I noticed two news reports today.
David Van Biema in Time is reporting about Mother Teresa with the headline “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith” and my news source uses “Her secret letters show that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life” as the “teaser” for the article. Van Biema reports,
A new, innocuously titled book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday)*, consisting primarily of correspondence between Teresa and her confessors and superiors over a period of 66 years, provides the spiritual counterpoint to a life known mostly through its works. The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church), reveal that for the last nearly half-century of her life she felt no presence of God whatsoever — or, as the book’s compiler and editor, the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk, writes, “neither in her heart or in the eucharist.”
Eric Gorski and Trevor Tompson, Associated Press Writers, are reporting on a survey by AP and MTV.
An extensive survey by The Associated Press and MTV found that people aged 13 to 24 who describe themselves as very spiritual or religious tend to be happier than those who don’t.
The AP poll was designed to find out what young people today identify as those things contributing to their happiness.
You have to be wildly conspiratorially-oriented to even hope that these two reports would appear on the same day. MTV, the icon of post-modern culture and purveyor of pop culture reports that faith and happiness are positively linked, and Mother Teresa, the icon of sacrificial faith rarely felt the presence of God in her life. Van Biema’s article is engaging and raises some important perspectives. Gorski/Tompson scramble to make sense of the survey.
For me, there are two important things arising from the survey. First is that the article about the survey is reporting that happiness and lives of faith are linked. As a “sound bite” that may be helpful to the ministry to which I’m called, especially as I engage in the lives of young people. More importantly, this survey gives me some current information about how these young people view faith. A full 34% indicate that faith plays little or no part in their lives. A significant majority are described as “tolerant” of other faiths, which I read as being open to the value and importance of the faith lives of others.
More important to me is the collection of Mother Teresa’s letters. The experience of doubt within faith is a tremendous challenge for many of those I serve.
“Everything she’s experiencing,” he says, “is what average believers experience in their spiritual lives writ large. I have known scores of people who have felt abandoned by God and had doubts about God’s existence. And this book expresses that in such a stunning way but shows her full of complete trust at the same time.” He takes a breath. “Who would have thought that the person who was considered the most faithful woman in the world struggled like that with her faith?” he asks. “And who would have thought that the one thought to be the most ardent of believers could be a saint to the skeptics?”
I have a number of thoughts running through my head right now. I’m going to let these “percolate” some, and will continue some reflections at a later time.
*Note: “Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light” is scheduled for release September 4, 2007.