The recent press coverage on Mother Teresa’s long dark night of the soul has ranged from commentaries insinuating that she was an agnostic do-gooder, to those hailing her as a model for the modern-day people caught in the temptation to doubt, but who is a
by Fr. Alex Ayeung, LC | Source:
How one categorizes Mother Teresa depends greatly on one’s openness to the supernatural. From a purely naturalistic point of view, there can be no explanation of “interior darkness” other than labyrinthine psychological neurosis. For those who think that life is absurd, Mother Teresa’s hiding of her experience is at best a cover-up to save the weak among us from being tempted to give it all up. But if we are open to supernatural reality – and if we believe her own words – Mother Teresa’s relegating her experience to a private diary was an act of humility so as not to draw attention not to herself, but God.
It is notable that Mother Teresa opened her soul’s secrets to few people, and these were priests: knowledgeable and holy ones, no doubt, but priests who most probably had not experienced the dark night of the soul, at least not to the extent she did. And yet, this great saint was confiding in those priests in order to receive counsel, spiritual illumination, and courage.
What counsel would I have given to one such as Mother Teresa? Would I just shrug my shoulders and tell such a saintly person to seek out someone else? Or perhaps there is something about my priesthood that ipso facto qualifies me to give counsel, light and strength.
Vatican II reminds us that all people are called to be saints. Thus, the means towards sanctity, one of which is solid spiritual direction, cannot be lacking in the Church. And I think that the main source of spiritual guidance comes from us priests – by vocation. It is the grace of ordination, the grace of state, which makes us fit to be the go-to person in spiritual uncertainty and darkness. There is something about just being a priest that should make us suitable to understand and counsel souls who experience even severe moral sufferings.
Even if I have not had a Calvary experience of “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” my priesthood in persona Christi re-enacts this at every celebration of the Mass. The holy Mass is the self-same sacrifice of Christ on Calvary, under the species of bread and wine. As a priest, I offer it, not only in the name, but also in the very person of Christ. When I say, “This is my body… This is my Blood … given up for you,” I am truly saying this as in Christ as Priest and Victim.
Christ is living his Calvary experience in me, a priest, at every Mass. The faithful in the pews need to experience Christ’s personal example of fidelity amid horrible physical and moral suffering, in interior darkness, loneliness and abandonment. Thanks to Christ’s institution of the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood, we priests make Christ’s personal and sacrificial fidelity to each and every person active at every Mass. Christ is present at the Mass, calling every Catholic to imitate him in living redemptive suffering, to whatever degree God permits: “Joe, Susan, follow me, imitate the example you experience here in the Eucharist.” What a beautiful truth! We make present, at the Mass, the solution to the deepest human sufferings: the person of Christ himself. In fact, human suffering is not explainable by esoteric theories. Human suffering is explainable only by a person who accompanies us through it, a person for whom and with whom we can suffer.
Articulating the reality of the paschal sacrifice in the form of spiritual direction or counsel requires some measure of study and practical experience. But the existential bases are there from the moment we have received our priestly ordination.
That said, we priests are called in a special way to incarnate the sacrificial love of Christ in the whole of our own personal lives, not only during the celebration of the Mass. Mother Teresa’s experience reminds us that since we make present Christ’s sacrificial and victim love every day in persona Christi; it would be absurd to not try each day to integrate our daily journey into this mystery. When we find ourselves tempted by loneliness, incomprehension, tiredness, dryness in prayer, moral sufferings of one type or another, let us make active the truth of our priesthood: Christ is suffering in me, out of love for the Father and souls. There is an unexplainable – at least in human terms – spiritual joy that comes from suffering with Christ in order to carry out God’s will and lead souls to him.
In a culture of naturalistic tendencies, people need priests to reaffirm the supernatural dimension of human existence and to be sign and sacrament of Christ’s redemptive suffering for them. When people come to us with the anguish of suffering to ask, “Why?” our very accompanying presence should be able to give them light and strength.