Do you remember where you were on 31st August 1997, the day Princess Diana of Wales was killed in a car accident in Paris?
I’ll never forget. I was at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my wife Janet, attending an AFL match between my beloved North Melbourne Kangaroos and Collingwood.
It was quarter-time and we were, as is North’s custom against Collingwood, down, when appearing on the scoreboard was a news flash live from the Channel 7 studios describing events unfolding in Paris.
It will be impossible to forget the global outpouring of grief, or the images of the little princes walking behind their mother’s funeral procession. There was something about Diana that struck a chord with people.
It was her vulnerability, wasn’t it? Famous, yet unassuming; wealthy, yet self-giving; flawed, yet seeking redemption.
Is there anything that troubles our hearts more than feeling vulnerable?
Keeping Faith During Trials: Mother Teresa
There is someone who can help us out here whose own death was eclipsed in the popular mind at the time by Princess Diana’s passing. Mother Teresa went to her eternal reward just a few days later, on 5th September 1997.
Nobody in my lifetime embodied the concept of “living saint” like Mother Teresa did.
At a time when religious life was in decline, the Missionaries of Charity flourished. And when the Baby Boomers were “discovering themselves”, Mother Teresa was retrieving souls from the gutter.
Who on earth was closer to God than Mother Teresa?
And yet we now know that Mother Teresa lived most of her life in a spiritual desolation that few could endure.
When news of Mother’s experience emerged during the cause of her canonisation, I made the point of saying to my regular confessor that I could not cope with such a trial. And yet there are times when each of us experiences desolation.
Mother Teresa’s Darkness… In Her Own Words
In his book, “The Love that Made Mother Teresa,” David Scott pieces together a meditation of Mother’s experience in her own words:
I did not know that love could make one suffer so much . . .
of pain human but caused by the divine.
The more I want him, the less I am wanted.
I want to love him as he has not been loved,
and yet there is that separation, that terrible
emptiness, that feeling of absence of God.
They say people in hell suffer eternal pain because
of the loss of God . . .
In my soul I feel just this terrible pain of loss,
of God not wanting me, of God not being God,
of God not really existing.
That terrible longing keeps growing, and I feel as if
something will break in me one day.
Heaven from every side is closed.
I feel like refusing God.
Pray for me
that I may not turn a Judas to Jesus
in this painful darkness.
It makes for wretched reading. It is not that God might not be; worse is that he might be hiding. For there is much we are prepared to suffer when we know why.
Keeping Faith Through Trials: The Church Today
It’s hard being Catholic today – chaotic liturgy, family members who turn aside from the faith, clergy scandals, lukewarm laity and a culture that openly persecutes faithfulness to truth.
But just like in the Church, where the internal pressures are the ones that do the most damage, our interior life can be just as demoralizing as we careen from one disappointment to another.
Prayers go unanswered and the temptation to ‘put God in the dock’ is like a savage dog persistently barking in our ear.
When I suffer interior torment, there are internal layers or spiritual levels that behave like warring clans, tossing me from one storey to another. Meanwhile, as the tribes carve out their battle lines, I earnestly hope that when I finally land at the deepest layer, I will find peace and a clear vision of God.
So, what’s the issue here? Trust.
The Value of Vulnerability
Now it is not my intention to canonize Princess Diana, but her vulnerability was like a raw nerve that made us wince. It provokes me to wonder, if we feel vulnerable before God, then perhaps he’s got us exactly where He wants us, even if it makes us wince.
It is not enough that we should pray with the intention of receiving consolation. God is to be worshiped for His own sake, not ours. He wants us to come to Him as little children, totally abandoning ourselves to His will, come what may. Was God not glorified by the crucifixion of his Son? He tests you because He loves you.
How, then, do we move forward? I offer one suggestion for the vulnerable. Mercifully, I am no Mother Teresa, and God offers me only glimpses of her dark night of the soul. But since He wants me to find solace and healing in Him alone, I am immensely grateful to be living in a perpetual adoration parish.
I am the impatient one; He eternally awaits me, ready to turn tables.
He is not hiding, save behind the veil of a sacrament.
I go to adore Him, only to discover, in an outpouring of divine love, that He is all the while ‘adoring’ me.