Mother Teresa’s Honesty and The Assurance of Christ’s Presence

All the hullabaloo about whether Mother Teresa believed or not, misses the point that all believers, if they are completely honest, feel this way many, many times. There are vast swaths of time in our lives when our perception of God or God “himself” (sic) is indeed absent. SOMA has a good take on it;

It’ll be interesting to see how the faithful respond to these bombshells. A big chunk of Christendom insists that ethics and morality are impossible without belief in God. If there’s no God, why be good? But Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith suggests what any life-loving agnostic or atheist knows: If there’s no God, why not be good? You don’t need the right metaphysics to minister to the poor, sick, and orphaned, or to reap the spiritual rewards that come from helping others. And as Mother Teresa also shows, you don’t even need belief in God to be fast-tracked to sainthood.

I agree. But, I’m not sure about the sainthood part. Protestants believe all the faithful are saints, not just a select few. But SOMA is right. You indeed do not have to believe in God to minister to anyone. In fact, those who feel God the least, but feel deeply this loss of Divine Presence, are the ones that are the most Christlike. The ones who claim to know God the most are the least Christlike. This is the paradox of true vs. made-up religion.

I find in reading books about Catholic “saints” that this is a common sentiment, especially among the women. I’ve read Bernadette’s (Song of Bernadette subject)  biography, Sr. Faustina’s diary, and now Mother Teresa and all the women were frightened of not being in the presence of God many times. I find this disturbing. Bernadette especially died unsure of her salvation. In fact, she had horrible visions of hell at her death. This is the one thing about Catholicism that I find is not in keeping with the christian scriptures at all, this constant fear of hell. (Arminian vs. Calvin debates discouraged at this point!) If anything can be learned about the biblical writers, especially Paul, it’s that they were assured of their seeing God at death (Rom. 8:38-39; Phil 1:6) Or, maybe only the men were assured and the women were not; women being the worriers that they are. Perhaps it’s a gender thing. But then, we will never know what biblical women thought now will we?

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25 thoughts on “Mother Teresa’s Honesty and The Assurance of Christ’s Presence

  1. I actually feel sad for her, because I got the impression that due to how well-known she was, she couldn’t be “honest” about this, but had to put on a mask for everyone else. She was inspiring leader for a lot of people, and an example of the best of humanity, so what would it have done if she had admitted this while alive?

    So in a way, I wonder if the public put her in this position by elevating her to this impossible high place. If anything, I find her recent letters make her that much more human.

    **This is the one thing about Catholicism that I find is not in keeping with the christian scriptures at all, this constant fear of hell.**

    Same here. Paul focuses on the soon-approaching Judgement day. ANd there was the sense of not living a life dictated by sin, but rather by love, justice, light and so forth. But no one in the Bible suffered from visions of hell the way many seemed to in history.

  2. Heather,

    Yes, she had to hide her doubts obviously, or how else could she be put on this pedestal that everyone put her on? That’s why I don’t ascribe to this “sainthood” category that the Catholic church bestows on people. How can any institution know what’s in a person’s heart? They can’t possibly. Which is why we cannot EVER judge here on earth about who is spiritually “in” and who is “out.” Talk about spiritual pride!

    You are right. No New Testament writer ever worried about hell except Peter in his letter (2 Peter 2:4) and then only in reference to angels. In fact Paul never mentions it. Jesus is REPORTED to have mentioned it, but he only meant the fire pit outside of Jerusalem. I find the doctrine of “hell” a convenient tool for the institutionalized church to use to keep people in line. It apparently worked.

  3. Any excuse will do for some people. You either believe and follow the Bible (old and new) or you don’t. Mother Teresa is a saint. She was also a person like you and me. We all have times of weakness. That is why believing in God and reading the Scriptures is and always will be the way to Heaven.

  4. MOI

    i think there is nothing wrong with doubt…we were never expected to have perfect faith, because if that were the case, then we would all be damned.

    but to address more specifically the question of Theresa and say Hildegard, or someone like that, i think there is good reason for such “emptiness”.

    you see, these women (and men) were “mystics” and have ecstatic rapturous relationships with God. so there were moments when they would feel supremely close to Christ and moments, when God’s presence would seem absent. this isnt a rip on mysticism, its just giving rationale for why there are often times of doubt for mystics.

    what do you think?

    peter

  5. episcopalifem

    unfortunately, i think you make a claim that you cannot back up. if you choose to change the historical definition (and Scriptural) of faith, then so be it. but under a traditional definition, faith is not the opposite of certainty.

    for instance, Paul says that Abraham had “faith”. for what? for believing God’s promise with certainty that God would follow through. Because in regard to the promise of Isaac, Abraham had to wait 25 yrs. sure, Abraham doubted the manner in which God would do so during that time, thus Ismail.

    or another example, Hebrews says that faith the “certainty of hope”.

    but even in a secular perspective, faith has an aspect of certainty. the world sees “faith” as typically a negative thing for this exact reason, because they believe that it is a blind adherence to belief.

    so here, we come to the real crux of the issue. i dont think faith is opposite of certainty, but i do think that faith has room for evidence and difference of opinion. there is no question that blind faith is foolish. this, not certainty is the problem, i believe.

    for example, suppose there was a magician, he shows a person three nut cups and a marble. he then places the marble under the middle nut cup and mixes them around. then he asks you to guess which cup it is under. you pick the one you thought was it, but its not there. now in this situation, would you honestly believe that the magician made the marble disappear??? or are you “certain” that the marble is still somewhere? you dont believe that the marble has disappeared. even if the magician were to uncover the other two nut cups and claim that he made the marble vanish. you still hold with certainty the marble is somewhere, though you cannot see it.

    so faith does have a measure of certainty in it. and “certainly”, i dont think faith is the opposite of certainty.

    what do you think?

    peter

  6. MOI,

    ** I find the doctrine of “hell” a convenient tool for the institutionalized church to use to keep people in line.**

    As do I. Even when used in the Bible about suffering and such, those who were consigned to that generally followed a path of selfishness and darkness. Such as the sheep/goat story, or even the type of people who followed the fruits of the flesh.

    Peter,

    I’m guessing based on your response you haven’t heard that saying before? “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty?” That’s usually said in response to those who claim to know exactly about God and says that doubt is the worst thing to experience because it calls God a liar. The faith there is usually in reference to the blind faith that holds no room for doubt or examining one’s viewpoint.

  7. Mother Theresa was a loving, giving, kind, generous, empathetic and Christlike person. She lived what Christ taught everyday. Love God and love your neighbors.
    The fact that she struggled with her faith, as we all do at times, makes her human, so very human.
    She is with God now and knows all of the answers that she searched for. God is there, Jesus loves all of us, and the Holy Spirit will be with those who ask.

  8. Dan,

    Are you saying that many, many people during the centuries who had no bible or couldn’t read are not in heaven? Methinks you have one too many requirements there.

  9. Hi Peter,

    I think that God is more absent than present in this world and among us material folk if you think of “him” as transcendent. However, if God is that part of our most inmost Spirit, the seed that is in all of us, I think the times we THINK God is absent is the time we are most out of tune with ourselves and our own inner voice.

    Does that make sense at all? Good to see you over here!

  10. heather,

    sure, but that is why i explained that this isnt really the case. people often think blind faith is “faith”. therefore, in response the answer is not to redefine faith, but to realize that people misunderstand it.

    peter

  11. Episcopalifem,

    I think this is pretty close to the truth of it. I would also define faith as “not knowing for certain.” Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” This would imply that we can be certain our faith is true if we hope it is. It doesn’t mean it’s a fact. Ok, does this make any sense at all either?

    Too many Mojitos at the restaurant tonight. 🙂

  12. MOI

    i think you made a good pt. that was what i was trying to say as well. there is certainty in faith, but it is certainty of hope. certainty of hope is not certainty of fact.

    so i agree that certainty (of fact) is not faith. but i dont think its antithetical to faith either. its just stupid because it ignores the facts.

    does that make more sense?
    peter

  13. But then, we will never know what biblical women thought now will we?

    There are several Jewish women who write on the hints of women’s voices they hear in Torah. I suppose in order to do that we have to allow these women to be real people with their own minds and not just see them the way they’ve always been betrayed by men in religion. (I’m leaving it as is. If that’s not the best Freudian slip I’ve ever made I don’t know what is! I intended to write portrayed, but I think betrayed is much closer to the truth.)

    I actually feel sad for her, because I got the impression that due to how well-known she was, she couldn’t be “honest” about this, but had to put on a mask for everyone else.

    JMO. No one who is in the public eye can be totally honest about what they’re dealing with inside. Other people will tear right into them without ever giving a thought that this is a real person with real struggles with real feelings. Look what happens to us on the internet.

    Also some things just have to stay inside because people are quick to jump on personality issues and forget about causes. Perhaps she thought if she was open about her doubts it would detract from the work she was doing helping the poor.

  14. Yael,

    I love Freudian slips. It reveals what we are really thinking while providing some really good commentary. 🙂

  15. Great post. I like what you said in one of your comments, it’s not us for us to judge on earth who is spiritually in and out.

  16. SurfaceE,
    Yes, I believe that sincerely. Unlike some fundies who love to say that Mother Teresa is in hell because she was Catholic, I find that the height of absurdity and spiritual pride. “Don’t believe as I believe? Then you’re in hell” is basically what they are saying.

    All true religion is all about action not belief. The Pharisees in the New Testament believed all the right things but were continually rebuked by Jesus for failing to show acts of mercy and kindness (Mat. 23). And if anyone shows they are consistently in the Pharisee camp, it’s the fundie Christians. Blind leading the blind.

  17. I often think my religious learning or beliefs are in many ways in their infancy. I cannot get past simple things, for instance, what you said above, faith in God should be in action, i.e. acts of mercy and kindness. How can anything else make sense???

  18. “And if anyone shows they are consistently in the Pharisee camp, it’s the fundie Christians. Blind leading the blind.”

    MOI,
    Um, I have to ask for a favor here. Please don’t put my name and a slur against our sages in the same paragraph. I’m cringing at the moment reading this. The Pharisees are portrayed totally differently in our religions. In Christianity the term ‘Pharisee’ has a very bad connotation; when Jews speak of anti-semitism in your scriptures this is what they are speaking of. In Judaism the Pharisees are those religious leaders who taught the both the Oral and Written Torah. Rabbi Hillel was a famous Pharisee. Pirke Avot, contains much of the wisdom of the Pharisees. It is quite an incredible tractate of Talmud to read and study. It would be remiss of me if I did not speak out for the Pharisees quoted in this truly wonderful book of wisdom for living.

    I’m sure you understand that I had to respond since my name was mentioned. Otherwise I just ignore since we are each entitled to our own opinions.

  19. “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt…its certainty”

    Hmmm,
    Kind of reminds me of something you said awhile back MOI. “The ability to accept something on faith is not the same thing as the search for truth.”

    Let’s be honest, faith is believing in something without any absolute proof of its truthfulness, right? I mean, if I have proof of something, then I don’t really need faith to believe it.

    We all start with doubts which should lead us on a search for the truth.
    To actually find truth requires some proofs.
    Believing in something without proofs is faith and cannot be claimed as truth.

    So, I would rephrase what episcopalifem said just a little:

    “The opposite of faith isn’t doubt…..its truth”

  20. Nooga,

    I’d agree with that. I stand by my statement too. Searching for truth is indeed not the same as accepting something on faith. Accepting something on faith implies ceasing to search for truth, because if truth leads you out of faith, then which is the better path; the faith or the truth? I say truth is always the better path, even if faith has to fall by the wayside. But, there’s the age old question; What is Truth?

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