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Mother Theresa's Doubts

A forthcoming book of Mother Teresa's correspondence with her confessors offers surprising insights into her thoughts on God. She prevailed in her good works despite a 50-year crisis of faith.

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When Mother Teresa told us in 1984 she was not a saint, I didn't think she was being modest. I loved her. I was in awe of her. She was humble in a religious sense. But when you got to know Mother Teresa, you would call her shrewd, strong, cranky, even funny - not modest.

A forthcoming book of Mother Teresa's correspondence with her confessors called "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light" will apparently reveal that for more than 50 years, most of her life as a nun, Mother Teresa doubted the existence of God.

She died 10 years ago next week and has already been beatified. This week, she's been called an atheist, which I don't think she would take as an insult, and a hypocrite - a human trait.

But when you read some of her letters, she sounds more like a rejected lover. For millions, Mother Teresa in her homespun cotton sari seemed more the word of God made flesh than any pope in golden finery. And if you found her calling among the dying and destitute of Calcutta, it would be hard to hold frail, starving children in your arms and not ask, even shout, where in this hell is God?

In one undated letter, Mother Teresa writes, my God, I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd my heart, afraid to uncover them because of the blasphemy. If there be God, please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great, nothing touches my soul.

Several Catholic scholars pointed out this week that many saints have doubted God. Finding God is part of the story of their lives that gets told in Sunday schools. Even Jesus, especially Jesus, called out from the cross - my God, why has thou forsaken me?

Christopher Hitchens, that most eloquent atheist, this week likened those clerics and scholars to old Western communists who refused to see the revolutions that overthrew communist regimes as proof that communism failed the masses. It would mean they devoted their lives to a lie.

When Mother Teresa denied she was a saint, she said we should know that it's not necessary to be a saint to do good. You need willing hands, not clean ones. If we wait for our souls to be totally clean, our time on Earth may slip away.

The letters revealed this week may also suggest that it made her cringe to be acclaimed as saint when she held her arms and soul out for the love of God for so long and felt so little in return.

Mother Teresa used to admonish those who asked her for guidance. Love until it hurts. I guess it hurt her too.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small
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