The (Bumpy) Road to Sainthood

May Christ bring us all together to everlasting life.  Rule of Benedict 

When a Calcutta woman woke up nine years ago cured of her huge abdominal tumor, the Missionaries of Charity knew they had a verifiable miracle to report. They had been praying to their founder, Mother Teresa, for the woman's healing. When the healing happened on the first anniversary of Mother Teresa's death, the Vatican agreed the miracle would be accepted for her beatification, or "blessing," which took place in 2003. Another miracle will be required for canonization.

But the question of sainthood has become fraught, this year by the publication of Mother Teresa's letters. In them, we find that she felt abandoned by God; that her prayer life was dry; that occasionally, she even wondered if God really was there.

Saint or Hypocrite ...

How can these feelings be the feelings of a saint? How can we view Mother Teresa as anything but a hypocrite - her word - who simply pretended to be on the best terms with the divine? "I feel that Mother Teresa, like many of the saints - St. John of the Cross being one of them - went through a period referred to as the dark night of the soul," Sr. Marilyn Hettinger, OSB, says. "It is to her credit that she continued her work without ceasing."

Mother Teresa was, of course, in good company. Christ himself felt profoundly alone as he called out from the cross, "Why have you abandoned me?" St. Ignatius, another saint to experience the dark night, discerned a benefit from the process: God removes all of one's personal interpretation of the divine, so that God can infuse the reality of God into one's mind and spirit. Thus, the dark night provides a period of preparation for deeper union with God.

... Or Role Model of Faith?

"I believe that Mother Teresa should be canonized," Sr. Marilyn Ring, OSB, says. "The fact that she went through difficult years feeling that God's presence was not with her will give people hope when they have the same experience. Her example encourages us all not to give up hope, but to continue to believe that God loves us even when it is not felt."

"We need role models of faith," Sr. Marilyn Hettinger adds. "That's why the Church canonizes saints." As for canonizing someone who said she lost her faith? Wall Street Journal writer Kenneth Woodward argues that Mother Teresa experienced strong faith, albeit "devoid of any emotional consolation":

"(Some commentators) seem unaware that Vatican judges cited the letters as proof of her exceptional faith. That figures: What the church looks for in a saint is not just good works -- for that there are Nobel Prizes -- but solid evidence that the candidate for canonization was transformed, inwardly and utterly, by God's grace. ... In the end, Mother Teresa had to rely on faith, hope and charity. These are the virtues expected of all Christians, not just the spiritual elite."

Will another miracle be performed and credited to Mother Teresa? We will have to wait and see. But if the enthusiasm of her admirers – from Calcutta to the United States - is any measure of likelihood, it's only a matter of time.

To read more about the canonization process, visit