It neither makes me think less, nor more of Mother Teresa that she doubted. It does, however, remind me of the integrity of her commitment — her fidelity or, yes, faithfulness — to a life oriented to God, even the imitation of Christ. Indeed, the discovery that Mother Teresa sometimes doubted and despaired may be best understood as a necessary dimension of that imitation and the “taking up of [her] cross,” as the Gospels describe discipleship. It was, after all, Christ who exclaimed on his cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In these words, lament is joined to Christian faith and informs the command to “endure to the end.”
In her experience of being called, Mother Teresa said, she knew the joy and, at least in that moment we can assume, the certainty of God’s immanence. Furthermore, such experiences of immediacy or visions did not end with her call, we are told. It should not surprise us, then, that she leaves also a record of what it felt like to come down from these mountains and to experience the absence of what had been so present. More, it is difficult to imagine that, in the slums of Calcutta among the world’s most abandoned, she could have avoided feeling abandoned herself. Or, as she puts it, in the soon-to-be-published letters: “I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.” This, too, was consistent with the divine life she sought to imitate: an identity with those she served in order to serve them.
Latter-day Saint scripture provides that Christ took “upon him [humanity’s] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.” This suggests that his disciples’ capacity to succor the infirm must also derive from experience, not merely empathy. So, for me, that Mother Teresa continued to long for God as she labored in the soul-alienating slums of Calcutta signifies the genuineness of her faith in God and the explanation for her unfailing response to God’s demand for sacrificial action and disciplined endurance. It is, ultimately, a means of her imitation of Christ.
The new discoveries of Mother Teresa’s longing for God, when coupled with her manifest practice of the other classic Christian virtues of hope and charity, give a more convincing testimony to her faith commitments than any expression of intellectual certainty or dogmatic clarity ever could. She wrote her doubts and expressed her deepest longings, as so many of us do, in private moments. She lived her certainties publicly, however, in an extraordinary display of sacrifice of all that she was and had in imitation of the divine life she adored. This is why she is and will remain an exemplar of Christian faith.