“Certainly a realistic view of Mother Teresa does not put one in high esteem in the eyes of most Christians these days, but the evidence stands against her, I’m afraid” (Comment at Callies.com).
“I am withdrawing from this discussion because anyone who has not the insight or has the ignorance to attack Mother Teresa is beyond the pale. May God have mercy on your soul” (addressed to me by a Roman Catholic relative).
On 18th November in Texas, William Dembski and Christopher Hitchens debated on the topic “The goodness of God.” In his closing statement, Dembski gave one last gasp of a blast across Hitchens’ mast, which Dembski seemed to think won him the debate: Drown in your defeat, Hitchens, because God is good!” His coup de grâce was Mother Teresa. But Hitchens was not undone or done. In his final statement, Dembski mentions Hitchens’ 1994 BCC documentary “Hell’s Angel” and his books “The Missionary position: Mother Teresa in theory and practice” (1997) and in “God is not Great: How religion poisons everything” (2009). In his books, Hitchens portrays Mother Teresa as a “self-serving hypocrite” (Dembski’s words). Dembski relates that Hitchens accuses Mother Teresa of (I quote from Dembski’s closing statement) “making use of the best medical care for herself while she did not make it available to the poor. Mother Teresa, was offered a pace-maker; she said that she could not accept it but she could accept the money for the poor.” Dembski adds that she also refused other medical offers, and only accepted them when she was close to death and “too ill to fight it.” On that note, Dembski ends his closing statement with these words: “I think I’ll leave it there rather abruptly. In my rhetoric course, I would wrap things up, but I’m going to give Mother Teresa the last word.” (Rhetoric – the art of effective writing and speaking).
After entrusting his last word to Mother Teresa, Dembski handed over the last word of the debate to Hitchens, which consisted of a withering attack on Mother Teresa. Dembski’s consummate proof of the goodness of God – Mother Teresa, merely gave Hitchens the opportunity to blast Mother Teresa, yet again: (with regard to Mother Teresa’s stance on contraception): “I think her preachments led to an enormous increase in the amount of poverty, ignorance, filth and disease in the world…and believe me I’ve barely started with that terrible person.” (Hitchens was directly referring to Mother Teresa’s stance on contraception).
In Hitchens’ eyes, and the eyes of many Christians (see here and here, for examples), Mother Teresa was the last person he would have chosen as an apotheosis of peace. Yet, for many people, she radiated a peace of biblical proportions. The psychiatrist, Gerald Jampolsky was one of these people. In a previous post, I wrote about Gerald Jampolsky’s “Love is letting go of fear,” in which he describes the secret of finding inner peace. Early in the book, he refers to Mother Teresa: “Many of us are finding that, even after obtaining all the things we wanted…there is still an emptiness inside. Mother Teresa of Calcutta calls this phenomenon spiritual deprivation (p. 12).” Further on, he describes a meeting with Mother Teresa:
“I wanted to meet with her because I knew she demonstrated almost a perfect consistency of living a life of inner peace, and I wanted to learn from her how she did this…I experienced an inner stillness while I was in her presence. The power of the Love, of the gentility, the peace that emanated from her was difficult to describe (p. 161).”
The primordial question in the study of human experience is: How much of the smell is in the nose, and how much in the rose? How much comes from inside, how much from outside. With regard to Jampolsky, the peace he saw in Mother Teresa was a figment, because she had little peace in her life. It is possible to mistake somebody else’s tormented demeanour as a picture of peace; this may may have more to do with one’s own relatively greater torment. For the serf, kulak is rich. Mother Teresa’s diaries reveal that she lived in unending agony;1 a long dark night of the soul. I quote Cindy Wooden, a Roman Catholic view: “Longing for God: Mother Teresa’s letters reveal isolation, doubts”:
The priest, who is in charge of preparing material for Mother Teresa’s beatification, is not surprised by the effort it took to open houses for the dying, the sick and the homeless. The surprising aspect is how much she did despite feeling for years that God had abandoned her, he said. Her letters to her spiritual directors over the years are filled with references to “interior darkness,” to feeling unloved by God and even to the temptation to doubt that God exists. She wrote to her spiritual director in a 1959-60 spiritual diary, “In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” In another letter she wrote that she wanted to love God “like he has not been loved,” and yet she felt her love was not reciprocated. In the context of Mother Teresa’s life, the thoughts are not heresy, but signs of holiness, Father Kolodiejchuk said in a late-February interview. Mother Teresa was convinced God existed and had a plan for her life, even if she did not feel his presence, the priest said. “Everyone wants to share, to talk about things, to be encouraged by others,” he said, but Mother Teresa, “hurting on the inside, kept smiling, kept working, kept being joyful.”
These relentless rackings of abandonment are, according to Cindy Wooden – a typical Roman Catholic – “not heresy, but signs of holiness.” The reasoning is that Mother Teresa was at an advanced stage of ultimate union with God. In the first stage (much earlier in her life, one would suppose), she was awakened to awareness in divine reality. She then underwent a purging. For Mother Teresa, the main instrument of this purging was suffering for the world and making others aware that suffering, in itself, brings one close to Christ, no matter what one believed about Him. The next stage is illumination, which is followed by the “dark night of the soul (see St. John of the Cross). The last stage is, reserved for the few, is complete purification, which, according to this mystical view, is filled with confusion, anxiety, helplessness, and a sense of being abandoned by God. Cindy wooden wrote (above) that Mother Teresa “wanted to love God ‘like he has not been loved,’ and yet she felt her love was not reciprocated.” If, however, the Bible is anything to go by, the last mystical stage upsets the greatest, and deepest, promise of Christ:
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through z him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
Mystics tend to dig through the “simple” meaning of the text – as if they were cutting through all the cackle – to uncover the deep secrets of the spiritual Light. That light, according to this mystical view, is the night, the dark night, the dark night of the soul. Jesus cuts off the branches that produce no fruit. Mystics go deeper; they uproot the vine:
“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vine dresser. “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned” (John 15:1-6).
The Roman Catholic Church (of yesteryear – one is never sure what their position is from from one Church Council to the next) claims that it is the vine. Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus, outside the (Catholic) Church there is no salvation. So to accommodate the Roman Catholic view, we get:
“The Roman Catholic Church is the Vine , you the branches: he who abides in the Roman Catholic Church, and the Roman Catholic Church in him, the same bears much fruit, for without the Roman Catholic Church you can do nothing. If anyone is not in the Roman Catholic Church , he shall be cast forth like a branch and wither, and they shall gather him up and cast him him into the fire, and he burneth.”
It is in this Magisterial light that we can better understand Mother Teresa. She would never have dreamed of bringing the Gospel to the sick and the dying; in her book, it was totally uncalled for:
“We never try to convert those who receive [aid from Missionaries of Charity] to Christianity but in our work we bear witness to the love of God’s presence and if Catholics, Protestants, Buddhists, or agnostics become for this better men — simply better — we will be satisfied. It matters to the individual what church he belongs to. If that individual thinks and believes that this is the only way to God for her or him, this is the way God comes into their life — his life. If he does not know any other way and if he has no doubt so that he does not need to search then this is his way to salvation.” (Her Life in the Spirit: Reflections, Meditations and Prayers, pp. 81-82).
In the biography Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work, she is quoted by Desmond Doig as follows: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better Catholic, a better whatever we are. … What approach would I use? For me, naturally, it would be a Catholic one, for you it may be Hindu, for someone else, Buddhist, according to one’s conscience. What God is in your mind you must accept” (Doig, Mother Teresa, Harper & Row, 1976, p. 156). And in the April 7-13, 1990, issue of Radio Times tells the story of Mother Teresa sheltering an old Hindu priest.“She nursed him with her own hands and helped him to diereconciled with his own gods.”
And of Jesus Christ as the way the truth and the life; the saviour of the world? Not a word.
When Mother Teresa died, her long-time friend and biographer Naveen Chawla said that he once asked her bluntly, “Do you convert?” She replied, “Of course I convert. I convert you to be a better Hindu or a better Muslim or a better Protestant. Once you’ve found God, it’s up to you to decide how to worship him” (“Mother Teresa Touched Other Faiths,” Associated Press, Sept. 7, 1997).
“I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic” (Mother Teresa’s A Simple path, p. 31).
The April 7-13, 1990, issue of Radio Times tells the story of Mother Teresa sheltering an old Hindu priest.“She nursed him with her own hands and helped him to diereconciled with his own gods.”
Mother Teresa, was more (less?) than a Roman Catholic; she was a Universalist, that is, a “Catholic,” believing that all religions lead to God – her definition of the “simple path.” This Roman Catholic universalist view is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the papal encyclical, Nostra Aetate, which is in total contradiction to previous previous infallible papal pronouncements that states that outside the Church there is no salvation. In Nostra Aetate, Buddha and Krishna, and the Jews, are the new darlings on the Catholic block. And the Protestants? Oh, they’ll be headed for the block.
In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Anyone who gets a Nobel Prize, doesn’t get it it for standing up for the Christ of the Bible. In his Award Ceremony speech, John Sanness, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee said: “There are many paths we can and must pursue to reach our goals – brotherhood and peace. What does Jesus say: “(Doubting) Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am l the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:5-6). “If the world hates you, you should realize that it hated me before you” (John, 15:18). The Christian Nobel Prize is the Noble Cross:
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matthew16:24-26).
Somebody said to me:“surely Mother Theresa laid down her life for the gospel? She loved the unlovable and made a huge impact on humanity for the gospel. (my italics). “What does it matter if her ‘theology’ was wrong in your eyes; surely Jesus is more interested in ‘active theology’ and not just mental ideas. She for one, used her hands and her feet more than I have – even though I may disagree with her theology.”
Here is a comment in a similar, but less dispassionate, vein:
“It is sad that you waste your energy attacking Mother Teresa for her great sacrifices. Why don’t you get your hands dirty and help a few thousand dying starving people around the world, and then we can complain about you too for not being perfect” (Comment at Callies.com).
The above two views raise the fundamental issue of the relationship between faith and works. For the Jew, it ‘s not about creeds, but deeds. A Jew understands “faithfulness,” that is, loving your neighbour. For the Jew, Faith and faithfulness are synonymous. The same attitude prevails among many modern Roman Catholics. Jesus and the Apostles say that faith (trust) in Him is what saves, not “faithfulness,” that is, works (I’ve discussed this issue here and here).
This Roman Catholic universalist view is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the papal encyclical, Nostra Aetate, which is in total contradiction to previous previous infallible papal pronouncements that states that outside the Church there is no salvation. In Nostra Aetate, Buddha and Krishna, and the Jews, are the new darlings on the Catholic block. And the Protestants? Oh, they’ll be headed for the block.
Most people, including most Roman Catholics, praise Mother Teresa’s “active theology” of nursing “him with her own hands and helped him to die…” in contrast to “mental theology,” that is, mental assent (assensus) to a body of religious doctrines. (See Mental assent to Rome). The “reconciliation with his own gods” only adds to the merit to Mother Teresa’s compassion for meeting the dying “where they were at,” by easing them into the next world to meet their gods. She focuses on comforting the dying but ignores the great Christian commission, which is not to help the dying to become “reconciled with his own gods”, but to preach the good news, to help the person become reconciled to Christ, to the One who has power to send you to hell. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28).
The Christ of the Bible nurses his children in His own arms and helps them to die reconciled with “my God and Your God, my father and your father” (John 20: 17).2
Christians are commanded to go into the world and make disciples of all nations (Matthew, 28:19). We become disciples when we become reconciled not with our gods or anyone else’s gods, but with Jesus Christ. Here is how Paul prays for those who have already been reconciled to Christ, where the reconciliation occurred through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ:
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 2:14-17).”
Christ promises that those who believe in Him shall know; not the love and peace of the mystic, but the love and the peace of Christ that passes all understanding.
Many Christians would say that Mother Teresa brought love and peace to the dying, which they think is the love and peace of Christ. They say (all) love is Christ, (all) peace is Christ. This is not true. A Christian acquaintance of mine says she practises Yoga; only the physical part, mind you. The deep breathing, she says brings peace; it prepares her to enter the inner chamber of Christ’s peace. What is she really doing? She first reconciles herself with her gods – “the princes and power of the air,” most probably – and in so doing prepares the groundwork for reconciling herself to God. Yoga (breathing) in Christ out. Correction on two counts: first, Christ was not in, to start with; second, we don’t – because we are unable – reconcile ourselves to God; it is Christ who reconciles us to God (His Father). How does He do this? He comes to dwell within the “inner man” (Ephesians 2:14 above). In so doing, He becomes our peace: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14:27).
To return to Gerald Jampolsky; when he met Mother Teresa, he was sure he had found the the grand prize; the missing piece of the puzzle. Something, though, was still missing: the peace of the puzzle.
2“In his case the Heavenly One is his natural Father; in our case he is our God. But insofar as this true and natural Son became as we are, so he speaks of the Father as his God, a language fitting to his self-emptying. Still, he gave his very own Father even to us” (Cyril of Alexandria).