You are on page 1of 18

Mary’s Light in Mother Teresa’s Dark Night

How Our Lady Consoled the “Saint of the Gutters”


By Annamarie Adkins

TIJUANA, MEXICO, APRIL 24, 2008 ( The secular press recently
was full of articles on how Mother Teresa had a “crisis” of faith for decades,
but the untold story is how Mary sustained Mother Teresa during that time.

For insight, ZENIT turned to Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford,

cofounder with Mother Teresa of her community of priests, the Missionaries
of Charity Fathers, and author of “Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady,”
published by Our Sunday Visitor.

Father Langford told ZENIT how Mother Teresa clung to Our Lady throughout
her dark night, and how we can grow closer to Mary by following Mother
Teresa’s example.

Q: What made you decide that now would be a good time to tell this part of
Mother’s story?

Father Langford: The decision to publish “In the Shadow of Our Lady” and to
reveal more of Mother Teresa’s inner life grew out of the convergence of two
events: the 10th anniversary of her passing, and the recent controversy over
her “dark night” of soul.

Given the confusion being created around Mother Teresa and her legacy, it
seemed important to reveal another dimension of the true light and beauty of
God’s work in her soul — a light that shone all the more brightly through her
heroic faith.

Q: How would you describe Mother’s periods of darkness, and what do you
think about the recent controversies over her “dark night?”
Father Langford: Contrary to reports in the press, Mother Teresa did not suffer
a “crisis” of faith. In fact, her struggle was not with faith at all, but with the
“loss of feeling” of faith, with the loss of a felt sense of the divine. As she
stepped out of the convent and into the slums of Calcutta, what had been her
usual consolation in prayer abruptly ended.

Though she would not understand it until later, she was being asked to share
the same inner darkness, the same trial of belief suffered by the poor and
destitute — and to do so for their sake, and for the love of her Lord.

She was allowed to feel as though God was absent, and at first she agonized
at the disconnect between her emotions and her belief — though never did her
lack of feeling become lack of faith.

In fact, her dark night revealed the hidden depth of Mother Teresa’s faith in a
way that any lesser challenge could not. Her darkness not only allowed her to
exercise her extraordinary faith to the full, it allowed us — modern disciples
too often of “little faith” — to discover the true dimensions of which faith is
capable, even under duress, even in the night.

She would want to encourage us to do the same in our own Calcutta, in our
own dark night: Instead of allowing our trials and pain to become a prison, we
can, as she did, make our pain a bridge into the pain of others, a bond of
solidarity, a catalyst for charity.

Q: How did her relationship with Mary assist her in these times of trial?

Father Langford: Just as the Israelites were given a column of fire to lead
them by night, so Mother Teresa was given her own guiding light through the
night of faith, in the person of the Virgin Mary.

The gift of Jesus’ mother — given to St. John on Calvary, and to disciples and
saints through the ages — strengthened Mother Teresa in carrying her own
pain, and in tending to the pain of the poor.

Our Lady would help her to not only believe in the night, but to love in the night
— to transform the mystery of the cross, both within her and around her, into
seeds of resurrection.
As it was Our Lady who brought St. John, alone among the Twelve, to stand
faithfully at Calvary, so it was Our Lady who would bring Mother Teresa
through the sea of suffering opened before her, that she might shine the light
of God’s love on the poor.

Q: What did you learn about the Blessed Mother from Mother Teresa?

Father Langford: The book is a compendium of what I learned of Our Lady

over the years, from watching and listening to this Saint of the Gutters. It is a
simple apologia for Our Lady’s role, wrapped not in polemics, but in the
humble sari of one of the gospel’s most credible and approachable witnesses.

It is impossible to observe Mother Teresa’s faith without being reminded of

the faith of Our Lady. Though her darkness bore other names and other
dimensions, Mary of Nazareth lived her own night of faith.

Consider Joseph’s months of doubt; finding no room in Bethlehem; the flight

into Egypt; the years of Jesus’ absence from Nazareth; the hours of his agony
on the cross; and her own agony as he lie in the grave. From these came the
lessons of faith she shared with a young Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa’s own life, and her sense of the role of the Mother of God, was
that of “an ongoing Visitation,” a “going in haste” to bring God to others. This
Marian vision was based on Mother Teresa’s own experience, but also firmly
rooted in scripture.

The Gospel account of the Visitation in the first chapter of Luke shows
obvious echoes of the “visitation” made by the Ark of the Covenant to David,
also “in the hill country of Judea.” No one disputes that the Ark carried a
special anointing of grace and divine presence, that it was itself a “theotokos”
(“God-bearer”), though only made of wood.

Can God not do the same and more, in a latter Testament, with a new and
better Ark? Are we scandalized that God can make of flesh what once was? Or
has our generation understood “neither the scriptures nor the power of God?”
In the end, Mother Teresa would not be one to argue, but simply to say of this
Marian mystery, as she so often did of the mystery of Christ hidden in the
poor: “Come and see.”

Q: How did Mother Teresa’s visions as a young woman affect her Marian

Father Langford: Sometime in 1947, after months of extraordinary grace in

which Jesus explained in detail the mission she was to undertake, Mother
Teresa was granted a vision which represented the major elements of her new

She was shown a “large crowd” of poor of every kind, “covered in darkness” —
a darkness she herself would soon share. Our Lady was standing in the midst
of them, claiming them as her children.

Mother Teresa saw herself “as a little child,” standing directly in front of Our
Lady, so close as to seem one thing with her, literally enveloped by her
presence. What Mother Teresa saw in vision that day would indeed come to
pass, as her mission became a kind of “extension of Our Lady” at the
Calvaries of this world.

When asked by her spiritual advisor how she intended to accomplish the
impossible task Jesus had asked of her, Mother Teresa replied simply that she
was placing “all her confidence” in the presence of Our Lady.

She never doubted, inspired by the same faith that sustained Our Lady in her
darkest hour on Calvary, that the Son of God was hidden beneath the
“distressing disguise” of those who shared his Passion. As Jesus proclaims in
Matthew’s Gospel, and as Mother Teresa loved to repeat: “Whatever you do to
the least … you did it to me.”

From her life-changing vision of 1947 until her death, Our Lady would be
Mother Teresa’s constant reference, her model, and her unflagging support.

Q: In your book, you talk about the four important “attitudes of soul necessary
for Our Lady to intervene in our lives.” Can you briefly describe these, and how
Mother radiated these in her life and work?
Father Langford: The first prerequisite in our relationship with Our Lady is an
attitude of littleness and poverty of spirit, an attitude that opens the gates of
the kingdom. As the Gospel insists: “Unless you change and become like
children” (Luke 18:17).

This was a keynote of Mother Teresa, and of those chosen by Our Lady in all
her apparitions.

The second prerequisite is an attitude of trust, of simple faith in the presence,

the power, and role of Our Lady in God’s plan, relying on her intervention and
intercession with the trust of a child.

Thirdly, Our Lady, who proclaimed “Let it be done to me according to your

word,” asks the same humble obedience, the same docility and suppleness of
spirit of all her children that we see in Mother Teresa, and in those who lived in
intimacy with Mary.

The fourth prerequisite in coming closer to Our Lady is a contemplative

attitude, both in prayer and in life — a sense of childlike wonder at the majesty
of his being and the beauty of his creation, and an ability to marvel at his gifts
and blessings.

Q: How did the Blessed Mother bring Mother Teresa, and how can she bring
us, closer to Christ?

Father Langford: Mother Teresa discovered that Our Lady’s presence

alongside her in the slums purified things, no matter how sullied, and
beautified things, no matter how uncomely. She opened the blackest of
horizons to the light of God’s grace.

For Mother Teresa, Our Lady was like the cloud that came down on the
meeting tent in the Old Testament, bringing with it a sacred atmosphere filled
with God’s presence, offering a refuge that purifies and transforms everything,
divinizing us and preparing us for the encounter with God.

Mother Teresa was convinced that in this sacred space all that God wanted
from her would be realized. In Our Lady, Mother Teresa found a privileged path
into the mystery of Trinitarian love, given in Jesus.
For her, Our Lady represented mankind’s “maximum response” to God, our
highest and fullest answer to his invitation to love and be loved. As Our Lady
became St. John’s solution to the dilemma of human weakness, as he scaled
the mount of Calvary, so Our Lady was Mother Teresa’s solution to the same
dilemma, as she plumbed the depths of Calcutta’s slums.

Mother Teresa would invite us, as she invited her Sisters, to allow Our Lady to
become our solution as well, as we face the trials and demands of following
Jesus, “picking up our cross every day,” in our own hidden Calcuttas of the

With her whole heart — and with what extraordinary results — Mother Teresa
heeded, and encourages us to heed, Jesus’ solemn invitation “Disciple, Behold
your Mother.”

Mother Teresa’s Powerful Message

Interview With Missionary of Charity Father Joseph Langford

By Karna Swanson

TIJUANA, Mexico, SEPT. 2, 2010 ( If Blessed Teresa of Calcutta could

leave the world with one last message, she would most likely encourage all who
would listen to embrace suffering, especially that of the poor, says Father Joseph

Father Langford is co-founder with Mother Teresa (1910-1997) of the priestly branch
of the Missionaries of Charity, as well as the author of “Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire”
(Our Sunday Visitor), which reveals the inspiration behind Mother Teresa’s work and
the details of the call she received from God in 1946 to found the Missionaries of

As the world prepares to mark the 13th anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death (Sept.
5), Father Langford reflects in this interview with ZENIT about what Mother Teresa
meant to him personally, as well as the power of the message that the nun transmitted
with her life of service to the poor and suffering.
ZENIT: There are thousands of missionaries around the world who work to help the
poor and sick. What sets Mother Teresa’s call, her mission, and her life apart from
others who have given their entire lives to serve the poor?

Father Langford: This has been entirely God’s doing; not ours, not hers. It has not
been her qualities, nor even of her holiness, since many generous and holy
missionaries have gone before her. Not in a thousand years, however, not since St.
Francis of Assisi, has God sought to guide us through dark times by so universally
raising up a saint — before the Church, the world, other religions, even nonbelievers,
and before rich and poor alike.

There are elements of her own life, however, that do set her apart. She lived a
tremendous love for God and neighbor, in darkness, for 50 years. Her apostolate — to
work alone in the streets of Calcutta, as a religious, outside of her convent — was
entirely new in the 1950s and 1960s. But this was entirely God’s plan, in every detail.
She only did what was asked of her by God. He directed her in all, even in what she
was to wear. For his own greater purposes, some of which we might surmise, as with
Francis, it has been God who set her on the world stage, and holds her there, as her
stature only continues to grow.

ZENIT: For those who never met Mother, could you describe what it was like to talk
to her, to be around her, to watch her?

Father Langford: To encounter Mother was to feel the warmth of God, the love, the
acceptance of God. People felt God’s presence around her … often to the point of
tears. When you were with her, even in a crowd, there was an easy and instant
intimacy, as though you were the only person in her world. You felt drawn to God,
embraced and cherished by God, not unlike what people must have felt around Jesus.

ZENIT: When most people think of Mother Teresa, they think of the nun that won the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1979 for her humanitarian work. What do you think of when you
remember her?

Father Langford: A mystic with her sleeves rolled up. But she was first of all a mother,
always there for you, always ready to support you, ready to see the good in you, to
overlook your faults, to encourage you. She never seemed to tire of hearing from you,
or speaking with you.

She was someone who always reserved a special place in her heart for all those who
came near to her. That is how she changed my life, without even trying, and set me on
a completely different course; and joyfully, I never looked back.

She radiated both the presence of Our Lady, with whom she had a deep, unique,
relationship — as I outline in my first book, “Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our
Lady,” (OSV Press) — as well as the presence of her Son, who had sent her to “be his
light.” She was a doorway into God’s heart — from us to him, and from him to us —
a pathway that was accessible and observable and inviting to all.

But what comes to mind most in remembering her is not her — but the One who sent
her: What does God want to tell us in sending her, in raising her up — about himself,
about the way he sees us, loves us? What could be so important for us to know about
him that he would anoint the carrier of his message so abundantly, and so publicly? If
Mother Teresa was, as she described herself, “a pencil in God’s hand, to write his love
letter to the world,” my constant question was what was the content of that letter
written on the pages of her life, if not that first revealed to her on her train ride to
Darjeeling, Sept. 10, 1946?

ZENIT: You wrote in your book “Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire” about Sept. 10, 1946,
the day she would refer to as “Inspiration Day.” Mother rarely spoke of that event, but
she revealed more about it as she neared the end of her life. What happened on that

Father Langford: The grace of Sept. 10 was Mother Teresa’s overwhelming encounter
with the unimagined depth of God’s love. This fire in the heart of God, pointed to
throughout Scripture (Our God is a consuming fire), but often forgotten. This was the
source of her magnetism, and of all the initiative and the good she did around the

She herself gave a name to the secret of Sept. 10: It was the mystery of God’s infinite
thirst for us. “The strong grace of Divine Light and Love … received on the train
journey to Darjeeling on Sept. 10, 1946, is where the Missionaries of Charity [her
world-wide work of charity] begins — in the depths of God’s infinite longing to love
and to be loved.”

Speaking of all of us, but especially of the very poor, Jesus had lamented to Mother
Teresa, “They don’t know me, so they don’t want me.” In Jesus’ plan, then, she was
sent first to the thousands who are born, live, and draw their last breath on Calcutta’s
sidewalks. The poverty and pain of their surroundings — ordained by man, not by the
Creator — and the indifference of those who pass them by every day, give no hint,
leave no clue that they could be so loved by anyone, much less by the Supreme Being.
God, in his wisdom, sent Mother Teresa to show them, in deeds more than words, the
immensity of his tenderness and longing for them. And by witnessing Mother Teresa’s
service to the poorest, the rest of us as well come to understand God’s tender longing,
not just for the most disadvantaged, but for us all.

“Try to deepen your understanding of these two words, ‘Thirst of God'” (cf. John
19:28). The symbol of divine thirst is simple and universal, spanning every time and
culture; though it has lost much of its urgency and power in our first world where all
is ready at hand to satisfy our needs. But stop and think. As a thirsty man longs for
water, so God longs for us. As a thirsty man seeks out the water, so does God seek for
us. As a thirsty man thinks only of water, so God’s entire being is focused on us. As a
thirsty man in the desert will give anything in exchange for water, so God has gladly
given all he has, and all he is, in exchange for us. This is the divine symbol entrusted
to Mother Teresa on Sept. 10 — so that in an age grown cold she might both remind
us of God’s yearning, and reawaken our own.

ZENIT: You were the one who Mother Teresa asked to tell others about the events of
that day. What have you done to spread that message? What can others do to help in
the task?

Father Langford: As soon as her Nobel Prize was announced, I began traveling with
the BBC film, “Something Beautiful for God,” showing it to audiences of all kinds.
Soon, I discovered that people had difficulty connecting the poverty and the radical
charity they saw on the screen with their own more comfortable Christian lives. And
so I began giving a talk after each screening, explaining that every place was a
Calcutta in miniature, and that Mother Teresa was called to carry her message not only
to the slums of the Third World, but to the threshold of every hurting heart. That she
had brought God’s yearning for us to the doorsteps of the whole world.

I explained that there was no need to go to India, nor even across town. There were
hidden “Calcuttas” all around them — in their own homes and families, in the blind
man down the street, in the unforgiven aunt behind the walls of the retirement home.
Nor was it necessary to send a check — to compensate for not serving in foreign
lands. God had not sent us a check in our need, but his Son. He gave of himself,
without measure — as any of us can, anytime, anywhere. There we are all called to
be. There we are sent, as surely as was Mother Teresa. She would tell us to take some
step, no matter how small, to serve those around us in their daily struggles. We need
nothing special in the way of talent or resources; “we need only begin,” as Mother
Teresa would say — even in the smallest, most insignificant ways.

Mother’s message is both word and deed. People need to understand why Mother
Teresa did what she did, and in whose name. We have been trying to produce
pamphlets and books to help lift the veil beyond this mystery of charity. In addition to
the books, the Missionary of Charity Fathers have prepared a pamphlet with a guided
meditation (“I Thirst for You”) to help encounter the thirst of Christ for you, and
understand its meaning on a deeper level. The mediation is available by
writing: for only the price of shipping. A high quality,
four color version is also available for purchase from OSV Press. Readers can request
the Missionary of Charity Fathers for any number of pamphlets to distribute in
parishes, among friends and families, in nursing homes, hospitals, prisons, etc., and
wherever God leads them and needs them.
Of course, the most direct way to share Mother Teresa’s message, and carry God’s
presence into a barren world as she did, will always be to share even the smallest acts
of love with Jesus in his crucified mystical body in the poor and suffering, for “Every
work of love brings a person face to face with God.”

ZENIT: If Mother Teresa could leave the world with one last message, what would
that be?

Father Langford: Be the light of God’s love to the world in its present darkness.
People cannot resist love. Bring Jesus and his message (“I Thirst for You”) to others.
Be holy for the God who made you is holy.

Don’t be afraid of suffering. Don’t turn away from the suffering of the poor because
Jesus is there. He is always with them and within them (“Whatever you do to the least
of my brothers, you do it to me”).

Don’t let your own pain and suffering isolate you, rather let it become a bridge into
the pain of others, and even into the pain of the One whose heart was pierced for you
on Calvary.

Mother Teresa’s message has never been more important, as we face our own personal
Calcutta in the economic and political upheavals that face us. In the midst of global
uncertainty, people are searching for something more — more lasting, more valuable,
more fulfilling, for a greater security, a deeper purpose — for a way to not only
survive but to contribute, as did Mother Teresa in the slums of Calcutta; in a word, to
leave a legacy, the legacy of Christ’s love alive in my life.

Mother Teresa’s Secret

What Forged Her Soul Was an Intimate Encounter With Divine

By Father Joseph Langford, MC

TIJUANA, Mexico, SEPT. 4, 2010 ( Ahead of the 13th anniversary of

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s death on Sunday, and following the recent
celebration of the 100th anniversary of her birth (Aug. 26), Missionary of
Charity Father Joseph Langford shared with ZENIT some excerpts of his book
“Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire” (Our Sunday Visitor).

Together with Mother Teresa, Father Langford is a co-founder of the priestly

branch of the Missionaries of Charity.


The Train to Darjeeling: Another Reading

On the morning of Sept. 10, Sister Teresa Bojaxhiu left Calcutta’s Howrah
Station, bound for Siliguri, in the northern plains of West Bengal. She would
disembark in Siliguri and board what was affectionately called the “toy train,”
so nicknamed for its tiny dimensions, and from there continue on the last leg
of her journey.

The tiny train’s steam powered engine climbed along a narrow, two-foot gauge
track up to Darjeeling, snuggled five thousand feet high in the foothills of the
Himalayas. We can surmise something of Mother Teresa’s journey from an
earlier account of a similar trip to Darjeeling, recorded by a visiting

[The fact that] here the meter gauge system ends and the two foot gauge of
the Darjeeling-Himalayan railway begins, confirms what these things hint at.
One steps into a railway carriage which might easily be mistaken for a toy…
With a noisy fuss, out of all proportion to its size, the engine gives a jerk and
starts. Sometimes we cross our own track after completing the circuit of a
cone, at others we zigzag backwards and forwards; but always we climb…
Inspiration Day

As the train ascended into the clean, cool mountain air, Sister Teresa would
have looked out her window onto lush thickening forests. Trains were slow in
that day, not because the engines were weak, but because the track was
unreliable. A trip of several hours could turn into days, as late-summer heat
could buckle rails and add hours to the journey. But, when moving, a
passenger’s mind could ride the rhythm of the train’s progress and easily
move into prayer.
Somewhere on this ordinary journey, in the heat, in the gathering shadows, in
the noisy, crowded car, something extraordinary happened. At some unknown
point along the way, there in the depths of Mother Teresa’s soul, the heavens

For decades, all she would tell her Sisters of that life-changing moment was
that she had received a “call within a call,” a divine mandate to leave the
convent and to go out to serve the poor in the slums. But something
incomparably greater and more momentous had transpired as well. We now
know, thanks to early hints in her letters and conversations, and her own later
admissions, that she had been graced with an overwhelming experience of
God — an experience of such power and depth, of such intense “light and
love,” as she would later describe it, that by the time her train pulled into the
station at Darjeeling, she was no longer the same. Though no one knew it at
the time, Sister Teresa had just become Mother Teresa.

For the still young nun, barely 36 years old, another journey was beginning; an
inner journey with her God that would turn every aspect of her life upside
down. The grace of the train would not only transform her relationship to God,
but to everyone and everything around her. Within eight short days, the grace
of this moment would carry her and her newfound inner fire back down the
same mountainside, and into a new life. From the heights of the Himalayas
she would bring a profoundly new sense of her God back into the sweltering,
pestilent slums of Calcutta — and onto a world stage, bearing in her heart a
light and love beyond her, and our, imagining.

From then on, Mother Teresa would simply refer to September 10th as
“Inspiration Day,” an experience she considered so intimate and ineffable that
she resisted speaking of it, save in the most general terms. Her silence would
prevail until the last few years of her life, when she at last was moved to lift
the veil covering this sacred moment.

Putting It All Together

As I worked on our constitutions in the Bronx, I began to ask myself if there

might be a connection between Mother Teresa’s experience on the train and
Jesus’ words, “I thirst.” Could they both be part of the same grace; could it be
that Mother Teresa’s encounter on the train was, at its core, an encounter with
Jesus’ thirst? If that were the case, the words on the wall would simply be her
way of telling us, without training the spotlight on herself, yet in a way we
would not forget, the essence of what had happened that grace-filled day on
the train.

As I prayed and thought over it in those months, I became more persuaded

that the grace of the train had been, at least in part, Mother Teresa’s own
overpowering experience of Jesus’ thirst. The only thing left to complete my
quest was to seek her confirmation.

On her next visit to New York, in early 1984, I finally had both reason and
opportunity to ask her about the experience of the train. A few days into her
visit, when I was alone with her in the front garden outside our house in the
Bronx, I told her of what had been my long search to better understand her
“inspiration,” and my desire to describe it accurately in our community’s
constitutions. I explained to her that, for me, the only thing that made sense of
her placing “I thirst” in her chapels, was that it grew out of her own experience
of the thirst of Jesus — and most importantly, that her encounter with the
divine thirst had been the heart and essence of September 10th. If this were
true, I did not want to leave it out of our constitutions, but if it were not, I did
not want to continue being in error.

I waited in silence for an answer. She lowered her head for a moment, then
looked up and said, “Yes, it is true.” Then after a pause, she added, “And one
day you must tell the others…”

At last I had the confirmation I was seeking, and the answer to the questions
sown in my soul years before in a Roman bookstore. Here, finally, was the
core of Mother Teresa’s secret. In the end, it had not been some dry command
to “work for the poor” that had made Mother Teresa who she was. What had
forged Mother Teresa’s soul and fueled her work had been an intimate
encounter with the divine thirst — for her, for the poor, and for us all.

More than a confirmation, her words that day were a mandate. This was not to
be the end of my quest, nor of delving into the words on the chapel wall. It
was, instead, another beginning. I had to somehow “tell the others;” and while I
felt entirely inadequate to the task, I needed to find some way to share her
words, not only with her Sisters, but with a wider public.
In the most indirect and humble of ways, not unlike the Virgin Mary, Mother
Teresa had wished to exalt the goodness of the God she had met on the train,
and the divine message that, after changing her life, held the power to change
our own. She had always known, as I later realized, that her message was
meant for us all — for the neediest and furthest away first of all. And the
message of Jesus’ thirst, of his longing to love us, silently conveyed in her
works of love as much as by her few and gentle words, was bearing fruit all
around her and all around the world. Already, in the time I had known her, I had
seen with my own eyes how her unspoken message could touch, and heal,
and change lives.

Her Message Launched

Mother Teresa’s understanding of the thirst of God was entirely simple, yet
deep, powerful and engaging. She learned that God not only accepts us with
all our misery, but that he longs for us, “thirsts” for us, with all the intensity of
his divine heart, no matter who we are or what we have done.

But how can God “thirst” for us if there is no lack in God? While thirst can
imply lack, it also has another sense. In Mother Teresa’s lexicon, thirst
signifies deep, intense desire. Rather than indicating lack, the symbol of divine
thirst points to the mystery of God’s freely chosen longing for man. Simply put,
though nothing in God needs us, everything in God wants us — deeply and
intensely, as he shows throughout Scripture.

Mother Teresa’s insights reveal something important, even essential, in the

depths of God’s being. Mother Teresa insists that the thirst of Christ reveals
something not only about Jesus, but about God himself. Jesus’ thirsts points
us toward a great mystery in the very bosom of the Godhead — what Mother
Teresa describes as “the depths of God’s infinite longing to love and be loved.”
As ardent a statement as this is, her insights are confirmed by no less a
source than the Fathers of the Church. The great St. Augustine would write
that “God thirsts to be thirsted for by man” (see Appendix Three for a
collection of patristic quotes on the divine thirst). In our own day, Benedict XVI
would affirm that “the thirst of Christ is a gateway into the mystery of God.”

The mystery of God’s thirst for us was the one great light Mother Teresa held
high in the night, hers and ours. This was the banner she raised for the poor
and suffering of Calcutta and beyond. It was as witness to this message that
Jesus commissioned her, soon after the experience of the train, to “Be My
light;” and this she would energetically do, in season and out of season. She
would spend her whole life proclaiming the light of divine love, even when her
words fell silent, her hands spoke more eloquently still.

Sharing the Darkness of the Poor

As difficult and painful as her dark night became, Mother Teresa never
allowed herself to become “lost” in her darkness. She never rebelled against it,
nor against the God who laid it on her shoulders, nor against the poor of
Calcutta with whom and for whom she bore it. On the contrary, she gradually
came to understand its deeper meaning, and even to willingly embrace it for
the sake of her God — who had borne that same agony for her sake, in

Even while tending to the physical and material needs of the poor, feeding the
hungry and clothing the naked, Mother Teresa’s primary focus was their
“salvation and sanctification,” their inner advancement toward divine union, as
their highest dignity and long-term vocation. She was not sent simply to work
for material betterment, a point even her admirers often miss. Calcutta’s
poorest, living and dying on the streets, enjoyed neither sufficient material
goods, nor the goodness of their fellow man. Since they were left with nothing
and no one to mirror to them the face of God, Mother Teresa was sent to show
them in his name, in concrete works of love, how beloved of God they were.
For love’s sake, she herself would bear a portion of their interior pain. She
would give of herself, in this life and the next, to “light the light of those in
darkness on earth.” The more the truth of her victorious faith is known, the
more she will be an inspiration to those who are learning to find their peace, to
make their contribution, and to cling to their God, as she did, in the night.

Lessons in the Night

For all who “have eyes to see,” there is a great light hidden here. Beyond the
obvious light of Mother Teresa’s charity, there in the heart of her night lies a
deeper light still.
But how can light be born of darkness? This question is critical, for it is key to
the process and the history of divine transformation. First, there is the creation
story, in which the Almighty transformed the dark void into substance and
light. There is the second creation story, where Adam and Eve are cast from a
luminous Eden into a world of darkness and temptation. The Redeemer, light
of the world, is heralded by a night-star at his birth. The Nicene Creed sings of
him as “light from light, true God from true God.” Finally, in the Resurrection,
the darkness of death is conquered by his brilliance emerging from the tomb.

Darkness need not be the opposite, the enemy of light. When seeded with
God’s grace, darkness becomes its catalyst. Night becomes womb to day. It is
the power of love, of God’s own nature as love, that works this alchemy. When
embraced for others, when transformed by love, darkness indeed becomes

Paradoxically, by embracing her darkness for the sake of the poor, Mother
Teresa fulfilled her call — in her welcomed darkness she became God’s light.
Her sacrifice shone with a light that transcends our logic. […]

The importance of Mother Teresa’s example, even for those who bear much
milder Calcuttas, is in showing how far faith and love can reach in this life —
even in the night, even buffeted by pain, with every wind against it. Her victory
in the night is proof that the exercise of faith and love is ultimately our free
choice, never beholden to circumstance, a decision accessible at all times.
God makes it always possible to move beyond preoccupation with our own
pain, and to reach out to assuage the pain of others. Rather than isolating us,
we can choose to make of life’s burdens a sacred bridge into the pain of

Turning the Darkness to Light

We are each called and equipped by God to not only survive our personal
Calcutta, but to serve there — to contribute to those around us whose
individual Calcutta intersects our own, just as Mother Teresa did, if on a
different scale. If she could face the worst of human suffering in such
immense proportions, and do so despite bearing her own pain — then there
must be a way that we can do the same in the lesser Calcutta that is ours. We
must never forget, distracted by the demi-problems of our routine existence,
just how important our one life is in the plan of God, and the great amount of
good we can yet contribute.

How important can our one small, unspectacular life be? Consider this: the
good that each of us can accomplish, even with limited resources and
restricted reach, not even a Mother Teresa could achieve. The family, friends
and coworkers whom we alone can touch, with our unique and unrepeatable
mix of gifts and qualities, not even Mother Teresa could reach. No one else on
the planet, and no one else in history possesses the same network of
acquaintances and the same combination of talents and gifts as each of us

There is no need, then, to travel to far-off lands to contribute to Mother

Teresa’s mission, or to follow her example. Wherever we are, with whatever
talents and relationships God has entrusted us, we are each called not to do
what a Mother Teresa did, but to do as she did — to love as she loved in the
Calcutta of our own life.

Mother Teresa’s Secret

The inner fire that saw Mother Teresa through the night, will be her
contribution for generations to come. Here is the wisdom of a Nobel Prize
laureate and a saint; here is her recipe for happiness in the midst of want, for
living for others despite one’s own needs, for hoping in the face of setbacks,
for peace within while conflict and struggle reign without, for giving our time
and our love even while our own health and supports are wrenched away.
Mother Teresa has taught us the divine alchemy that turns our personal
hardships into compassion for others, our lack of material goods into wealth
of spirit, and, should it come to that, the loss of our standard of living into the
chance to become what ease and abundance would never have allowed us to

Mother Teresa’s lessons will prepare us, as no political plan or economic

program could, to live through our trials with grace, and to turn them into
blessing for others. If this simple, humanly un-extraordinary woman could
have filled Calcutta’s slums with such love and energy and ingenuity, then we
can learn to do the same in our life, no matter what may come.