After Saint Mother Teresa had died back in 1997, one of her requests were that her private letters to spiritual directors along with personal writings (journals, diaries) would be destroyed. Bizarrely, that was ignored. It’s understandable that those closest to her appreciated the spiritual treasure that they could discern in Mother Teresa’s writings, but it still seems unfair not to honor such a request. In any event, they were eventually compiled and released as a book entitled “Mother Teresa: Come be my light.” Amazingly though, as you read it, you discover that for a majority of her life “light” would be elusive in her personal, private, prayer life.
Early on she had such intimacy in prayer that she would hear Jesus call her “my dear little one.” The deepness of that love would cause the future saint to respond that she wanted to love Jesus in return in a way that no one had ever done before. It was from that, that she felt this call to leave Albania, return to her native India, to Calcutta – and to immerse herself in serving the poorest of the poor, those who were the most ill, those who were dying. At first she felt this sense of perfect peace, of love, of union with God as she embarked on that mission, on responding to that call – and then inexplicably a darkness – where God seemed silent, removed, distant. She only experienced that immense love in prayer again one or two more times in the decades of her life and service that followed.
For many in the world, reading those things years after her death it was quite shocking. Some insane critics used it to try to claim she was a fraud. But to people of faith, we saw the contradiction as an incredible testimony to God’s presence and activity in a beautiful way that moved the world (and continues to move the world) through this one woman’s life. Because in the view of God, in His timing of eternity Mother Teresa’s time on earth is but a “little while.” She was able, every day, to let her faith and belief in things unseen to keep her longing for God, pursuing Him, calling out to Him – to the point that she had completely abandoned herself to Him as she poured out love, and gentleness, and kindness on the world.
Anytime someone experiences what seems an absence of God’s presence it can be a uniquely devastating experience. When a relationship ends… when someone experiences a severe illness… when someone we love dies and we experience profound grief – those things, leaving us emotionally raw and vulnerable are compounded by this sense that God’s presence has been eclipsed. And there’s really no preparation we can make to ward that experience off. It’s something that we need to in some way accept and embrace.
That’s something we hear in today’s Gospel. Jesus is explicitly preparing his disciples for this personal spiritual trial as the Last Supper of Holy Thursday is coming to an end, and his arrest, unjust trial, brutal Passion and death are about to begin. He speaks of a similar darkness, desolation and silence: a little while and you will no longer see me, and again a little while later and you will see me.” The disciples are scared, and confused “What does this mean that he is saying to us…”
It will become apparent to them really quickly. The three days that follow will be unlike anything they had ever seen or imagined. Yet “in a little while” – they experience the glory of the resurrection…
“in a little while” after that they experience Jesus’ ascension into heaven….
“in a little while” after that they will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and embark in lifelong mission that will bring peaks and valleys, moments of light and darkness that in the day to day don’t make sense, but they got to a place where they weren’t disturbed by those peaks and valleys – the darkness didn’t cause them to forget the light. They believed and trusted in the view of God, in His timing of eternity, this time here is just “a little while.”
The point is that for everyone of His followers, Jesus is inviting us not just into his mission, but into his vision… So when we keep digging deep in the face of whatever pains or sorrows we experience, when we go to Mass, when we pray especially when it’s hard, especially when we don’t feel like it, especially when it seems like we no longer see Him; when we engage in selflessness while we see a world that is selfish; when we engage in acts of sacrificial love – recognizing that life on earth is fleeting, that we too are here for just “a little while” ; it is then that what we profess to be faith actually becomes faith… and we realize holiness is not something reserved for the few but the goal, the duty, the mission, the pursuit for all of us.
Mother Teresa once said: “Jesus will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in his love than in your weakness. Only then, his hand will be free with you.”