31 March, 2009

Another Early Review

Mother Teresa's Fire


Joseph Langford

A very interesting exploration of what it was that made Mother Teresa Mother Teresa. The short answer is that she had an encounter with God one day, in which she was given a new understanding of one of Jesus' words on the cross (“I thirst”), an understanding that she was able to keep with her, meditating on it almost continually it seems, for the rest of her life, such that she moved out of “regular” Christianity into the realm of becoming one of the (from our perspective) chosen saints. Very briefly, Sister Teresa was travelling for some religious or vocational purpose on a train in India, when God showed her that in Jesus statement he was not making a physical statement primarily (though surely it was also true), but was pointing out that the reason for his whole life and current suffering in crucifixion was that he thirsts for love. This is not a new insight; many of the saints, as well as theologians, have made it previously. The novelty in Sister Teresa's experience, that which influenced her entire life so completely as to make her Mother Teresa, was that she found a way to daily meditate on that statement, on the “thirst” of Jesus for people's love, her love specifically, that her character was transformed and deepened.

Langford, a priest who knew and worked on some level with Mother Teresa, has written this book with, i should guess, two purposes: First, he preserves her insight and experience, which is valuable in itself, for historical/biographical reasons; second, and surely more important, he wants to make that insight available to all Christians, in order that all may grasp Jesus' thirst for love and respond to it as she did. To that, latter, end two guided meditations are included, one on Jesus' thirst specifically, one based on the Woman at the Well episode from John 4 (curiously, the former is included twice: Once in the text, once as an appendix; i suppose its importance is such that it must not be missed or lost in the body of the book).

So, overall, was this a good effort, worth my reading time? To be sure. To be honest, it is a rare book i can't find some value in (three i can think of in the past ten years, out of a total of just under one thousand, that i haven't been able to finish), but not that “basic value” alone adheres to this book; i found the meditations useful, as an exploration of that love i need in my life at the moment, along with the explanation of Mother Teresa's powerful will and determination to daily recreate in herself the mystic experience she had. There were points i disliked, to be clear, about the book and Langford's writing: One is the tendency which he has, perhaps as a priest in the Roman Church, to beatify Mother Teresa and make everything that she said and did especially holy and valuable. This is another expression of the same behaviour as that of Benedict, who appears to be set on “fast-tracking” John Paul II into sainthood, and i find it cheapens, rather than enhances, the subject. A second feature of the book i found less valuable was the insistence, to the point of including a complete appendix (there are four) of quotations from saints, spiritual writers, and doctors of the Church, on the orthodoxy of the insight into Jesus' thirst; i fear that here Langford has allowed himself to be drawn aside into the question of whether Mother Teresa should be declared a Doctor of the Church, and it is clear on which side he falls. These caveats to one side, however, i enjoyed this book. Yes.

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