There is an extraordinary quotation that I want to read you, written by someone famous in the middle of their life. See if you can guess who it is.
'Since 49 or 50 this terrible sense of loss—this untold darkness—this loneliness—this continual longing for God—which gives me that pain deep down in my heart.—Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason.—The place of God in my soul is blank.—There is no God in me.—When the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God—and then it is that I feel—He does not want me—He is not there. —...God does not want me.—Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—“My God” and nothing else comes.—The torture and pain I can’t explain.'
This was written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta when she was about 51. It is not what you expect to hear someone like her saying, someone who so radiated the love of God and brought such joy and hope wherever she went. Her own experience was one of interior darkness for most of her life. [There is a wonderful book which only came out in 2007 called Come Be My Light, (editor Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC), which gives an amazing insight into the interior struggles of Mother Teresa.] For me this quotation raises the question, ‘what does this tell us about the path to love and the path that is love, since this is what her whole life was about?’ One thing it says to me is that the path of love is not an easy one. I’m sure you all know that from trying to make relationships work. No doubt for those of you who are married you know it at a deeper level again.
I believe that probably the most difficult, but also the most important part of the journey of love is self-sacrifice. It’s also the part that we resist the most. If we want to grow it requires a lot of self-sacrifice. I see from many married friends of mine, especially when they have children, the total self-sacrifice that is involved. So often I have heard first time parents say 'nothing could have prepared us for the demands of this baby!' The problem is that at the same time we are constantly being told that we should be able to have everything our own way. However, if we were able to have everything our own way we probably wouldn’t grow very much, because real growth requires a lot of self-sacrifice.
Why would God make Mother Teresa, who was bringing such love and such hope to so many people, go through this kind of darkness and almost despair? Perhaps this was part of the self-sacrifice that she was asked to give because of the extraordinary way that God used her.
I think it is good for us to be reminded that this life requires a lot of self-sacrifice, no matter what state of life we find ourselves in. It is simply part of the journey and not something we should be afraid of. We are mostly presented with the romantic side of love, which is wonderful and is a great gift to us, but it is only a short part of the journey. The long-term journey is much more demanding, but is also much more rewarding. Both stages are wonderful but very different.
The ultimate witness of love is that of Jesus dying on the cross, showing us that God is prepared to completely sacrifice himself for us. God also asks us to follow his example. That doesn’t mean that we have to run off somewhere and do something completely different. It happens in our own life wherever we find ourselves. But I think it is good to be reminded that the demands that are constantly being asked of us are part of what helps us grow in love and grow closer to God. It depends how we respond to each situation of course. We could equally become totally selfish. But if we continually try to respond to the situations we meet with generosity and love, then through this the Lord will help us to grow.
God is also saying to us not to be afraid of the demands that are made of us, because He is with us and will give us the strength we need. That is what the first reading is saying. Don’t be afraid of it, because God is also with us to sustain us, and we will make it. That’s also what the whole idea of the sacrament of marriage is all about. The couple promise before God to try to be faithful to each other and they also ask God to be with them. It is the same in religious life, and indeed in every way of life. God assures us that He is with us and so there is nothing to be afraid of.
Love is our highest calling and our greatest calling and although it can be very demanding and ask not less than everything of us, it is worth it.
‘In the end there are three things that last: faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.’