Saturday, September 08, 2007

23rd Sunday of the Year (9th September 2007)

Readings for today

Anyone who does not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

Some people think that faith is all about comfort. It is about escape from the realities of life. In this point of view, people have faith to escape from the pain of bereavement, or the guilt of wrong-doing, or the misery of poverty or the sadness of loneliness. The promise of heaven, of forgiveness, of the communion of saints and a better life to come all give tremendous comfort. Religion, faith, belief, so this argument goes is all a delusion, as escape from what the world is really like.

Well, like all popular points of view, there is an element of truth in this. Faith does give comfort and hope. It does provide some answer to questions. It does give meaning and hope and strength.

But not always. Those who embrace the Christian faith have often encountered ridicule, and persecution, and even death. The history of our faith is littered with martyrs. In the last century, it is said, there were more martyrs for the faith than in the whole of the previous 19 centuries. Today, Christians carry their cross in China, in parts of Africa and especially in some muslim countries where churches have been burnt and believers attacked and killed. Christians in Iraq, now suffer far more than they ever did in the past.

And there is another cross which believers may have to carry.

September 5th was the fifth anniversary of the death of  Mother Teresa, or Blessed Teresa of Kolkata as we now call her. There was some fuss over a book published this week, a collection of her diary entries and letters. They reveal something which no one knew – that for most of her life, Mother Teresa was afflicted by what she called 'the dark night of God's silence': it was a deep sense of doubt, of the questioning of God's existence, God's presence, God's love. Mother Teresa was racked by doubt. To be sure, she had a profound experience of the presence of Christ as a younger woman, but for most of her life she sat not in the light of that experience, but in its shadow. Yet her conviction never wavered, he commitment did not shake, she gave her life for the desparately poor and the destitute, the sick and the dying. In an extraordinary way, she carried the cross of darkness and doubt.

One of her biographers put it so beautifully:

Mother Teresa, she said, converted "her feeling of abandonment by God into an act of abandonment to God." She proclaimed that there was "more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread." She lived her doubts, not for an hour on Sunday, but every day as she tended the poor and dying in utter, relentless squalor.

The darkness of God's silence was her cross.

May we be able to carry our crosses with such grace and generosity and love.

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