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Book ReviewsMother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.”

Book by Brian Kolodiejchuk. 

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 2003, is the perfect example of a saint in modern times.  This book is a collection of Mother Teresa’s letters which have provoked controversy in the secular press because commentators misunderstood what they read. 

The commentators couldn’t understand what Mother Teresa was writing about.  How could this nun, who many thought was so close to God, suffer for most of her life from the absence of God?  They accused her of being a hypocrite, a concern she had noted in her writings.

Mother Teresa suffered what is called in spirituality according to St. John of the Cross, the “dark night of the soul.”  Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, who is a member of Mother Teresa’s priests’ community and is her postulator (promoter), comments that Mother Teresa’s “darkness” was one of the longest known periods of darkness for a person.  Mother’s patron saint, St. Therese of Lisieux, had also experienced darkness and had doubts about her faith.  Other saints also have endured the dark night of the soul including St. Paul of the Cross.

Mother Teresa from childhood had a close relationship with Jesus.  She revealed to her spiritual directors that in the 1940s that she experienced hearing the voice of Jesus and “seeing” a few visions.  She heard Jesus’ voice say, “I thirst for souls!”  At first Mother Teresa was not sure what to make of this and other comments of Jesus.  She discussed this with her spiritual director and realized it was Jesus truly speaking to her, not the devil or her own self.  She had these experiences when she felt called on September 10, 1946 to found a new order to help the poor.

A few years after founding the order, she no longer had these experiences – they were replaced with darkness and a feeling of aloneness.  She desired to be one with Jesus, but she could not feel or anything of his presence.  This went on up to the day of her death.

She continuously desired to experience Jesus’ presence in her soul and in her life by remaining faithful to Jesus and to her calling.  She was able to teach others about spirituality and how to become holy, but she herself did not experience any consolations from Jesus. 

She was a source of support to others.  She always encouraged her community to always “smile” and to especially “smile at Jesus” in the disguise of the poorest of the poor. 

Fr. Kolodiejchuk presents several letters from Mother Teresa to her spiritual directors and others.  She at times asked her correspondent to destroy them, but many realized that these letters would one day be of great help to others. 

Even though her interior self was enveloped in darkness she was able to give her all to Jesus in whatever he wanted of her.  She had committed herself totally to Jesus’ will early on and would not go against God’s will. 

In reality, the darkness became a gift from God that kept Mother Teresa from becoming full of pride and of self.  When she was honored with awards and popularity, she did not pay any attention to it.  She was totally engrossed in God’s will and in working for Jesus in the poorest of the poor.

Fr. Kolodiejchuk kept most of the letters presented in this book in the style that Mother Teresa wrote them.  He also includes some responses to Mother’s correspondences to her spiritual directors or Church superiors while adding commentaries which clarify what the letter is about and what events were going on.

On the book jacket is a picture of Mother Teresa and on the back side is a quote from her, “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.”  This is a wonderful quote for those who are suffering from darkness of different kinds.  She is a tremendous example for those who have doubts about their religion.  She was suffering immense darkness, but still had complete faith in Jesus.  She gave her all for him and his poor whom she was called to serve him in.

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Some of this may seem a bit strange, but Fr. Kolodiejchuk explains Mother’s spirituality and what she meant by the poorest of the poor and such terms.  Kolodiejchuk includes two appendices.  The first is Mother’s rule for her order dated 1947.  The second is notes she made for a retreat in 1959.  There are endnotes and a short index.

This reviewer has not read any other reviews on this book in preparing this review to avoid being influenced by other reviewers.  It was good to have read this book and understand what the secular press was making a fuss about.  They could not understand it since it was about spiritual things and not earthly. 

This book is very highly recommended to those interested in spirituality, Mother Teresa, and who are undergoing their own darkness in its various forms like the dark night or possibly of depression and other illnesses.  Mother Teresa’s example gives hope to all of us.  She did not have an easy life as many might have thought.  What this collection of letters shows is that it is possible to be faithful to God even in the most trying circumstances.  May Blessed Teresa of Calcutta pray for us!

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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