Mother Teresa: A Saint Trapped in Hell?
The woman revered around the world as a saint believed she had become “trapped in Hell” during her work among the destitute of Calcutta, where she founded her first mission in 1948 and worked tirelessly for the next five decades among lepers, the blind and the deformed. In secret letters that Mother Teresa insisted should be burned after her death, but which the Vatican ordered should be preserved for the world, she also describes the “darkness, loneliness and torture” she constantly felt, which made her doubt the existence of Heaven and God. In one letter to Father Michael van der Peet, a spiritual adviser and close confidant, Mother Teresa wrote:
“Jesus has a very special love for you. But as for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see – listen and do not hear – the tongue moves [in prayer] but does not speak. I want you to pray for me – that I let Him have a free hand.”
Cheerful in public, despite the rigours of working among the poor and dying, she was in inner turmoil, saying her life was one of almost constant “torture” and “my smile is a mask – a cloak that covers everything”.
“I spoke as if my heart was in love with God – tender, personal love,” she wrote to another adviser, wondering if she was involved in “verbal deception” of the millions who followed her every act as proof of God’s existence. “If you were there, you’d have said: ‘What hypocrisy.'” Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, a member of the nun’s Missionaries Of Charity movement, says that for the last 50 years of her life she tried to feel the presence of God – but could not, “neither in her heart or the Eucharist”. Father Kolodiejchuk says:
“I read one letter to the Sisters Of Teresa’s Missionaries Of Charity and their mouths just dropped open. It will give a whole new dimension to the way people understand her.”
Father James Martin, author of My Life With The Saints, about notable religious figures, was astonished by the letters. “I’ve never read a saint’s life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness. No one knew she was so tormented.”
This startling – and controversial – new insight into the spiritual turmoil of one of the 20th century’s greatest icons has been seized on by prominent atheists as proof that all believers, even the most famous, are deluded. They point to glaring inconsistencies in Mother Teresa’s public and private pronouncements of faith. Three months after writing of her unfulfilled quest to feel the presence of God, Mother Teresa travelled to Oslo, in December 1979, wearing a flimsy dress and open-toed sandals amid the snow and ice of a freezing Scandinavian winter, to receive the Nobel Prize. Railing against abortion and drug addiction in the West, she proclaimed in her acceptance speech that Christ “is everywhere, radiating joy, because Christ is in our hearts, Christ is in the poor we meet, Christ is in the smile we give, and Christ is in the smile that we receive”. Aged 18, she had left home to join the Sisters Of Loreto at Loreto Abbey in Ireland; but one who set her goal as spread of love, she never set eyes on her mother or sister again. In her later life, she was accused by Western writers that she was not entirely honest, did not really love those she served, but her true intention was to expand the influence of Catholicism. Called to give evidence against Mother Teresa during the Vatican’s investigations into whether she should be beatified and ultimately canonised, Hitchens claimed that her intention “was not to help people”.
“It was by talking to her that I discovered, and she assured me, that she wasn’t working to alleviate poverty,” said Hitchens. “She was working to expand the number of Catholics. She said: ‘I’m not a social worker. I don’t do it for this reason. I do it for Christ. I do it for the Church.'” Hitchens, who also wrote an attack on Teresa called The Missionary Position, says: “She was not a friend of the poor.