In Something Beautiful for God, the British Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge wrote about an exhilarating experience while filming a documentary on Mother Teresa in 1967. The film crew had arrived at the "Home for the Dying" but were disappointed to encounter a dimly-lit building with small windows. Despite the challenges, the pictures were processed.
Muggeridge wrote that they were “bathed in beautiful soft light.” At the time, Muggeridge was a religious sceptic who possessed a corrosive wit for mocking precious beliefs. But the light that emanated from Mother was so real, so tangible, that it beckoned the prodigal within, convicting him to pick up the shards of a lost life, illuminating his way home.
The Call to the Light
Today, on the feast of Saint Mother Teresa, we are invited to awaken to this Voice that beckons us to “come be my light” just like it beckoned the petite Albanian nun whose heart burned with radical love for the unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. This light led her to the poorest corners of Calcutta and it shone on rotting bodies of the dying, those with seeping wounds, and those who were deliberately shunned by society.
Mother Teresa’s witness teaches us that it is not enough to just receive light. We must become light. We must be so bathed in this luminous mystery that we don’t just expose invading darkness but overcome it with the brilliance of God’s grace.
Saint of Darkness
The Christian Faith is built on presence. We long to see signs of the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. We wait for the still small voice. We sing, we pray, we weep at His feet.
Nothing is more devastating than Divine absence. Nothing is more overwhelming than the weight of unanswered prayers hitting a ceiling of brass and bouncing back. Nothing is more wounding than thinking God’s promises come to pass for everyone else… but us.
In Come Be My Light, a collection of private letters to her spiritual advisers, Mother Teresa spoke of this absence of God even as she ministered to those missing from the radar of compassion and care. She was indeed a light, but experienced little of the illumination of God’s comforting presence. She spoke of "dryness," "darkness," and "torture.” She spoke of a night so dark, so long, that lasted 50 years.
"If I ever become a Saint—I will surely be one of darkness, I will continually be absent from Heaven—to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth," she wrote.
What do we make of this painful predicament?
Her confessor, Father Neuner, explained that this spiritual desolation did not arise from sin or failure on Mother’s part nor could it be fixed by any human action. The dark night is an assurance that God is present still, even if hidden. It is a form of suffering exemplified by Christ Himself when He cried out on the Cross; it is a sure sign of a deep-seated longing for God, a thirst for at least a ray of His light.
We cannot long for God unless God is present within our heart.
The Gift of the Dark Night
Today, we are invited to think deeply about these spiritual realities. We live in a here-and-now world, driven by feelings, wired by sight. We look for quick fixes and we refuse to wait. We are lured by spotlights and we struggle to encounter Christ in the destitute and diseased because we are fixated on the glorified Lord, not the suffering Savior.
Mother Teresa’s dark night is a comforting assurance for those who struggle in life’s deep trenches and have to overcome their darkness by crying out, "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief."
The dark night is a gift God lavishes to share in the redemptive and transforming work of the Cross. It is a tool God uses to identify more deeply with the hungry, the naked, the homeless, those unheard and unloved, and those who live without worth and dignity.
Beneath the pain of Divine absence ran a deeper river of joy—Mother was in the center of God’s will as she served the poorest of the poor. If she didn't feel Christ's presence the way she would have hoped for, she encountered Him in those Jesus ardently sought for and loved.
Friend, what about you?
How can we offer our "dark night" in exchange for Christ’s gleaming grace? What if, instead of resisting the Holy Spirit, we released our grip and invited the Lord in in a way He deems fit? What if, in some paradoxical way, our dark night is a gift to the world, perhaps even to our own home?
Missionary to the Unwanted
Prior to the pandemic, a friend from church invited me to join her to a shelter that housed run-away domestic helpers. These were women who’d been abused, stripped off their wages, and cheated of their labor contracts. Some were stuck without a passport for years, others had not seen their family, and still others were holding caterwauling infants in their bosoms, soothing them to sleep.
The sight was staggering even as it was sanctifying.
That evening I shared my conversion story. I testified of the hope I had found in Christ Who embodies our brokenness and I proclaimed the message of the Resurrection.
There was silence at first, then tears, and then a burst of praise. We connected. We shared about our cultures, our countries, and our children. Our stories found common ground in the crucified Christ.
Sharing in Another's Pain
In Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, Henri Nouwen says, “Simply being with someone is difficult because it asks of us that we share in the other’s vulnerability, enter with him or her into the experience of weakness and powerlessness, become part of uncertainty, and give up control and self-determination.”
Our willingness to become “displaced,” is central to our experience of the Gospel and of our transformation within. When we do not intentionally "cross the street" toward someone who is different, hurting, or in need, our hearts become cold and closed and our empathy muscles atrophy. We are then reduced to a mere building, not the body of Christ that we are.
Mother Teresa dressed the leper, carried the crippled, and picked up babies from bins, even amidst stark cynicism and criticism. She taught us compassion in action. She showed us that the biggest disease in our times today is not leprosy or AIDS but the feeling of being rejected.
Today, she challenges us to refute the secular throwaway culture and step forward and “be the change” we want to see in this world.
Do Something Beautiful
Perhaps it’s become a cliché in our culture to say, “I’m no Mother Teresa!” in response to some extraordinary act of charity. Oddly enough, Saint Teresa of Calcutta would agree. She wouldn’t want people to be exactly like her, but to accomplish God’s unique will in their lives. She said, “What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God.”
Each of us, with our own unique gifts, our own stories, and our own history can touch people in ways others cannot. We can find "our own Calcutta" right where we are. We can do something beautiful for God.
Sister, where in your life is God calling you to do something beautiful for someone?
In God’s economy of grace, every contribution matters. Even in every detail of parenting or teaching, sewing, and scrubbing, baking, calculating, or studying, we participate in God’s illumination.
Today, the light that bathed this great Saint is upon us invigorating our shadows, and sending us forth as luminous witnesses (see 1 Peter 2:9) to a world hungry for love and thirsting for Hope.
Will you let the light of Christ lead you?
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