On September 5, 1997, the death of St. Teresa of Calcutta, known lovingly as Mother Teresa, saddened the world. Her last act was to lift her hand and touch and kiss the crucifix. Her final words were to offer her sufferings along with those of Jesus and all the while whispering, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I offer myself to you. My God, I thank you, praise you, and adore you. Jesus, I love you.”
Although Mother Teresa’s eighty-seven years of life bore witness to the joy of loving the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, a dark shadow lingered over her. Hidden from the world at large was her interior life, marked by an experience of a deep, painful, and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by him, along with an ever-increasing longing for his love. She called this inner experience “the darkness.” This “painful night” of her soul, which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life—fifty years in all—ultimately brought her to an even more profound union with God. Saint John Paul II, in reference to this aspect of Mother’s life, said: “In the darkest hours she clung even more tenaciously to prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This harsh spiritual trial led her to identify herself more and more closely with those whom she served each day, feeling their pain, and at times, even their rejection. She was fond of repeating that the greatest poverty is to be unwanted, to have no one take care of you.”
What kind of woman was she? I wanted to probe her a bit about the woman behind the icon.
What do you do on dark days?
I often read one of my favorite passages from the Bible, Psalm 84 (“…My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…”).
You must be aware of the high esteem in which you are held by many people. What is your own theory about the reasons for this?
Without our suffering, our work would just be social work. If you accept suffering and offer it to God, those who accept it willingly, those who love deeply, those who offer themselves know its value….Jesus wanted to help by sharing our life, our loneliness, our agony, our death. Only by being one with us has he redeemed us. We are allowed to do the same: all the desolation of the poor people—not only their material poverty but their spiritual destitution—must be redeemed and we must share it, for only by being one with them can we redeem them, that is, by bringing God into their lives and bringing them to God.
What person have you admired most in your lifetime?
One of them was Oscar Romero.
Any woman from the past or present you particularly admire?
Teresa of Ávila….She once said, “There are no interior trials or feelings of dryness, but the soul lives with a remembrance and tender love of our Lord.” She knew that prayer was only produced out of a relationship with God.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you?
In this life we cannot do great things, we can only do small things with great love. Ρ
Excerpted from As I Have Loved You: A Conversation with Mother Teresa, © 2012 John Scally (Liguori Publications, 821486). To order, visit Liguori.org or call 800-325-9521.