Samara O'Shea

Letters Reveal the Uncertainties of Mother Teresa, Which is Now Comfort to the Rest of Us

In an arguably morbid conversation, my sister and I were discussing our funerals the other day. The two of us are pretty irreverent when it comes to death—this, naturally, drives my parents mad—and we were laughing out loud over it. We’re not death-obsessed Goth queens, we just know that it’s a part of life and have decided to approach it with a sense of humor. I’m 27 and she’s 25, so this isn’t necessarily around the corner for either of us—but you never know. I asked her what type of funeral she’d like and she said, “That’s up to you. The funeral isn’t for the dead, it’s for the living.” I found that to be a keen insight on her part. The funeral is a place for the living to gather, comfort each other and gain whatever closure they can. The dead have little to nothing to do with the funeral.

In a somewhat strange tie in—if it can get stranger than my sister and I planning our funerals—I applied this same logic to the recent unveiling of Mother Teresa’s letters of doubt. This week’s Time magazine offers a comprehensive look into her secret life as one who often felt denied of the presence of God. In a September 1979 letter Teresa wrote to the Rev. Michael Van Deer Peet, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me—the silence and the emptiness is so great—that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear.”

It was Mother Teresa’s wish that these letters be destroyed. In a move that some might consider disrespectful, the church overruled that wish—the letters now appear in a book entitled Mother Teresa: Come By My Light (Doubleday). Yet in the same way that a funeral is for the living, so these letters are now for the living. When I hear of the doubts and uncertainties of a soldier and sage like Mother Teresa I don’t hold her in a lower regard, but it grants me solace to know that she, too, was human and had doubts as everyone does. The article purports that Teresa came to accept the doubt within her as part of Christ’s suffering. Meaning she shared in his desolate hour of, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” I find it beyond admirable that her work never ceased in light of her private torment. She moved forward and continued to give all of her time to those who needed it the most.

One would think Teresa’s reason for not wanting the world to read her letters is obvious—because she didn’t want to people to know she wasn’t of a faithful mindset at all times and in all places. But that is inaccurate. She explained to the Rev. Lawrence Picachy that if the letters became public, “people will think more of me—less of Jesus.” I admire that as well. She was humble until the end and wanted to protect Jesus even though she felt abandoned by him. For me, she was right about one part and not the other. There isn’t much that could make me think less of Jesus, however, I do think more of Mother Teresa.