Reading Mother Teresa: A Public Service Announcement

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Aug 26, 2016

With the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta coming up on September 4th in Rome, there is renewed interest in her life and work. On the other hand, Mother Teresa was so famous during her lifetime that many of our older readers will already be very familiar with her story, which has been told and retold countless times over the past forty-five years, perhaps beginning with Malcolm Muggeridge’s conversion tribute, Something Beautiful for God, which was published in 1971.

But if you wish to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with this new saint, there are a variety of angles to consider in the various books (including some new ones), and if you are interested in films, you will find three very different productions marketed through Ignatius Press.

Despite her fame, Mother Teresa’s story is not easy to tell. There are three main reasons for this:

  • Very little is known about her early life and family history.
  • She suffered from a severe dark night of the soul for the last 50 years of her life; this is difficult to understand, and she personally wanted the notes she made about it to be destroyed (though they were not).
  • She was so well-known in her later years as the “Saint of Calcutta” that she attracted comment by quite a variety of people, with widely varying abilities, who decided to publish their thoughts—including, unfortunately, prominent atheists who felt a need to debunk her holiness.

So here is some practical advice on where to start:

There is much to be said for getting to know a saint through that saint’s own words. We are fortunate that one of Mother Teresa’s priest friends, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk M.C., is the postulator of her cause, and has done his best to make her writings available. Fr. Kolodiejchuk began this process by collecting and publishing the letters Mother Teresa had written to her spiritual directors over the decades. These were published, along with his own interpretive comments, in 2009 by Image books, under the title Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta.

If you have already read this spiritually harrowing book, you will be glad to know that Fr. Kolodiejchuk has served as editor of a second collection which was just published this month, also by Image, to coincide with the Year of Mercy and Mother Teresa’s canonization. Entitled A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve, this collection includes the saint’s writings on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy to which she devoted her life. It also includes testimonials from those who knew her.

In addition, Sophia Institute Press has published a new edition of David Scott’s The Love that Made Mother Teresa. This is not a systematic biography, but rather a spiritual reflection whose purpose is captured by the subtitle: “How her secret visions and dark nights can help you conquer the slums of your heart.” The book began life in 2005 from Loyola Press (A Revolution of Love: The Meaning of Mother Teresa) and was first published by Sophia in a revised version under the new title in 2013. The 2016 edition is updated to reflect Mother Teresa’s canonization.

Finally, there is a need to dispel the lies mounted by Mother Teresa’s harsh critics, who were determined to debunk both her work and her motives, so that both she and her Faith could be portrayed in a way that would justify their atheism. As far as I know, there is no lengthy, rigorous, point-by-point refutation of all the lies (nor, as it turns out, has this been necessary to preserve Mother Teresa’s reputation). But Bill Donohue, the feisty leader of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, has covered the necessary territory in a brief, hundred-page survey. Also newly published by Sophia, Unmasking Mother Teresa’s Critics will convey all you really need to know—assuming that you can stomach hearing yet again about such unfortunate souls as Christopher Hitchens, Aroup Chatterjee, Hemley Gonzales and their hapless imitators.

For more information, and to purchase any of these books, follow the links below.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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