by Joseph Langford, MC
The once-private, inner thoughts of Mother Teresa have been at the center of media attention … and scrutiny. Thanks to thirty thousand pages of documents gathered for her canonization and most recently the public release of her personal correspondence to her confessors, the Nobel Prize winning Catholic nun -- admired for her work among the poor -- has been the subject of critical debate.
Did Mother Teresa believe in God? Was she in torment over a loss of faith? Did she cease to pray? Was she a hypocrite? These questions and more are on the lips of the world’s most vocal mouthpieces, from atheists to theologians and everyone in between.
In an extraordinary book published by Our Sunday Visitor, Fr. Joseph Langford, founder with Mother Teresa of her religious community of priests, will help us understand even more about the beloved “Mother” of Calcutta in his insightful revelations about the truth of her interior life. We’ll learn that the only shadow on Mother Teresa’s life that we need to care about is the one cast by Mary, the “Mother” of Nazareth. Fr. Langford candidly proves in Mother Teresa: In the Shadow of Our Lady, that “to attempt to describe Mother Teresa in a few broad strokes by holding up one or another aspect of her life or work without reference to the whole is to fail to grasp who she was.”
An Excerpt from the Foreword: Under Our Lady’s Mantle
“Stay very close to Our Lady. If you do this, you can do great things for God and the good of people.” — Mother Teresa of Calcutta
You are sitting with Mother Teresa, watching her smile as her loving eyes take in everything about you, feeling the comfort of her strong hand on yours, the aura of holiness around her person, the solace of her gentle words. You watch her tend to the sick and the dying, going out of her way to perform the smallest gestures of care and compassion: the caress on the brow, the squeeze of a hand. You see her in the back of the chapel in Calcutta, immobile and bent in prayer, lost in God. How often I asked myself if I were not seeing in such times something of the Blessed Mother herself, experiencing a glimpse of the Virgin of Nazareth.
When I was with her, I had the sense — one shared by many others, and not only Christians — of being before a living mirror of the one whom Mother Teresa simply called “Our Lady”; of encountering a representation in human flesh of her whom painters and poets had sought for centuries to capture by their art. But here was more than a painting or a poem, much more than a figure in oil or in words. Here was a living icon, genuine and deep, who gave freely of God’s love no matter how high the cost, who radiated his presence even when she could no longer feel it. Mother Teresa did as Mary had done before her during Jesus’ long years away from Nazareth, during his infinitely longer hours in the tomb. Even when the Lord seemed absent to her, she loved.
As those of us who have had the privilege of knowing her can attest, Mother Teresa was someone who loved God and neighbor joyfully through whatever came, who would not have changed her life, as she often avowed, for all the money in the world. Just as we celebrate the joyous fruitfulness of Our Lady’s long night of faith that stretched from a crowded Cave to a barren Cross, so too can we celebrate the bright harvest of Mother Teresa’s own long “Marian” night, turned endless day. Like the blackbird, she sang her song in the night, that night dwellers might mark the dawn.
She was not born this way; she did not begin by shining in the night, by reflecting the same Light as the “woman clothed with the sun” (Rev 12:1 — RSV). It was over many years, through love and labor, that she was forged by a divine process into an “embodiment of Mary in our midst,” as she was described by so many after her death, Hindus included. This process had a simplicity to it, as we shall see. It was this: From dawn to dusk and decade to decade, Mother Teresa’s life had been spent, in every sense of the word, in the shadow of Our Lady. Day by day, intimacy became transformation.
During the thirty years that I knew her, Mother Teresa became for me the one book on Our Lady that I could never put down, one that continues to teach me, to fascinate me, to draw me beyond myself into God. You hold here in your hands the fruit of my reading of that book, the lights and lessons I have learned from the pages of her life.