was in a room that overlooked A.J.C. Bose Road, where the Mother House [of the Missionaries of Charity] is located. There are streetcars going by, wafts of smoke coming in, people out on the street. You have a group of volunteers on one side, a group of sisters, and then some of the novices. So you hear this singing as you hear the screeching of the streetcars and smoke wafting in, and a priest saying morning Mass.

Mother would always be at the morning Mass sitting against the wall in the back with the sisters. After Mass, she would greet any guests who had come to the house at the time, give them blessings [and] Miraculous Medals, and hear their stories.

From about 7:00 until 1:00 she would be working, fulfilling her mission: going to the different houses [that the sisters] have, meeting with people. As guests would come to the Mother House, she had various meetings that were set up with them. She might be running through the city trying to assist people in various ways with the sisters overseeing the operations. And then planning international trips, so she could keep up contact with the international focus of her congregation.

In the afternoon, the sisters normally would have a period where they would have private prayer and come together as the Missionaries of Charity. After that, they would have an open prayer service that other people could join. But usually from about 1:00 to 4:00, they had an internal time, kind of a time of renewal. A lot of the work that they were doing was grueling, so they reenergized at that point.

Then, after 4:00, they would reopen again and provide that outward service to all.

What was her personality like?

When I met her in 1994, she was a woman who had already won the Nobel Peace Prize [and] was famous throughout the world, but she would meet anyone who came in, whether they had an appointment or not.

She was very open and warm. She usually took your hand and enveloped it with her hands. Although her physical size wasn’t very large, her hands were like velvet pillows, and they’d kind of engulf your hand. She’d speak to you softly. She could be very warm and very gentle.

At other times, we’d participate in community or family events. In those events she was always very joyous, had a good sense of humor, [and] loved to sing. She was very, very joyful, energetic, and inspiring.

What did you think when you learned that she had felt spiritual desolation--the sense that God is distant--for so long?

In India we heard about it when the letters were first released in 2002 and 2003. As a foundress of an order that was dedicated to people who had been cast away, people subject to violence, it’s not surprising that someone might have doubts at certain times.

To me, Mother Teresa really had founded her life on two things: Trying to fulfill God’s will and trying to make sure that the human dignity of all people was respected.

When you work in some of the centers in Calcutta and see the harshness of poverty and the harsh things humans can do to each other, at times it can call into question. To me, the fact that she may have had some doubts humanizes her a little bit more. It signifies that she was an inquisitive person.

Someone who would question, but still would live her life [that way]--it really showed a great inner strength.

Did you ever see her counsel people through their own times of spiritual darkness?

I think oftentimes she did counsel people, particularly people within her own community. Sometimes it was through meditation and prayer and being with the person.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus