How Our Lady Consoled the "Saint of the Gutters"
By Annamarie Adkins
TIJUANA, MEXICO, 24 APRIL 2008 (ZENIT)
The secular press recently was
full of articles on how Mother Teresa had a "crisis" of faith for
decades, but the untold story is how Mary sustained Mother Teresa during
For insight, ZENIT turned to Missionary of Charity Father Joseph
Langford, cofounder with Mother Teresa of her community of priests, the
Missionaries of Charity Fathers, and author of "Mother Teresa: In the
Shadow of Our Lady," published by Our Sunday Visitor.
Father Langford told ZENIT how Mother Teresa clung to Our Lady
throughout her dark night, and how we can grow closer to Mary by
following Mother Teresa's example.
Q: What made you decide that now would be a good time to tell this part
of Mother's story?
Father Langford: The decision to publish "In the Shadow of Our Lady" and
to reveal more of Mother Teresa's inner life grew out of the convergence
of two events: the 10th anniversary of her passing, and the recent
controversy over her "dark night" of soul.
Given the confusion being created around Mother Teresa and her legacy,
it seemed important to reveal another dimension of the true light and
beauty of God's work in her soul
light that shone all the more brightly through her heroic faith.
Q: How would you describe Mother's periods of darkness, and what do you
think about the recent controversies over her "dark night?"
Father Langford: Contrary to reports in the press, Mother Teresa did not
suffer a "crisis" of faith. In fact, her struggle was not with faith at
all, but with the "loss of feeling" of faith, with the loss of a felt
sense of the divine. As she stepped out of the convent and into the
slums of Calcutta, what had been her usual consolation in prayer
Though she would not understand it until later, she was being asked to
share the same inner darkness, the same trial of belief suffered by the
poor and destitute
and to do so for their sake, and for the love of her Lord.
She was allowed to feel as though God was absent, and at first she
agonized at the disconnect between her emotions and her belief
though never did her lack of feeling become lack of faith.
In fact, her dark night revealed the hidden depth of Mother Teresa's
faith in a way that any lesser challenge could not. Her darkness not
only allowed her to exercise her extraordinary faith to the full, it
— modern disciples too often of "little faith"
to discover the true dimensions of which faith is capable, even under
duress, even in the night.
She would want to encourage us to do the same in our own Calcutta, in
our own dark night: Instead of allowing our trials and pain to become a
prison, we can, as she did, make our pain a bridge into the pain of
others, a bond of solidarity, a catalyst for charity.
Q: How did her relationship with Mary assist her in these times of
Father Langford: Just as the Israelites were given a column of fire to
lead them by night, so Mother Teresa was given her own guiding light
through the night of faith, in the person of the Virgin Mary.
The gift of Jesus' mother
given to St. John on Calvary, and to disciples and saints through the
strengthened Mother Teresa in carrying her own pain, and in tending to
the pain of the poor.
Our Lady would help her to not only believe in the night, but to love in
— to transform the mystery of the cross, both within her and
around her, into seeds of resurrection.
As it was Our Lady who brought St. John, alone among the Twelve, to
stand faithfully at Calvary, so it was Our Lady who would bring Mother
Teresa through the sea of suffering opened before her, that she might
shine the light of God's love on the poor.
Q: What did you learn about the Blessed Mother from Mother Teresa?
Father Langford: The book is a compendium of what I learned of Our Lady
over the years, from watching and listening to this Saint of the
Gutters. It is a simple apologia for Our Lady's role, wrapped not in
polemics, but in the humble sari of one of the gospel's most credible
and approachable witnesses.
It is impossible to observe Mother Teresa's faith without being reminded
of the faith of Our Lady. Though her darkness bore other names and other
dimensions, Mary of Nazareth lived her own night of faith.
Consider Joseph's months of doubt; finding no room in Bethlehem; the
flight into Egypt; the years of Jesus' absence from Nazareth; the hours
of his agony on the cross; and her own agony as he lie in the grave.
From these came the lessons of faith she shared with a young Mother
Mother Teresa's own life, and her sense of the role of the Mother of
God, was that of "an ongoing Visitation," a "going in haste" to bring
God to others. This Marian vision was based on Mother Teresa's own
experience, but also firmly rooted in scripture.
The Gospel account of the Visitation in the first chapter of Luke shows
obvious echoes of the "visitation" made by the Ark of the Covenant to
David, also "in the hill country of Judea." No one disputes that the Ark
carried a special anointing of grace and divine presence, that it was
itself a "theotokos" ("God-bearer"), though only made of wood.
Can God not do the same and more, in a latter Testament, with a new and
better Ark? Are we scandalized that God can make of flesh what once was?
Or has our generation understood "neither the scriptures nor the power
In the end, Mother Teresa would not be one to argue, but simply to say
of this Marian mystery, as she so often did of the mystery of Christ
hidden in the poor: "Come and see."
Q: How did Mother Teresa's visions as a young woman affect her Marian
Father Langford: Sometime in 1947, after months of extraordinary grace
in which Jesus explained in detail the mission she was to undertake,
Mother Teresa was granted a vision which represented the major elements
of her new call.
She was shown a "large crowd" of poor of every kind, "covered in
— a darkness she herself would soon share. Our Lady was standing
in the midst of them, claiming them as her children.
Mother Teresa saw herself "as a little child," standing directly in
front of Our Lady, so close as to seem one thing with her, literally
enveloped by her presence. What Mother Teresa saw in vision that day
would indeed come to pass, as her mission became a kind of "extension of
Our Lady" at the Calvaries of this world.
When asked by her spiritual advisor how she intended to accomplish the
impossible task Jesus had asked of her, Mother Teresa replied simply
that she was placing "all her confidence" in the presence of Our Lady.
She never doubted, inspired by the same faith that sustained Our Lady in
her darkest hour on Calvary, that the Son of God was hidden beneath the
"distressing disguise" of those who shared his Passion. As Jesus
proclaims in Matthew's Gospel, and as Mother Teresa loved to repeat:
"Whatever you do to the least … you did it to me."
From her life-changing vision of 1947 until her death, Our Lady would be
Mother Teresa's constant reference, her model, and her unflagging
Q: In your book, you talk about the four important "attitudes of soul
necessary for Our Lady to intervene in our lives." Can you briefly
describe these, and how Mother radiated these in her life and work?
Father Langford: The first prerequisite in our relationship with Our
Lady is an attitude of littleness and poverty of spirit, an attitude
that opens the gates of the kingdom. As the Gospel insists: "Unless you
change and become like children" (Luke 18:17).
This was a keynote of Mother Teresa, and of those chosen by Our Lady in
all her apparitions.
The second prerequisite is an attitude of trust, of simple faith in the
presence, the power, and role of Our Lady in God's plan, relying on her
intervention and intercession with the trust of a child.
Thirdly, Our Lady, who proclaimed "Let it be done to me according to
your word," asks the same humble obedience, the same docility and
suppleness of spirit of all her children that we see in Mother Teresa,
and in those who lived in intimacy with Mary.
The fourth prerequisite in coming closer to Our Lady is a contemplative
attitude, both in prayer and in life
sense of childlike wonder at the majesty of his being and the beauty of
his creation, and an ability to marvel at his gifts and blessings.
Q: How did the Blessed Mother bring Mother Teresa, and how can she bring
us, closer to Christ?
Father Langford: Mother Teresa discovered that Our Lady's presence
alongside her in the slums purified things, no matter how sullied, and
beautified things, no matter how uncomely. She opened the blackest of
horizons to the light of God's grace.
For Mother Teresa, Our Lady was like the cloud that came down on the
meeting tent in the Old Testament, bringing with it a sacred atmosphere
filled with God's presence, offering a refuge that purifies and
transforms everything, divinizing us and preparing us for the encounter
Mother Teresa was convinced that in this sacred space all that God
wanted from her would be realized. In Our Lady, Mother Teresa found a
privileged path into the mystery of Trinitarian love, given in Jesus.
For her, Our Lady represented mankind's "maximum response" to God, our
highest and fullest answer to his invitation to love and be loved. As
Our Lady became St. John's solution to the dilemma of human weakness, as
he scaled the mount of Calvary, so Our Lady was Mother Teresa's solution
to the same dilemma, as she plumbed the depths of Calcutta's slums.
Mother Teresa would invite us, as she invited her Sisters, to allow Our
Lady to become our solution as well, as we face the trials and demands
of following Jesus, "picking up our cross every day," in our own hidden
Calcuttas of the heart.
With her whole heart
and with what extraordinary results
Mother Teresa heeded, and encourages us to heed, Jesus' solemn
invitation "Disciple, Behold your Mother."