The Dark Night of Mother Teresa - received as gift

Revisiting the Mystery – The Dark Night of Mother Teresa
By Father Cantalamessa – Papal Preacher

[FONT=Arial]It is not hard to recognize immediately in Mother Teresa’s experience a classic case of what the scholars of mysticism, after Saint John of the Cross, usually call the dark night of the soul. [/FONT]
[FONT=Arial]Johannes Tauler gives a startling description of this state: “Then we are abandoned in such a way that we no longer have any awareness of God, and we fall into such anguish that we no longer know if we were ever on the right path, nor know if God even exists, or if we ourselves are alive or dead. And so an anguish besets us that is so strange, it seems as if everything in the entire world were joining together to afflict us. We no longer have any experience or awareness of God, but everything else seems repugnant to us as well, and it seems we are trapped between two walls.”

I think one of the contributions, just one, of Mother Teresa and The Dark Night is that it expresses it in a way that tells the inexperienced, “it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of The Living God”………….and that the true Dark Night of The Soul is dreadful indeed and a terrible suffering. Doubtless I should think the extremes of the Dark Night of The Soul may vary, as may its length.
By the very same token, it can tell those experiencing a type of extreme spiritual darkness and suffering that all is not lost. It can bring real hope to those who may feel without hope.

And yet:

The most insidious danger for the soul that is in the dark night is that of realizing that she is, in fact, in the dark night, in what the great mystics before her had experienced, and that she is therefore part of a circle of privileged souls. With the grace of God, Mother Teresa avoided this danger, hiding her torment from everyone under an ever-present smile. “Always smiling, is what the sisters and the people say of me. They think that inside I am full of faith, trust, and love… If they only knew how true it is that my joyfulness is nothing but a cloak I throw over my emptiness and misery!” A saying of the desert Fathers says: *“However great your sufferings may be, your victory over them lies in silence.” *Mother Teresa put this into practice in an heroic way.

I’m in the process of reading the article from Time (or Newsweek?) on Mother Teresa’s Dark Night.

I’ve experienced my short periods of feeling totally separated, but I cannot imagine the grace that allows one to experience decades of that without losing faith.

Those who deny God will certainly see such a person as being delusional. Even one with faith, if thinking about such an experience, has to wonder whether one can remain “sane” under such circumstances, if “sane” implies being able to recognize “reality”.

It is truly an inspiration, but in a very scary way. I know that God will never give us more than I can handle, but it almost makes one want to hold back lest God think we’re capable of handling more than WE think we can.


I know exactly what you are saying.
I am familiar with that concern as I have mentioned in several of my previous posts.

I once talked to my SD about this concern.
He said such of my thinking was several steps ahead of God.
I am not so sure. It is still my concern - total obedience and surrender increases capacity of suffering, thus may bring in sufferings originally won’t come due to less capacity.

My secular therapist calls it “to disassociate”. The thing that struck me most in this thread is questioning whether your dead or alive. Perspective is so radically changed, you try to pinpoint when you “died” and passed into the purgative world you experience. I’m being serious. I’m not learned on the theology about this , but going by how it feels. Though I don’t feel like God is gone, but is watching closely from a distance, like through a scope. Last night was bad because the feeling of being damned came along with it. I could not pray but a few Hail Mary’s, Our Father and a St. Michael. I don’t really know what to call it or if it resembles a “dark night” because it comes and goes. Tim

I can say it is a wonderful thing to fall into the Hands of God. Like giving birth the true ‘self’ is born in much anguish, but afterwards the anguish is diminished and difficult to recall in full colour because the state thereafter drives away all former things.

I recall I died in the garden kicking the ball for the dog to fetch. My leg was no longer my leg, I looked down at it and didn’t perceive it any longer as my own. I was a stranger to my ‘self’ and from thereon in everything is different though to all outward appearances it stays the same.

In the Living Prayer of my life

While our Faith tells us that God will never try us beyond our means…there can be very real fear that He is trying one beyond what one feels one can be tried. Victory would be to transcend one’s feelings with Faith. The whole Dark Night of The Soul is the triumph of Faith and of Grace in the face of terrible human emotional and mental, and spiritual, suffering. In the Dark Night of The Soul the whole self is drawn into suffering.

“It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of The Living God” (which I quoted) is actually:

Hebrews 10
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The full context is as follows:
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But call to mind the former days, wherein, being illuminated, you endured a great fight of afflictions. 33 And on the one hand indeed, by reproaches and tribulations, were made a gazingstock; and on the other, became companions of them that were used in such sort. 34 For you both had compassion on them that were in bands, and took with joy the being stripped of your own goods, knowing that you have a better and a lasting substance. 35 Do not therefore lose your confidence, which hath a great reward

And of course it is both fearful and yet joyful at the same time; however joy often comes only through Faith and holding to Faith. It is not a joy that arises from the senses, although it may at times overflow into the senses. It arises from the will either actively or perhaps passively.


Undoubtedly and this is documented in classical spirtitual writings and by theology, the Dark Night of The Soul can be manifested in various ways - however drawing on St. John of the Cross there are three criteria that one is undergoing The Dark Night of The Soul.

There is a truly excellent article on the following link by a Carmelite nun which explains the Dark Night of The Soul in quite contemporary language and as a life impasse. If one wants to insight the Dark Night it can be very helpful to read the article. Below are the three signs (drawn from the article and based on St. John of The Cross) of The Dark Night of The Soul:

The first set of signs underlines one’s powerlessness to pray with one’s reason or rational mind “since God does not communicate himself through the senses as he did before, by means of the discursive analysis and synthesis of ideas, but begins to communicate himself through pure spirit by an act of simple contemplation in which there is no discursive succession of thought.” The senses cannot attain to this contemplation, and dryness results…

…The emphasis in the second set of signs is on emptiness in life experience and deadness of desire. Not only is prayer dry, but life is dry, relationship is dry, ministry is dry…

…Thus the third set of signs has two different moments, moving from painful anxiety about culpability to a new and deeper level of appreciation of God and/or the “other” in a quiet, loving attentiveness. John describes the suffering side of this experience when he writes,

The memory ordinarily turns to God solicitously and with painful care, and the soul thinks it is not serving God but turning back, because it is aware of this distaste for the things of God.(23)

Did anyone notice the concluding remarks of Father Cantalamessa :

Karl Rahner was right when he said, “In the future, Christianity will be mystical, or it will not exist at all.” Padre Pio and Mother Teresa are the response to this sign of the times. We must not underestimate the saints, reducing them to channels of grace, or merely good examples.

Saints tell us something about our times as well as addressing those times…like all of us, saints are a product of the times.

Somehow I don’t feel at ease with this. It makes me think this world is counterfeit.

Dear Tim…I am trully saddened that you feel ill at ease by the thread, or perhaps a particular post. This world is not counterfeit…it is beautiful and wondrous and created by God to be loved, protected and rejoiced over. My personal opinion is that the Dark Night may be far more common than we realize…and that we need to know about it in order to be affirmed and encouraged in all difficulties and sufferings. The Dark Night does not take place “outside this world” but is a part of the normal everyday life of the person in the world - and if it is not, then something is askew and amiss and probably something mentally askew and amiss. Mystics are not profoundly other worldly always, rather most often they are completely down to earth and eminently practical with both feet firmly in this world…and love this world as they insight profoundly its creation by God.
On the other hand sometimes I am disturbed by some thread and need to back out of it. I would be dreadfully loathe however to be the cause of disturbance in another, while recognizing that I may well be so.

Perspective is so radically changed, you try to pinpoint when you “died” and passed into the purgative world you experience. I’m

That, I thought, was a very profound statement drawn from personal experience, as the whole spiritual life and also especially The Dark Night is, in fact, a complete change of perspective. Nor can one always pinpoint with accuracy when something began…and nor when it ended.

Some have a gift for writing about…others actually live it out. There is a world of difference. I am a writer and a student. Obviously, you are living it out. Mother Teresa lived it out.

Blessings Tim and Peace…Barb:)
PS…Tim, I notice that your post to which I am referring has not re-appeared and you may have withdrawn it - I apologize for commenting on it if you did withdraw it.:o

Don’t be sad. It’s not anybody’s fault but my own. Take care, Tim

Thoughtful stuff BarbaraTherese, I enjoyed reading it.

Thank you, Tim, for taking the time and effort to reassure me - I am sad if another is hurt. But I can respect your own personal assessment and decision of where things are for you.

Thank you too Marco Polo - I am glad you found something in this thread. The life of Mother Teresa (as all saints do) speak urgently to our times which struggles in a desire to find life’s meaning and also struggles with a notion that God does not exist. Her life also raises the issue of The Dark Night and discussion about it.

Blessings and God’s Peace to you both…Barb:)

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