by Elizabeth Hemmerdinger | bio

Though I’m no theologian, I read with great interest Time Magazine’s Sept. 3 cover story about Mother Teresa’s faith. Or, more precisely, her perceived lack of it.

The issues are carefully and graciously laid out by the writer, David Van Biema, and I refer you to the article to explicate the Catholic Church’s take on the matter. 

Christ, Mother Teresa said, when she received the Nobel Prize in 1979, is everywhere. "Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor we meet, Christ in the smile we give and in the smile we receive."

Yet Mother Teresa had her doubts. The why’s and wherefore’s surrounding her professed absence of Christ, what she called the "darkness," are explained in letters written over a 66-year period between Mother Teresa and her superiors. Her searching is truly magical and beyond my abilities to comprehend.

But in all this there is something I can relate to: Mother Teresa felt she was faking it.

Who among us hasn’t been there? In bed, at a business meeting — in any number of social situations in which we consciously say something we know not to be true. My hand’s up.

Van Beima writes that Mother Teresa "is acutely aware of the discrepancy between her inner state and her public demeanor." 

"The smile," she writes, is "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything." Similarly, she wonders whether she is engaged in verbal deception. "I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God — tender, personal love," she remarks to an adviser. "If you were [there], you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy.’"

Surely most of us can relate. Most of us have smiled, once or twice, anyway, while at the same time thinking something like, "I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!" You may remember that great line from "Network," the wonderful 1976 movie with Peter Finch as news anchor Howard Beale, who has an on-air outburst after he’s been fired. We all feel tormented inside sometimes, though we may not speak it. And yet Mother Teresa endured her public silence for 50 years!

According to the article, Mother Teresa often urged people to accept Jesus and his presence in their lives. And she felt — another of the all time great pop quotes — "Nothing." ("A Chorus Line," if you’re having a senior moment.)

Except for five weeks in 1958, Mother Teresa felt this dreadful absence from 1948 until her death on Sept. 5, 1997, often with such despair that she couldn’t speak and so was urged by various mentors to write her thoughts and feelings.

Mother Teresa wrote many things, including the directive that upon her death her writings on this subject must be destroyed. So what happens next week? Publication of her letters in "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," courtesy of Doubleday. The book’s editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, is also her postulator, responsible for petitioning for her sainthood and for assembling the supporting documents.

What are we to make of the church overruling Mother Teresa’s wishes? She was the spiritual leader and inspiration on a magnitude few have ever achieved. She’s been beatified; she’s on her way to being canonized … and yet her wishes were not respected? 

As a founding member of Women’s Voices for Change, I’m all about being heard. But, for Christ’s sake, if I ask you to keep my confidence, I expect you’ll do that for me. Even on a little thing. (I have faith in this much.)

And I’m certainly not questioning this extraordinary woman’s acts or concern for others; I take all her good acts without any doubt or cynicism. It’s just that I noticed a familiar gender-related trend — men sometimes act as though they know better.

Aren’t priests supposed to keep secrets? Is there a theologian out there who can illuminate this for me? Because, frankly, on this matter of faith, I’m in the dark.

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