Mother Teresa knew what being unloved felt like, priest says

IMAGE: CNS photo/Robert Duncan

By Cindy Wooden

ROME (CNS) — In the chapel of the first house Blessed
Teresa of Kolkata established in Rome, Father Brian
Kolodiejchuk of the Missionaries of Charity talks about her life, mixing the concrete and even mundane with
the spiritual and even mystical.

“She was very human — she loved chocolate, she loved ice
cream,” the priest said. At the same time, her letters to her spiritual
directors make it clear “she’s among the great mystics of the
church,” having experienced the sweetness of hearing Jesus’ voice and,
later, the desolation of feeling he had abandoned her.

“Mother Teresa was no plastic saint,” said Father
Kolodiejchuk, who is superior general of the Missionaries of Charity Fathers and
postulator of Blessed Teresa’s sainthood cause. Mother Teresa was a “very
concrete, feet on the ground” organizer and hands-on minister to the
poorest of the poor, he said.

The priest, a native of Canada, spoke to Catholic News
Service Aug. 19 at the home Mother Teresa initially founded in Rome for novice
sisters. Now a base for the order’s priests, it is a warren of rooms built
around a courtyard covered with a densely leafed grape vine laden with fruit
nearing purple ripeness.

The grapes should be ready for harvest by Sept. 4, the date
Pope Francis is scheduled to declare Blessed Teresa a saint.

“Mother Teresa could be the patron saint of women who
are having difficulty conceiving,” Father Kolodiejchuk said when asked for
suggestions. When couples would tell her they were having trouble having
children, “she would take a miraculous medal, kiss it and then she would
say simply, ‘Say this prayer: “Mary, mother of Jesus, give us a child.'”
That was the whole prayer. And sure enough, one year later there would be the
couple with a baby in hand.”

But the priest, who travels constantly as superior of his
order and chief promoter of Blessed Teresa’s sainthood cause, said she also
could be the patron saint of airplane travelers. “She’s my personal patron
saint for my luggage,” he said. Before a trip, he says a little prayer and
“I have never had any difficulty with my luggage. Never lost. Always shows

Mother Teresa’s canonization is the church’s formal
proclamation that she is with God and can intercede on behalf of those who pray
for her assistance, Father Kolodiejchuk said. Sainthood recognizes that she
“lived in an excellent way — a heroic way — the Christian life and shows
us concretely what the Christian life involves.”

For Father Kolodiejchuk, “the single most heroic aspect
of her life” is her extraordinary commitment to God, the church and the
poor despite what Mother Teresa described in letters to her spiritual director
as “the darkness,” a feeling that lasted some 50 years.

“She was a woman passionately in love with Jesus,”
Father Kolodiejchuk said. “As a young religious she made this resolution
to love him as he’s never been loved before, which is a daring thing to say if
you are taking it seriously.”

In 1946, Mother Teresa — at the time a Loreto sister —
heard the voice of Jesus calling her to serve him in the poorest of the poor. It
was an intense, mystical experience of “that union, that presence, that
intimacy with Jesus,” he said. “And then she lost it and that’s

“So the trial is that she feels that Jesus doesn’t love
her. She feels unwanted, unloved,” he said.

Father Kolodiejchuk said that for Mother Teresa, it was like
“a woman who loves passionately her husband, but it seems like he couldn’t
care less, and yet she is there faithfully, loving, doing all the things a
loving wife would do.”

Living through that experience with “heroic
faith,” constant acts of charity and real love for God and for the poor,
he said, is a witness to the real meaning of commitment and that “love is
not principally a feeling. Certainly that’s part of it for almost everyone, but
in the end, it is classical Thomas Aquinas: Love is in the will. It’s our

Feeling unloved was not just a painful experience for Mother
Teresa, he said. It was also another way for her to live in deep communion with
Jesus and with the materially and spiritually poor she dedicated her life to

In the chapel of every Missionary of Charity community, next
to the crucifix, are the words of Jesus, “I thirst.”

“Thirst for Jesus explains everything” the missionaries
do, he said. From the very beginning, Mother Teresa said the order was founded
“to quench the thirst of Jesus on the cross for love and souls. So, in
this darkness, she is quenching, satiating Jesus’ thirst by, paradoxically, not
experiencing that love. Or to say it in another way, they are so united that
Jesus can share with her his most terrible pain.”

Her experience of feeling unloved also meant she lived
“in solidarity with the spiritually poor,” Father Kolodiejchuk said. “She
would have this empathy because she would have the same sense of, ‘Yeah, I know
what it is to be unloved and unwanted and feeling lonely — to want to love and
be loved, and it seems like it’s not there.'”

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Follow Wooden on Twitter: @Cindy_Wooden

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