Letters reveal Mother Teresa's doubt about faith

NEW YORK Sat Aug 25, 2007 1:29am IST

Pope John Paul II holds hands with Mother Teresa in this 1986 photo. A book of letters written by Mother Teresa reveals for the first time that she was deeply tormented about her faith and suffered periods of doubt about God. REUTERS/Luciano Mellace/Files

Pope John Paul II holds hands with Mother Teresa in this 1986 photo. A book of letters written by Mother Teresa reveals for the first time that she was deeply tormented about her faith and suffered periods of doubt about God.

Credit: Reuters/Luciano Mellace/Files

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A book of letters written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta reveals for the first time that she was deeply tormented about her faith and suffered periods of doubt about God.

"Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear," she wrote to the Rev. Michael van der Peet in September 1979.

Due out on Sept. 4, "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light" is a collection of letters written to colleagues and superiors over 66 years. In the United States it will be published by Doubleday, an imprint of Random House, which is owned by German media group Bertelsmann.

The ethnic Albanian Roman Catholic nun, who dedicated her life to poor, sick and dying in India, died in 1997 aged 87.

Mother Teresa had wanted all her letters destroyed, but the Vatican ordered they be preserved as potential relics of a saint, a spokeswoman for Doubleday said.

Mother Teresa has been beatified but not yet canonized.

Time magazine, which has first serial rights, published excerpts on its Web site.

"I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God -- tender, personal love," she wrote to one adviser. "If you were (there), you would have said, 'What hypocrisy.'"

The book was compiled and edited by the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, a proponent of her sainthood and senior member of the Missionaries of Charity order that she founded.

The letters likely would do little to affect her cause for sainthood as church history is dotted with saints who have been tormented about their faith.

Saint Thomas the Apostle -- the "Doubting Thomas" -- doubted that Jesus had risen from the dead until, according to scripture, he touches the wound of a resurrected Jesus. Christ himself wondered "God, why have you forsaken me" while on the cross, the Bible says.

But the Mother Teresa letters nonetheless stand in marked contrast to her public image as a selfless and tireless minister for the poor who was driven by faith.

"I've never read a saint's life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was that tormented," the Rev. James Martin, an editor at Jesuit magazine America and the author of "My Life with the Saints," told Time.

THE DARK LETTERS

The writings address numerous topics, but the ones most likely to create a stir are what Doubleday called the "dark letters."

"Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself -- for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead," she wrote in 1953. "It has been like this more or less from the time I started 'the work.'"

Then in 1956: "Such deep longing for God -- and ... repulsed -- empty -- no faith -- no love -- no zeal. (Saving) souls holds no attraction -- Heaven means nothing -- pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."

And then in 1959: "If there be no God -- there can be no soul -- if there is no Soul then Jesus -- You also are not true."

At times she also found it hard to pray.

"I utter words of community prayers -- and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give -- but my prayer of union is not there any longer -- I no longer pray."

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