The saint of darkness


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.” — Mother Teresa of Calcutta

“Lord, my God, you have thrown [me] away as unwanted – unloved,” she wrote in one missive. “I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer, no, no one. Alone. Where is my faith? even deep down right in there is nothing. I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart.”

She added: “I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of the darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?”

She even compared her problems to hell and admitted that she had begun to doubt the existence of heaven and God.

In one of her letters, addressed to Jesus, she wrote, “Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me?  The child of your love—and now become as the most hated one…You have thrown away as unwanted—unloved…So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them—because of the blasphemy—If there be a God—please forgive me…I am told that God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”

“The smile,” she wrote, “is a mask or a cloak that covers everything. I spoke as if my very heart was in love with God, a tender personal love. If you were there you would have said, ‘What hypocrisy’.”

-Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, edited by the Rev Brian Kolodiejchuk

“The extent to which Mother Teresa is considered a humanitarian hero is a significant victory for the Catholic Church, which co-ordinated a high-profile campaign to have her “fast-tracked” to sainthood. However, in many ways it is no surprise that she remains so popular among Westerners. She presented a narrative – that of a European nun going to help the world’s poor – that acted to both resolve the internal guilt of wealthy churchgoers while also presenting their religion as a relevant, modern force for good. Meanwhile, her conceptualisation of suffering as a positive experience provided rebuttal to those who criticised the West’s repeated failings to inspire tangible action on global inequality.” George Gillett

I have always been fascinated by Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu – Mother Teresa -and more so since the publication of her letters, and the ongoing controversy around her – and her ‘Missionaries of Charity’ (see: Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict by Aroup Chatterjee  |  Calcutta Perspective: Mother Theresa’s care for the dying by Robin Fox |  The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice by Christopher Hitchens |  Mother Teresa: anything but a saint: a study conducted by Serge Larivée, Department of psychoeducation, University of Montreal, Carole Sénéchal, Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa, and Geneviève Chénard, Department of psychoeducation, University of Montreal.)

I have read articles for and against her. The Catholics who long pushed for her beatification; evangelical Christians attacking her heterodox, universalist theology; medical professionals criticising her failure to apply the most basic medical standards and ethics; psychologists who recognise in her letters the classic symptoms of cognitive dissonance, PTSD and a depressed personality. And then there is the question of the misuse and misappropriation of finances.

“Mother Teresa considered that suffering – even when caused by poverty, medical problems, or starvation – was a gift from God. As a result, while her clinics received millions of dollars in donations, their conditions drew criticism from people disturbed by the shortage of medical care, systematic diagnosis, and necessary nutrition, as well as the scarcity of analgesics for those in pain. Many of her critics accused her of a fundamental contradiction: It was estimated that she raised over $100 million for her charity, yet only 5-7% of this was used in catering to the poor. Some have argued that the additional money could have had transformative effects on the health of the poor by creating advanced palliative care facilities in the city.”

Is the fault not perhaps, in part at least, our own? We are quick to manufacture heroes; we create legends and myths around those we admire.

Why my disquiet?
All my idols fall.

Was she an idol?
Of sorts.
A bright light – once.
You feel betrayed?
In a way…
But what is all this to you?
One more disappointment.
Not in Mother Teresa; her contradictions are what make her so human.
Her psychic pain is what makes her like us.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” – Jung.

The cry of Jesus from the cross
Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
– God’s self-abandonment- expresses God’s identification with us in our darkness. (Zizek) When we feel God’s absence and distance, paradoxically He is then closest to us because of the mystery of the cross. 

(Perhaps I am simply disillusioned with the intentions of the church which beatified her, or with the Western humanitarian agencies who exploited her mission; or with the evangelicals (obsessed as they are with the written word and negligent of the logos, όγος – the living word – like the pharisees of Jesus’ time that cannot conceive of a mercy beyond doctrine and the Law). 

If Mother Teresa of Calcutta has been mythologised in pursuit of Catholic and Western narratives, then we can also deduce that mythologization happens with all our heroes – including – and perhaps especially – with the figure of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that the Gospels were written not as biographies nor as objective historical accounts, but more as religious advertisements to persuade people to believe in Jesus:

What (the gospels) do is proclaim their individual author’s interpretation of the Christian message … The evangelist is not an author of fiction. The evangelist has traditions that go back through the Greek to the spoken language of Jesus, which was probably Aramaic… there’s some kind of continuity between what Jesus would have been saying to other Jews in 27 to 30 and what the Evangelists in Greek are saying to their own communities, that Jesus said. But, as historians, we have to sift, and go through and try to figure out what corresponds mostly to the period of the composition in Greek and what corresponds to the lifetime of the historical Jesus.”

“The concern (in the Gospels) is to present Jesus as the Messiah and his death and resurrection as part of his messianic calling. This is why a gospel must be defined as the kerygmatic record of the words and deeds of Jesus. Kerygmatic is an adjective derived from the noun kerygma, which is the Greek word meaning proclamation or preaching.  In the New Testament, it denotes the content of the message that Jesus is the Messiah, the one anointed by God to bring eschatological salvation to Israel, rejected, crucified and vindicated by being raised from the dead … As already indicated, before there were written “gospels,” there was the proclamation of the oral “gospel.” To say that the gospel genre is the kerymatic record of the words and deeds of Jesus is to say that its ultimate purpose is to set down in writing the originally-oral proclamation of this kerygma.  In fact, the literary genre of the gospel could only have been produced in Jewish circles, because only there do we find the idea of the Messiah.  This fact invalidates the attempt to classify the gospels as a type of Greco-Roman biography.”

Perhaps I too-readily see connections and associated ideas where there are none. I leap from one supposition to another – very poor logic perhaps. I am not saying that there is a direct ‘technical’ correlation between the construction of the Gospels and the process of modern myth-making – only that there are – for me – apparent similarities.

We see this process of myth-making surrounding our recent” heroes” – Mother Teresa to whom all manner of spurious miracles are now attributed; Nelson Mandela – whose image in the popular media is of a kindly old man who brought about peace – belies a far more complex history of a revolutionary; Che Guevara, whose handsome, christ-like face appears on many a peace-loving hippie’s T-shirt, said, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.” And then there’s Eva Perón: in his essay titled “Latin America” John McManners claims that the appeal and success of Eva Perón are related to Latin American mythology and concepts of divinity … Eva Perón consciously incorporated aspects of the theology of the Virgin and of Mary Magdalene into her public persona.” Latin American myths are more resistant than they seem to be. Not even the mass exodus of the Cuban raft people or the rapid decomposition and isolation of Fidel Castro’s regime have eroded the triumphal myth of Che Guevara, which remains alive in the dreams of thousands of young people in Latin America, Africa and Europe. Che as well as Evita symbolize certain naive, but effective, beliefs: the hope for a better world; a life sacrificed on the altar of the disinherited, the humiliated, the poor of the earth. They are myths which somehow reproduce the image of Christ.”(Evita Or Madonna: Whom Will History Remember?” Interview with Tomas Eloy Martinez – Wikipedia).

The myth and the reality may be at odds, but the myth becomes the dominant belief about the hero, usurping inconvenient and “irrelevant” historical facts.

It appears that heroes go some way to meeting our need of a saviour, for something higher than ourselves. For hope perhaps: few can survive long in the saintless, godless desolation of the existentialists. Even Nietzche needed his “Superman“. Heroes suit our need of narratives of meaning which are above and beyond mere historical and empirical facts.

“Following her death, the Vatican decided to waive the usual five-year waiting period to open the beatification process. The miracle attributed to Mother Theresa was the healing of a woman, Monica Besra,had  suffering from intense abdominal pain. The woman testified that she was cured after a medallion blessed by Mother Theresa was placed on her abdomen. Her doctors thought otherwise: the ovarian cyst and the tuberculosis from which she suffered were healed by the drugs they had given her. The Vatican, nevertheless, concluded that it was a miracle. Mother Teresa’s popularity was such that she had become untouchable for the population, which had already declared her a saint. “What could be better than beatification followed by canonization of this model to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful especially at a time when churches are empty and the Roman authority is in decline?” Larivée and his colleagues ask.”

A final note on “the dark night of the soul”: and this note is from (paradoxically), Slavoj Žižek: “Our radical experience of separation from God is the very feature which unites us with Him – not in the usual mystical sense that only through such an experience do we open ourselves to the radical Otherness of God, but in a sense similar to the one in which Kant claims that humiliation and pain are the only transcendental feelings: it is preposterous to think I can identify with the divine bliss – only when I experience the infinite pain of separation from God do I share an experience with God Himself (Christ on the Cross). and, in “Toward a Postmodern Theology of Exile: “I identify myself with God only through identifying myself with the unique figure of God – the Son Abandoned by God”.

The German theopaschite theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it thus: “It is only the experience of abandonment by and of God that we are actually closest to God”.

“We … learn the importance of choosing our heroes with the utmost of care… that many heroes are manufactured – that the legend far exceeds the reality.”

GILLETT IS a freelance journalist, specialising in healthcare, medical research and current affairs. He is also a medical student at the University of Oxford.

Fidel Castro’s firing squads in Cuba
Fidel Castro is often portrayed as the “benevolent” dictator of Cuba, such portrayals are unarguably wrong. The evidence of his bloodthirsty and murderous nature is unequivocal and available for anyone who wants to know the truth. Unfortunately such evidence is rarely discussed by the news media and at schools. There’s perhaps no more grizzly atrocity committed by Fidel Castro than the firing squads which he implemented. Beginning as a rebel, before he would eventually take power in Cuba, Fidel Castro used firing squad executions to enforce discipline, punish followers deemed disloyal or intimidate potential opposition. At the beginning of the Castro regime there was a reign of terror typical of revolution in which the firing squad was used prominently but the executions continued for decades.

The Cuba Archive which documents deaths and disappearances resulting from Fidel Castro’s Cuban revolution hasdocumented 3,615 firing squad executions conducted by the Cuban state since Castro took over on January 1, 1959.

Opponents of the death penalty should be horrified at the amount of death Fidel Castro and his accomplices have directly caused. It’s important to note that in Revolutionary Cuba there are none of the due process guarantees found in a western-style democracy. Most of Castro’s firing squad victims were afforded only a perfunctory show trial the outcome of which was predetermined, some didn’t even get that. Ernesto “Ché” Guevara is a popular culture icon, his face adorns posters and t-shirts around the globe. Most people don’t realize that he was Fidel Castro’s chief enforcer and had a personal hand in at least 100 firing squad executions, often delivering the coup de grace personally. In response to questions about Castro’s firing squads Guevara once said, “To send men to the firing squad, judicial proof is unnecessary. These procedures are an archaic bourgeois detail. This is a revolution. And a revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate.”


“… the clinics were filthy breeding grounds for disease, that hypodermic needles were rinsed in cold water before being used again, instead of being properly sterilized and instead of accepting abundant numbers of clean needles which people tried to give to the clinics, that doctors and nurses who volunteered to treat the patients were turned away and the patients attended to by nuns without medical training instead, among other accusation which are even more chilling — is the rallying cry of a veritable horde of pious fools blind and deaf to the faults of saints and soon-to-be-saints. It’s obvious that Hindus aren’t the only ones with sacred cows. How do we reason with people determined to remain unreasonable?”

Carl Jung wrote, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

The cry of Jesus from the cross:  Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? –  My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

Bibles and Baedekers: Tourism, Travel, Exile and God by Michael Grimshaw

One thought on “The saint of darkness

  1. I thought I should share with you the following extract from a piece by Dinesh D’Souza on September 04, 2007, at The piece is a measured riposte against those Hitchinsean rants which, pretending to have some sort of intellectual “stance” turn out to be thinly veiled atheist spitefulness. The playground bully kicking the virtuous kid. D’Souza writes,
    “From Christian classics … we learn that, contrary to atheist propaganda, believers don’t claim to “know” God. That’s why they are called “believers.” To be a believer means, “Even though I do not know, I have faith.” Nor do believers, however devout, experience God on a constant basis. There is a big chasm that between the terrestrial and the transcendental, and a terrible silence usually separates the two. A glimpse or foretaste of eternity, this is all that we get, if we’re lucky.

    The greatness of Mother Teresa is that even when she was deprived of the spiritual satisfactions of feeling God’s presence in her life, she did not waver, she soldiered on. She was not deterred in her mission. And what she didn’t have by way of feeling, she compensated for by way of will. In doing so, she teaches us all something about love: it is not merely a sentiment, to be set aside when feelings come and go, but rather a decision of the will. That she did what she did in exchange for the love of God is astounding enough. That she did it all even when this love was invisible to her—if this does not constitute saintliness, I don’t know what does.” I recommend you read the entire letter at


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