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Mother Teresa, the Enigma

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Mar 26, 2014

Is David Scott’s biography of Mother Teresa of Calcutta a disaster or a smashing success? It’s published by Sophia Press, so there are no qualms there. It is spiritually sound, even illuminating, so there are no qualms there, either. But like every other study of Mother Teresa, it lacks information about … about … wait for it … Mother Teresa herself.

Those who wish to learn about Mother Teresa in herself will find this enormously frustrating, and the author knows it. In fact, I presume every biographer of Mother Teresa starting with Malcolm Muggeridge has known it. The bottom line is that there is simply very little known about Mother Teresa. Most of what might have been gleaned about her childhood was destroyed in the Communist takeover of Albania. The rest was lost by the almost total refusal of Mother Teresa to talk about it—that is, to talk about herself.

We do get the barest of outlines, pieces of which are sprinkled sparsely throughout the book, but this is hardly satisfying. Put as simply as possible, it makes little sense to pick up this book and read it as a biography at all. Again, both the author and the publisher know this, which is probably why they describe the book, on its back cover, as “part biography and part spiritual reading”. Truly, it may be mostly spiritual reading, but it is definitely reading which illuminates Mother Teresa’s particular brand of spirituality.

On this score, the book is a resounding success. David Scott teaches us not about Mother Teresa in herself but about Mother Teresa in God.

Indeed, the lesson of Mother Teresa’s life is not so much about Mother Teresa as it is about God’s love of the poor, and perhaps about our failure to love the poor. Or at least our failure to respond as wholeheartedly to our vocations as Mother Teresa did to hers. It does not take long for the reader to realize that this is very right, and very beautiful, and just a bit frightening.

It is fitting, then, that the title of Scott’s book is The Love that Made Mother Teresa, and the subtitle is equally apt: “How her secret visions and dark nights can help you conquer the slums of your heart.” One may be understandably reluctant to tackle those slums. But for the courageous, a serious reflection on the life of Mother Teresa is certainly a good way to start.

The book, which is relatively short at about 120 pages, seeks to capture the lessons of Mother Teresa’s life in chronological order, from the time she was first called to the religious life in a teaching order through her unique call to serve the poor and found the Missionaries of Charity. In the early stages of this mission, she received very clear instructions from Our Lord. Thereafter, she suffered an incomparably long and nearly unendurable dark night of the soul. Yet we still remember her smile.

David Scott does this work surpassingly well. On the one hand, his treatment will inescapably leave you wanting to know more of the details of Mother Teresa’s life. On the other, if you can benefit from a serious spiritual examination of what her life ought to mean for the rest of us, then The Love that Made Mother Teresa will be just what you need, especially during the final weeks of Lent.

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