Monday, September 03, 2007

Mother Teresa's letters

Ina Hughes' August 30th column in the Knoxville News-Sentinel decrying the fact that Mother Teresa's private correspondence was not destroyed per her wish was very well intentioned. I respectfully submit that Hughes is right in one regard and wrong in another-even if it is a well-meaning wrong.

Hughes is absolutely right that Rev. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, Director of the Mother Teresa Center, should have respected Mother's wishes that her correspondence remain totally private and should not have published them (in fairness to Kolodiejchuk, he was the preserver of the letters because he is the postulator of Mother's cause for sainthood). This act, though it may have been meant to help strengthen the faith of others, violated Mother Teresa's expressed wish that she take her private doubts (which all of us who have faith have had at some point in our lives) with her to her grave. Publishing them in such a public way clearly violates Mother's intent.

However, there was a perfectly good reason why the letters should not, and could not have been destroyed: Mother Teresa's correspondence has been kept with us because the Church has need of them.

In her humility, Mother Teresa probably could not have envisioned that she might one day be publicly declared a saint-the highest honor that the Church on earth can bestow to one of its own. In a very real way, of course, all who enter heaven are saints. For the Church to publicly declare a person to be a saint is its way of recognizing the holy life that they lived, and declaring that it (the Catholic Church) believes beyond doubt that this person is in Heaven with God. For non-Catholics-think of it as the Holiness Hall of Fame, people the Church believed lived a Christian life worth emulating.

People began to demand almost immediately upon Mother Teresa's death that the Church issue a declaration of her sanctity. Because the popular appeal for this was so great, the late Pope John Paul II ordered that the process be expedited. That simply meant that the process of publicly placing someone on the Church's official role of saints was trimmed from possibly taking decades or even centuries to just taking a few years. Just because John Paul did this (Benedict XVI has done the same thing for John Paul's cause for sainthood), doesn't mean that the rules don't apply to Mother Teresa. One of the rules is that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints does a full investigation into the relevant person's life, hence the Vatican needed those letters preserved. Mother Teresa's fellow religious sisters doubtless knew that a cause for Mother's sainthood was going to come up in a hurry, so they did the right thing by the Church and by Mother (who would have wanted the Church to be obeyed) in preserving the letters. The letters are needed as long as Mother Teresa's cause for sainthood in the Catholic Church remains open.

The publication of the letters is another matter, however. This is something that the Congregation for the Causes of Saints would likely not have promoted. The Vatican is notoriously tight-lipped about the inquiries of that body precisely so that the privacy of candidates for sainthood can be preserved and their wishes respected as much as possible within Canon Law. Rev. Kolodiejchuk would have done better to leave the investigation of the letters up to the relevant bodies of Church authority and leave all decisions as to their future after the investigation is complete to the Missionaries of Charity as a whole, and to the Vatican. Publishing them now certainly violated the spirit of what Mother Teresa would have wanted.

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At Monday, September 03, 2007 11:29:00 PM, Blogger Matt Daley said...


I think I understand what you're saying here. Certainly, there are both pros and cons to releasing the letters to the public. And if Mother Teresa's wishes were to keep those letters private, obviously those wishes should be respected.

Personally, knowing that Mother Teresa had doubts about her faith (and they don't appear to be fleeting ones, either) gives me strength. It helps me to realize that I'm not gravely flawed in my faith. I've had doubts, some serious, at various times in my life. But if Mother Teresa can survive hers and still lead a holy life worth of sainthood, it allows me the vision to know that I can (and should) live by her example.

Of course, making these letters public has also created a stir among the unfaithful on the left who would ridicule Christians and Christianity. Bill Maher is one who has already done this, on a recent "Real Time with Bill Maher" television program.

I think that I'd have supported the release of the letters, all things considered, if Mother Teresa had not expressed her wishes on the matter. However, since she did wish for them to remain private, it is a shame that her wishes were not followed.



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