Friday, August 31, 2007

Mother Teresa, Patron Saint of Agnostics?

James Martin, the Jesuit priest whose "My Life with the Saints" (reviewed by me here and on Amazon) noted Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul apparently lasting from at least 1959 to her death, has written in the NY Times (link below) about her "noche oscura" in moving terms, occasioned by the publication of a journal of hers, which made not only the cover of Time, as I glanced at on the train yesterday over an Asian man's shoulder, but AOL's come-on blurb about "Mother Teresa's Secret Life, or Dark Secret," I cannot remember which. In a day that saw me take our neighbors to the train with news that both their fathers were ailing, one in hospital, my father-in-law elevated to life support, and seeing with my two sons my own father in critical care at the end of a long Labor Day-induced traffic jam two hours to the south and this in the carpool lane, I reflect again, aided by a decades-old Zinfadel I figured I better drink in this remodelling detritus, on our own mortality. And, on our own frailty.

I had asked my wife last night, after coming home with news of both our fathers' decline, about Mother Teresa's news, for if AOL & Time (Warner, now asunder) both carried the lead on this Albanian sister's revelations as well as the paper of record and the Amazon recommendation yesterday that popped up for me, I figured Mother T. was the talk of the chattering classes, albeit on a slow holiday weekend of little to note beyond the tenth anniversary of one woman born a week after me, and her fiery death as the former wife to the (usurping) Prince of Wales. I was bitter as a child when I read in National Geographic of the investiture at Caermarthen in 1969 of Charles, and I remain opposed to the English seizure of the Welsh throne, and any claims by its hangers-on to rule over this purported Principality.

Mother Teresa has an Irish connection, speaking of Celtic realms, as she was I recall trained there for the Sisters of Loreto (O. L. of L. by bilocation of the Holy House where Jesus supposedly was born-- I saw the copy on Prague's left bank-- and therefore the patron saint of television & media, Internet geeks note-- cooler than the wax doll Infant of Prague down the street but a few blocks). I find it sad, but therefore fitting, that Mother T. had to suffer so in her lack of firm belief for four decades hence.

Perhaps Christopher Hitchens, who I also admire if reservedly for his typically British air of lefty Oxbridged erudition mixed with a delight in taking on all comers in the journalistic agora (despite his air of noblesse oblige shared with child of privilege "The Nation"'s Alexander Cockburn), will show some mercy from his previous attack on Mother T's resigned attitude towards "the poor you will always have with you" that he savaged in his ad feminam attack-- for her connivance in the Keating [good Irish Norman Catholic name} scandal in Swiftianally titled polemic "The Missionary Position.")

The parable of the unjust steward's one of the tough ones for preachers to expound upon. The conclusion came to mind as I thought of Mother T's alliances with such as the Duvaliers of Haiti. "And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely. For the children of this world are, in their generation, wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when you fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." Hitchens labels his antagonist's contrary position as "cognitive dissonance," but believers might recognize it as reality, for in the Catholic tradition especially, "la noche oscura" may never end.

As Fr. Martin in his book had already revealed, the dark night of the soul that Mother T. had to endure perhaps does not mark her as a depressed avatar for those of us-- ah that Celtic affliction-- also tainted by melancholy-- but rather an appropriate saint for our own afflicted age? "Has she been received into everlasting habitations?" We, like her on this earth, can never now-- at least yet? I hope she has found peace, as I pray the same for the two men around ninety who most directly are in my own thoughts as I write this entry tonight amidst wine, pizza, heat wave, my own acedia and weariness.

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