Catholic singer and songwriter Annie Karto inspired us behind These Stone Walls to honor Mother Teresa, a woman acclaimed in both life and death as a saint among us.
In the last few weeks on These Stone Walls, I have been writing about hope and interior darkness, also known as the “dark night,” a concept in Catholic mysticism made famous by The Dark Night of the Soul and other writings of the Spanish Carmelite mystic, Saint John of the Cross. I have tried to read it and find within it some consolation for my own dark night, but it might as well have been written in Klingon for all the sense I can make of it. Carmelite mysticism both draws me and repels me at the very same time. I stick with it, however, because sooner or later I am going to understand it. It’s hard to build an interior castle while living in 98 square feet of concrete and steel where even dark nights are taunted by the relentless glare of prison lights.
Interior darkness began to make more sense to me, however, as I read passages from the famous and controversial revelations in Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta (Doubleday 2007). The book was controversial because when it was first published, much of the shallow, secular media immediately seized upon Mother Teresa’s interior darkness and expressions of doubt throughout her life. It’s as though we expect saints during their earthly lives to think, speak, and write from a teleprompter scripted by God Himself with nothing of the human showing through. From very early on in religious life, interior darkness for Mother Teresa was experienced as:
“profound interior suffering, lack of sensible consolation, spiritual dryness, an apparent absence of God in her life, and, at the same time, a painful longing for Him. She was not enjoying the light and consolation of God’s sensible presence, but rather striving to live by faith, surrendering with love and confidence to God… She had so progressed in that love that she could rise above the fear of suffering.” (Come Be My Light, p. 21-22)
I do not know why, but as I was typing that last sentence above I erroneously typed “that she could rise above the Sorrowful Mysteries.” The term kept coming back to me and I had to force myself to write the sentence just as it was written above from page 22 of Come Be My Light. So I paused just now, and thought for a moment about what it might mean to “rise above the Sorrowful Mysteries.” They are, after all, accompanied on either side by the Joyful ones and the Glorious ones. We are transfixed by the Sorrowful because that is where some of us spend much of our lives.
I pondered this for awhile, then came upon a clue much later in the book. In 1955, Mother Teresa began to encounter a new spiritual warfare within herself that she confided in a letter to Archbishop Ferdinand Perier. She described it as her new “traveling companion” which plagued her “from this point forward.” This loneliness was manifested in spiritual and emotional isolation, a sense of “separation from God and those she trusted most,” a separation that “made her cross harder to bear” (p. 157).
Archbishop Perier wrote back to Mother Teresa suggesting that another famous Saint Thérèse, the “Little Flower,” and “the great Saint Teresa” (the Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa of Avila) also lived a spiritual interior martyrdom in their respective long dark nights. Then I remembered that awhile back, Michael Brandon wrote a post entitled “Father Gordon MacRae, The Sorrowful Mysteries, and the Big Picture” in which he quoted Saint Teresa of Avila and her famous rebuttal to God:
“Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!”
INTERIOR DARKNESS AND THE LIGHT OF SIGNS AND WONDERS
In a post a few months ago, “Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Pentecost Illumines the Night,” I suggested that in the course of living with her interior darkness, Mother Teresa developed a very important spiritual ability, a sort of radio receptor for the wavelengths of grace. In my three-part series beginning with “How Father Benedict Groeschel Entered My Darkest Night,” I wrote of many examples of the work of Divine Providence in ordinary events in an ordinary life – my ordinary life.
Now I have another example, an entirely new one, that required the right sort of receiver. This is really an ordinary story, but if your receiver is tuned to the right frequency open to the work of God in our lives, and even in our trials, it will give you a shiver of spiritual goosebumps. It’s off the topic a bit, but not really.
You might remember the article, “Mary is at Work Here” by Felix Carroll, Executive Editor of Marian Helper magazine. Part of the article is about our friend, Pornchai Maximilian Moontri, his Divine Mercy conversion, and our Marian Consecration that took place in 2013. One of the volunteers who facilitated our “33 Days to Morning Glory” retreat sent me a message about an interview he had with a Concord, NH Catholic radio station in which he spoke of Pornchai’s conversion story.
Here we were, in prison just a mile or two from that radio station, but neither Pornchai nor I owned a radio so we could not hear the interview. There’s a little AM/FM radio that we can purchase from a catalog of items prisoners here can have, but – like everything sold to prisoners – it was grossly overpriced so we lived without one.
But after missing out on hearing that interview, I decided that we need a radio. There might be something worth hearing in the radio waves all around us, but without the right receiver, we’re missing them. So the next time I needed to order socks and underwear and other supplies, I splurged for a radio.
It arrived three weeks ago, but it was a disappointment. When I inserted the batteries, I went right to the frequency for the Concord Catholic station, 102.7 FM, but heard only static. Only the closest and most powerful radio signals will penetrate these prison walls. I could only pick up two stations, a local rock music station, and National Public Radio. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but listening to NPR all day would very quickly turn a day in prison into a stint in Purgatory.
There’s a lot we miss without the right tools. You might recall that back in March 2016, Catholic singer and composer Annie Karto sent a message to me through The Wall Street Journal. Her message contained a link to a very special song and video that she produced for a Divine Mercy conference held in Florida. The video featured the image of me that appears on our “About” page on TSW, with the lyrics of her beautiful song, “Rise Up All People” superimposed over the video. TSW reader Mary DeBiase posted a link to it in a comment back then. Everyone who heard the song and saw the video said that it was wonderful to behold, but I never got to see it or hear it.
Then in June when I posted “Priesthood in the Real Presence and the Present Absence,” I heard from Annie Karto again in a message containing a link to another of her songs, “You Are a Priest Forever.” The lyrics were read to me, but from behind these stone walls I could not hear the music.
On August 17, the day we posted “In God We Trust: Living with the Author of Life,” something amazing happened. I had to go to the commissary at 8:30 AM to receive an order for postage, food and supplies I placed several days earlier. Everything was late that day. I wanted very much to walk in the ball field when it opened at 9:00, but came back with my order with just a minute to spare.
So I literally dumped my net bag full of groceries in my cell then ran for the door where I waited… waited … waited, staring at my watch. It opened, then closed behind me. Then a strange suggestion popped into my head: “Bring your radio.” It dawned on me just then that reception might be better in the ball field so I stayed at the door to be buzzed back in and waited and waited. Then I raced in, grabbed the radio, shoved it in my pocket, and raced out all before the pod door swung closed and locked again. Then I got in line at the guard station for a ball field pass… and waited… and waited. When it was my turn the guard held up the very last pass. My spirits fell as I decided to let the guy behind me have it, but he tapped me on the shoulder and said, “no, you go.” No time to argue! I took the pass and zipped out the door.
Outside, I raced to the ballfield and got there just as the door was closing. Once in, I got up the path onto the walking track that surrounds the field. Almost always, someone wants to walk and talk, but there was a baseball game starting and everyone else was watching the game. I had an hour all alone – and they call this punishment! HAH!
Around the field I walked, then took out my radio. Filled with hope, I put the ear buds in my ears and tuned it to 102.7 FM. A little static, but I could hear the station clearly. And what I heard just knocked my socks off!
“This is Teresa Tomeo and you’re listening to Ave Maria radio. It’s time to introduce our guest today. Singer/songwriter Annie Karto is here to talk about her music and her new CD, ‘Rise Up All People.’ Good morning, Annie…”
I risked being shot at from the tower as I reached out to grab the chain link perimeter fence to steady myself. Annie, who had no idea I was out there listening, let me hear “Rise Up All People,” a verse of which was dedicated to me in that video. And I heard others among her songs that were just beautiful. Then she cited the Letter of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, Chapter six, about putting on the armor of God, our first defense against spiritual warfare. And somehow, I knew then what I would be writing about for my August 31st post: “The Canonization of Saint Mother Teresa.”
THE NUN ON THE TRAIN
For it was only by donning the armor of God that the life of Mother Teresa – both in life and in death the living Saint of Calcutta – was lived in interior darkness while bearing the burdens of the world’s poor. Come Be My Light is at once wonderful, mystical, troubling, and inspiring. There is a clarity about suffering and spiritual warfare in what she wrote, but there is a deeper clarity in the words between the lines. God gifted her with an inner receiver to experience grace in the ordinary, the broken, the wounded, and alienated, and she became highly attuned to its frequency.
One crucial event in her life changed everything. In his great book, 33 Days to Morning Glory, the book and journey that brought about our Consecration that I described above, Father Michael Gaitley has a subheading entitled, “The Gift God Gave September 10th.” September 10 is Pornchai’s birthday, so when we got to it in that part of the retreat, he nudged me and pointed to the title, smiling. I just shook my head.
In that section, Father Gaitley described how Mother Teresa, as a happy and content young nun, just happened to be in the right place at the right moment on the day that was to change not only her life, but the mission and face of the Church in the Twentieth Century. The year was 1946 and she was alone on a train to Darjeeling. As the train passed through crowds of the world’s poorest of the poor, Mother Teresa saw them with eyes open, with the receptor of grace that God had instilled in her. She was stricken to her core by their poverty, and saw in them a command of Christ to dedicate her life in service to the poorest of the poor. She left her comfortable life and community, and founded the Missionaries of Charity.
On September 4, 2016, nineteen years to the day since leaving the world’s poor in the hands of the order she founded, the largest and strongest religious order in the world, and having put on the armor of God in spiritual warfare in triumph over the dark night of the soul, Mother Teresa will be canonized by Pope Francis, God willing, to become Saint Teresa of Calcutta. It is a day of great joy for the Church, and a day of hope and victory for us whose spiritual warfare continues.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of the world in this present darkness… Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you maybe able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having fastened the belt of truth around your waist, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the Evil One. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)
A note from Father Gordon MacRae:
I want to thank the many friends who have taken part in the apostolate of prayer through a 54-day Rosary Novena and other means. You are comrades-in-arms at a time of spiritual warfare, and I can only believe that injustice is made a lighter load by your prayers. More on this next week on The Wall Street Journal.
My deepest thanks and blessings,
Father Gordon MacRae