Fr John Chua, the Parish Priest, a Carmelite, has in his wisdom chosen the three themes for the Triduum on Faith, Hope and Love from the Spirituality of St John of the Cross. As you know, I am not a Carmelite priest, so I hope I will not distort the Carmelite Spirituality in what I am going to say. And if so, I beg the pardon of my Carmelite brothers.
In your Parish bulletin, I gather that on the first day of the Triduum, the theme was on “Faith”; a faith that St John of the Cross says would protect us from the powers of the devil. On the second day, on theme of “Hope”, St John of the Cross explains that “hope” can help us transcend the evil influences of the secular world, if we allow the truth of eternal life to give us the right perspectives for our daily living. And as for today’s theme, on “Love,” St John explains that our love of God will be the source and the strength for all the other virtues to grow within us. This is because with God’s Love in our hearts, we will be able to overcome our “self-love”. What is this “self-love”? How can we confront the inner struggles we often have between our self-love and our love for God?
To elaborate on this theme of “Love” and in the light of St John of the Cross spirituality, I believe it would be appropriate that we reflect on the spiritual experiences of St Mother Teresa. In St Mother Teresa’s Nobel Prize speech on 11 December, 1979, she very simply told to world, “It is not enough for us to say, ‘I love God, but I do not love my neighbour.” This is because, she added, when Jesus died on the Cross, He made Himself “the hungry one–the naked one–the homeless one.” Jesus’ hunger, Mother Teresa said, is what “you and I must find” and alleviate. She then condemned abortion and drug addiction of the youth in the West. Finally, she reminded everyone that the coming Christmas holiday is a time of real Joy, because Christ is everywhere –“Christ is in our hearts, Christ is in the poor we meet Christ is in the smile we give and in the smile that we receive.”
The world and all of us have very high regards for St Mother Teresa because of her Gospel witness of God’s Merciful Love for the poorest of the poor in our secular world. However, when Mother Teresa’s spiritual diary was revealed,millions in the world were greatly surprisedto find that she had been experiencing much spiritual turmoil within her. In a letter to her Spiritual Director, Mother Teresa shared, “the silence and the emptiness in my heart is so great, that I look and do not see,–Listen and do not hear– my tongue moves (in prayer) but it does not speak … there is constant “dryness, darkness, loneliness, and torture within me; these struggles were like hell” I want you to pray for me–that I let Him (God, Our Lord) have (a) free hand; that His Will be done in my Life in (whatever happens to me, and through me for the poor and needy.) These experiences of deep spiritual struggles, except of some five weeks, lasted for most of her fifty years; without sensing the presence of God in her life “neither in her heart nor in the Eucharist.”
Fr James Martin, an editor at the Jesuit magazine, “America” and author of “Lives of Saints” comments, “I’ve never read a saint’s life where the saint has such an intense spiritual darkness.” And when St Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity Sisters found out about her deep spiritual struggles in her prayer and life, their jaws dropped open in disbelief, as they could not understand how a very holy and passionately committed Mother Superior-Foundress whom they knew so very well and intimately, would have to go through so much pain and struggles in her prayer life.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, there is a big difference between having a mature love in God and a superficial and lukewarm faith and love for God. St Mother Teresa in many ways is a model for us to imitate, especially for those of us who constantly find our prayer life experiences to be dry, desolate and a great struggle.
St. John of the Cross may describe Mother Teresa’s experiences as the “Dark Night of the Soul;” where her soul was going through a state of purification.St Mother Teresa is a reminder to us that even as our prayer life is not as spiritually uplifting and consoling, we are still called like her, to remain faithful to God in the way we live our lives daily.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, Mother Teresa is a saint because she, like Mary continued to persevere in her faith, through her good works of mercy, and shared her words of wisdom about God to the world, regardless of the trials and tribulations she had to battle in her life especially within her prayer life.
If we were to reflect on our prayer experiences, many of us would describe them broadly as: the different degrees and intensities of “blandness, to dryness, to emptiness, to helplessness, to darkness, to abandonment and the like.” However, on certain occasions, we may have the Spiritual consolations of experiencing the Presence of God’s “Peace, Renewal, Love, Faith, hope, Joy, Fulfilment, Happiness and the like in our Lord Jesus.”
However, regardless of what we are experiencing in our lives, let us remember that God is always present to us in our daily living. As today’s theme is on “Love of God”, I would like us to remember more particularly, that whatever our experiences in our prayer life, they are all God’s Ways of Loving us and helping us grow in our love for Him. Obviously, some of us would have more experiences of spiritual consolations in our prayers than others. But, regardless of what we experience in our prayer life, we are called to enter into our prayer, with a more sincere intention of seeking to relate to God, and get to know Him better, more personally and more intimately.
It is wise to conclude this homily without mentioning that in our Gospel that we just heard proclaimed today, we can see clearly how Jesus our Risen Lord’s Love for Peter remained unchanged even though he denied Jesus three times. To reinstate this love between them, Jesus merely invited Peter to renew his love for Him, the three times that he had denied Him as His Saviour and Lord. Jesus never even felt the need to forgive Peter for his denial, because He knew that Peter’s deep love for Him will from then on be total and unconditional, through the power of the Holy Spirit that will empower him. As such, Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel, predicts that Peter will die a martyr’s death, but that his death, will give glory to God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, Peter overcame his self-love that St John of the Cross speaks of in his mystical spirituality, by allowing God’s Love to be his strength. Let us too like St Mother Teresa, continue to grow in our virtues, by overcoming such “self-love”; AND if we have to battle with dryness in our prayer life, let us be assured that in God’s Love He will always be present to us, and never fail us.
(Ref: Adapted: Bettmann / Corbis Mother Teresa in a Calcutta orphanage, 1979; David Van Biema @DavidVanBiema, 23 August, 2007
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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