Published September 6, 2007
The book “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” was finally published this past Tuesday, Sept. 4, and I suppose that I will obtain a copy or two. The book has already received a lot of hype, and I doubt that either its author or editor would have sought or desired this pervasive interest before the text was yet issued.
Interest has been high because of the subject of the book, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and the exposition of her faith journey. Quite simply put, people are intrigued by the fact that a woman of such enormous and widely known charity and dedication could have experienced doubts of faith. I am not surprised in the least that she knew doubt and tests to her faith—I would have been surprised if she had not endured such qualms of faith.
Faith is not absolute security—faith is not unquestioned certitude—faith is not unassailable conviction. Faith is trust wrapped in hope—faith is belief surrounded by doubts—faith is confidence tempered by uncertainties.
Every person of faith must admit that there are at least as many moments of uncertainty as there are experiences of assurance. The fact that Mother Teresa had prolonged periods of doubt and anxieties is an indication that faith in her life was very much like it is in all of our lives. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked about my own life of faith—which is nowhere near as secure and vibrant as the faith that Blessed Teresa lived with such integrity and intensity.
People, young and old, often ask me if I have ever had misgivings about my faith. I have more than I can recall, and I don’t believe that I am alone in that phenomenon. Faith is a gift from God, and yet like any gift, we can never take it for granted. The entire history of the Church includes countless episodes of people struggling to believe in and to trust God. From the appearances of the Risen Christ to the apostolic community to the most recent Catholic convert, we have moments when questions and reservations are at least as prominent as are the moments of trust.
Faith means believing without always being able to explain our trust. Faith means being uncertain and yet remaining willing to risk trusting God—in spite of the many reasons for being skeptical.
Mother Teresa lived with powerful doubts, evidently for long periods of time. Yet her work continued unabated in spite of her doubts. She kept on caring for the poorest members of the family of God even as she grappled with her doubts and wavering faith. It was this willingness to risk being wrong that made her the great person of faith that she was.
My home pastor when I was a kid was Msgr. John M. Hayes, and he was perhaps the finest priest that I have ever met. He was ordained in 1930 for the Archdiocese of Chicago and died as a retired pastor in June 2002—only a few months shy of his 72nd anniversary as a priest. He lived a full 96 years and remained bright and alert up until the very end of his long and generous life.
He confided to a mutual friend a few years before his death that “I sure hope that I haven’t bet on the wrong horse!” This expression of insecurity was not an indication that he would have changed “his bet” or lived his life any differently than he had—it simply meant that even this wonderful man of prayer, generosity, hope, compassion and pastoral zeal realized that in the end faith is about trusting a God who conceals Himself more often than He reveals Himself. We call that willingness to trust faith—even when it shows itself in splendid vagueness.