Saint Teresa’s Dark Night

September 5th is the feast of St Teresa of Calcutta, this year on a Sunday, but a few words may be in order, as she is truly a saint for our times. Mother Teresa’s life has been marked by the great darkness. How much she felt that total silence from God!

This poignant internal suffering that no one could really understand, opened more her heart to confide to her spiritual director in 1957, the inner hell she was living in.

In the darkness . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me?  The child of your love — and now become as the most hated one. The one — you have thrown away as unwanted — unloved. I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love — the word — it brings nothing.  I am told God lives in me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.

 In 1958 it seemed that Mother Teresa was capable of piercing in the darkness. This occurred during the Requiem Mass which was celebrated in the day following the death of Pope Pius XII. It was this pope who gave her the required permission to leave the Loreto Sisters, and immerse herself among the poor. She wrote: There and then disappeared that long darkness, that pain of loss, of loneliness, of that strange suffering of ten years. Today my soul is filled with love, with joy untold, with an unbroken union of love.

 However, just four weeks later that darkness came on her with all its possible power. She said: He is gone again, leaving me alone. She could not express it much clearer and truer. In fact, from that time onward, till her last breath, Mother Teresa was to live in that utter darkness. Although she never wrote an explicit spiritual canticle that would detail her spiritual torments and feelings of abandonment by God, we may, from the letters we have that openly describe her deep spiritual anguish, depict a sort of a canticle regarding her dark night of the soul.

I did not know that love could make one suffer so much . . .
of pain human but caused by the divine.
The more I want him, the less I am wanted.
I want to love him as he has not been loved,
and yet there is that separation, that terrible
emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.

They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because
of the loss of God . . .
In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss,
of God not wanting me, of God not being God,
of God not really existing.
That terrible longing keeps growing, and I feel as if
something will break in me one day.
Heaven from every side is closed.

I feel like refusing God.

Pray for me
that I may not turn a Judas to Jesus
in this painful darkness.

 Her honest and direct account of what she was suffering is an invaluable encouragement to those who, like her, are suffering so much in their hearts and spirits. What Mother Teresa can teach us when we too experience our existential Calvary, is to unite our suffering with that of Christ to the Father for the salvation of our world. To a priest who was always being scourged by his spiritual blackness she told him:  In you, today, he wants to relive his complete submission to his FatherIt does not matter what you feel, but what he feels in you . . . You and I must let him live in us and through us in the world. Mother Teresa could really be a sister and a mother to this priest because she too was immersed in her emptiness and poverty which, in turn, made her more united with the crucified Christ who offered himself to save us from our sins.

In her terrible suffering Jesus made Mother Teresa the faithful messenger of his Messianic mission. Through her Jesus said to the people of our time, harshly tested by loneliness, depression and all sorts of immense internal ordeal: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (Luke 4:18-19).

When you and I pass through our own spiritual darkness, let us be missionaries to persons who are broken-hearted, feel rejected and judged by the rest of their fellows. Perhaps, the following phrases taken from Mother Teresa’s private letters can help us in our resolve to keep being, by God’s grace, a total gift to Jesus in his suffering children. Thus, in this way, we can share in Jesus’ Passion as well as in his burning thirst for their souls.

For my meditation I am using the Passion of Jesus.
I am afraid I make no meditation,
but only look at Jesus suffer and keep repeating,
Let me share with you this pain!

If my pain and suffering, my darkness and separation,
give you a drop of consolation, my own Jesus,
do with me as you wish.

I am your own.

Imprint on my soul and life
the suffering of your heart.

If my separation from you brings others to you . . .
I am willing with all my heart to suffer all that I suffer.
Your happiness is all that I want . . .

I have begun to love my darkness,
for I believe now that it is a part, a very small part,
of Jesus’ darkness and pain on the earth.

I want to satiate your thirst
with every single drop of blood that you can find in me.
Please do not take the trouble to return soon.
I am ready to wait for you for all eternity.

St Teresa of Calcutta, saint of darkness, pray for us who are encircled by the suffering of the soul and spirit, to let Jesus make us missionaries of his mercy to those who feel alone, excluded, judged and condemned by others, especially to those living with us in our family and community. Amen.

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.