The problem addressed in this article is "the experience of nothingness," the feeling of meaninglessness, both as it appears in the experience of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and as her experience speaks to that phenomenon in the world today.
Mother Teresa, as is now well known, suffered the dark night of the soul for almost fifty years. After the profound consolations by which the Lord drew her into the ministry to "the poorest of the poor," Mother Teresa suffered a total darkness of the soul until her death, a gift of "the good God," a perfect identification with Jesus in his abandonment upon the Cross for sinners and for the poor. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC, believes that this darkness went well beyond the purificatory dark night that most mystics suffer. He believes it was a reparatory darkness, a darkness that helped to complete Jesus's sufferings on the Cross for us sinners, a painful darkness by which he, in his abandonment by the Father, walked among the poor of Calcutta and of the world.2 "In God's design," writes Father Kolodiejchuk, "[Mother Teresa] was allowed to experience some of the dreadful reality of a life without God, which [End Page 70] she likened to hell, the consequence of the ultimate rejection of His love and mercy. This experience fueled her unquenchable thirst to save souls by helping each person to know God and His love, and to love Him in return."3
The nature of Mother Teresa's darkness can be gathered from the following quotation in a letter of hers to her confessor on September 3, 1959.
They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because of the loss of God—they would go through all that suffering if they had just a little hope of possessing God.—In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss—of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not really existing (Jesus, please forgive my blasphemies—I have been told to write everything). That darkness that surrounds me on all sides—I can't lift my soul to God—no light or inspiration enters my soul.—I speak of love for souls—of tender love for God—words pass through my lips—and I long with a deep longing to believe in them.—What do I labour for? If there be no God—there can be no soul.—If there is no soul then Jesus—You also are not true.—Heaven, what emptiness—not a single thought of Heaven enters my mind—for there is no hope.—I am afraid to write all these terrible things that pass in my soul.—They must hurt You [Jesus].4
Mother Teresa here compares her spiritual state to the state of the reprobate in hell: the state of the loss of God and of the accompanying pain. She goes further and states that she feels the pain of not believing in God, and that she questions the meaning of her great work in the slums. In fact, she is describing the spiritual condition not only of the Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim poor of Calcutta, but also the spiritual desolation of modern Western man.
Later in her vocation, Mother Teresa was to recognize that she had a mission as much to the poverty of the soul of Western man as she did to the poor of the Indian slums.5 She was already moving [End Page 71] toward this point of view in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on December 11, 1979.
I . . . [visited] a home where they had all these old parents. . . . I saw in that home that they had everything . . . but everybody was looking towards the door. . . . And I turned to the sister and I asked: . . . "How is it that these people who have everything here, why are they all looking towards the door, why are they not smiling?" I am so used to the smiles on our people, even the dying ones smile. And she said: "This is nearly every day. . . . They are...