Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Saints who grow to be old.....

...always fascinated me as a kid. I think it was because I read about some of the martyrs, some of whom died at very young ages, so I got the impression that saints didn't see old bones. This was added to by the fact that I had an Irish grandmother who used to say "The good die young" about six times a day after John F. Kennedy was shot. And then maybe twelve times a day after his brother Robert joined him.

So I probably mixed up the idea that the good die young with the one that, if you live beyond the age of 25 (back then anyone over 25 was old), you couldn't really be a saint.

Luckily I got over that, to some extent. I still find myself wondering how Mother Teresa lived so long more than about her spiritual crisis. I understand dark nights of the soul in a person of faith because here's the thing  - if you don't take your faith journey seriously, you can't have a dark night of the soul. It's time consuming and a person just would rather go off and do something fun. 

I read about so many saints who die young - the virgin saints, the martyr saints - teenagers and children who never see adulthood - and then we have those saints who grow peacefully old - we think. But maybe it's not so peaceful. Maybe, like Mother Teresa, what on earth we see as a gift of years feels to them like a separation from God.  Perhaps, simply, they want to go be with God. 

Did that add to her dark night of the soul? Living all those years of seeing the suffering, treating the wounded, hearing their cries for help - did that make her doubt and think that the earthly years bestowed upon her were something other than an illusory  curtain separating her from God's loving presence? Is it possible that it's this simple: that the very work a saint may be called to do is so difficult that facing years of it is daunting? It seems that her "correspondence, which spans most of Mother Teresa's life, shows that she felt alone and in a state of spiritual pain from around 1949, roughly the time when she started taking care of the poor and dying in Calcutta" 

I don't know. I'm no saint and can't think like one. But having had my dark night of the soul, where I stood in the ocean and shouted to the sky that I no longer believed in God after being immersed in a life where on a daily basis I encountered battered women, hungry children and countless homeless people, I wonder if Mother Teresa's earthly  struggles are that surprising. 

After all, she immersed herself in the sufferings of others. It wasn't a 9 to 5 gig. You can't stop being Mother Teresa at 5:15. It was 24/7 for years.

The saints who grow to be old. I think they deserve their own category. 

[visual description: An elderly Mother Teresa is shown, smiling. She is wearing a blue and white habit.]


Anonymous said...

What do you know about Mother Teresa? You're not a clergy member. You're just someone who uses a wheelchair. Stick to what you know.

A Real Catholic

Ruth said...

Do you realize that if you called yourself Really Catholic, our names would rhyme. Real Catholic - Wheel Catholic - just doesn't have the same ring to it for me. But I'd have to ask Randy, Paula and Simon for their input.

Anyway, let's play nice with the comments. Don't make me have to create a tag or label for the category of - not Catholic bashing but Catholic bashing Catholic. I'd do it reluctantly, but I will do it.

Anonymous said...

You should take the word Catholic out of your blog name. All you do is talk about how we should include people with handicaps. Who cares? I know I don't and I really am Catholic.

A Real Catholic

Meredith Gould said...

Oh please leave those nutty comments posted by "Anonymous" for everyone to read. They are, in a way, hilarious. AS IF only the clergy are qualified to opine about Mother Teresa. Yipes.

Anyway, great post. My theory is that Mother Teresa was able to sustain her incredibly long "dark night" because of her transcendent glimpses of and communion with Christ Jesus early on.

Loved the anecdote about your grandmother! I remember when people had pics of Kennedy, Pope John XXIII, and Martin Luther King, Jr. all lined up on their walls.

Ruth said...

Meredith - I remember that too! In our classroom at St. Francis, the nuns took down the Virgin Mary statue after JFK died, put a bust of him there and a black curtain along with candles. The pastor came by to visit our classroom and asked where the Virgin Mary went and she reappeared the next day, but it is an image that has stayed in my mind over the years.