Refuting the Attacks on Mother Teresa

"St. Teresa of Calcutta: Carrier of God's Love" by Chas Fagan, 2016. Commissioned by the Knights of Columbus as a gift for the Missionaries of Charity (c) Mother Teresa Center Photo: David Ramsey Courtesy Knights of Columbus

Deal W. Hudson
September 10, 2007

The attacks began on August 23, the day Time magazine published an article by David Van Biema, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” quoting her letters to confessors and superiors from over 66 years.

In those letters, recently published under the title Mother Teresa: Come to Be My Light(Doubleday), Mother Teresa reveals the sufferings of experiencing God’s absence that persisted throughout her five decades of missionary work with the poor.

She wrote, “The silence and the emptiness are so great, that I look and do not see . . .”

Her only relief from this “dark night of the soul” was during a five-week period in 1959. For the remainder of her life, Mother Teresa suffered. As Van Biema put it, “The Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain.”

In a matter of hours after the Time article was posted on the Internet, howls went up from well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens, who has been leading an anti-Mother Teresa crusade for over a decade.

In 1995, Hitchens published The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which was a sequel to his British television “documentary” entitled Hell’s Angel.

Hitchens interpreted the letters as Mother Teresa’s loss of faith: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that she attempted cure was more and more professions of faith.”

Another public atheist, Dan Barker of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, went further, saying Mother Teresa “was forced to go through the motions and admitted her own hypocrisy.”

“People of faith understand the cry uttered by Mother Teresa – people of no faith find it to be a stumbling cross. They cannot get their minds around the fact that Christ suffered and felt abandoned by the Father.”

These are the words of Jim Towey, a man who worked closely with Mother Teresa for twelve years as her legal counsel. Towey is now president of St. Vincent’s College in Latrobe, PA, having previously served as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

He thinks that Hitchens is nothing but a publicity seeker.

“He’s a provocateur. He uses Mother Teresa to get attention, to feed off her celebrity. Hitchens has to conclude she was a hypocrite, or he has to retract his book and his atheism.”

When Hitchens published his 1995 book attacking Mother Teresa as a fake, Towey went to Mother to offer his sympathy, but she cut him off saying, “We must pray for him.” Hitchens’s name never came up again.

Towey told me that we should be grateful that these letters have been published – this change in the perception of Mother Teresa will make her “accessible” to more people.

“I think she has been up on a pedestal, the saintly person who worked with the poorest of the poor. She was really out of reach of most people. Now that we know that she had long trials of darkness and doubt, she will be within the reach of more people, especially those who have suffered terrible loses, like the death of children and terminal illness. She will be an inspiration to them.”

In all the years that Towey worked with Mother Teresa and knew her, the intense spiritual struggle told through these letters was never expressed.

“There was no hint of this, absolutely none. We always thought she got the spiritual consolations that we didn’t get.”

In her lifestyle, Mother Teresa was obviously no stranger to hardship. She had malaria dozens of times, rarely slept, and “her room in Calcutta didn’t even have a fan.”

Towey sounded angry for a moment after I repeated to him the charge made by Barker and others that Mother was insincere. He stopped and drew a deep breath before finishing his answer:

“Mother Teresa was the most authentic human person I have ever known; she was deeply in love with God and her neighbor. Her faith was as pure and sincere as it gets. The fact that the Lord withdrew his presence after speaking with her so clearly decades earlier just heightens her faith.”

When I asked Towey how she managed her magnetic smile, he said something very remarkable:

“She willed it,” he said.

I interrupted him to say that smiling isn’t something we usually associate with willpower.

“People understand that. Take the mother whose 10-year-old child is tragically killed. She feels like she will never smile again. One day she realizes that life must go on, and you will have to smile again; it’s an act of the will.”

That’s a lesson we can all benefit from.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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