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VATICAN LETTER Mar-1-2002 (910 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

Longing for God: Mother Teresa's letters reveal isolation, doubts

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- As Missionaries of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk pores over the letters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta and the reports of her spiritual directors, he is increasingly struck by the enormous difficulty of all she accomplished.

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."

In a 1961 letter to the Missionaries of Charity, she wrote, "Without suffering our work would just be social work. ... All the desolation of poor people must be redeemed and we must share in it."

Father Kolodiejchuk, a 45-year-old Canadian ordained in the Ukrainian-Byzantine rite, was among the first members of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers. Members of Mother Teresa's order often heard her refer to Sept. 10, 1946, as "Inspiration Day," when on a train in India she experienced a call to live and work with the poor.

Mother Teresa had described the call as "an order, a duty, an absolute certainty" that she must leave the Sisters of Loreto and move into the slums of Calcutta to devote herself completely to the poor.

"We thought that in some way, which she never explained, she experienced Jesus' call," Father Kolodiejchuk said.

But now, from reading her correspondence with her spiritual director, he said, it is clear she experienced what theologians call an "interior imaginative locution" -- she distinctly heard a voice in her head tell her what to do.

"And it continued for some months," he said.

"The call was so direct that she knew it was the right thing despite this darkness she experienced for many years, at least until the 1970s," the priest said.

At one point, a former archbishop of Calcutta wanted to share some of her letters with a struggling founder of another religious congregation, Father Kolodiejchuk said.

Mother Teresa begged him not to and asked that all her letters be destroyed.

Father Kolodiejchuk said she told the archbishop, "When people know about the beginning, they will think more about me and less about Jesus."

Does Father Kolodiejchuk worry that he is betraying her wishes by publicizing the information?

"I think her perspective is very different now," Father Kolodiejchuk answered.

Several of the letters and diary entries were published last year in the "Journal of Theological Reflection" of the Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti School of Theology in New Delhi.

The investigations into her faith life are not idle prying, the priest said. Beatification and canonization are recognitions not of a person's life work -- which is obviously praiseworthy in Mother Teresa's case -- but of holiness.

While some people may be surprised or even shocked by Mother Teresa's spiritual struggles, he said he hopes it also will help them come to "a fuller and deeper appreciation of holiness, which Mother Teresa lived in a way both simple and profound: she took what Jesus gave with a smile and stayed faithful even in the smallest things."

The feeling that God is far away or even nonexistent is a common spiritual experience, he said.

"Maybe we won't have the same intensity of experiences, but most of what she did was very ordinary -- it just became extraordinary when it was all put together," Father Kolodiejchuk said.

Mother Teresa died in Calcutta in September 1997.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II waived the rule requiring a five-year wait before a beatification process can begin.

Although he works on the cause from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, Father Kolodiejchuk said he believes it will be "several months" before the Vatican formally recognizes that Mother Teresa heroically lived the Christian virtues and declares her venerable.

He said work also is underway on preparing a report on the potential miracle needed for beatification: the 1998 cure of an Indian woman who had a huge, unidentified growth in her abdomen.

"People do say, 'Do it faster,'" the priest said.

But the official process takes time, he said. "It is designed to discern the sense of the people of God and the verification of the miracle is God's confirmation of that."

END


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