The Tragedy of Empty Sacrifice

By Edward Thal /

Mother Teresa was famous as the Catholic nun who spent her life caring for the poor on the streets of Calcutta, India. Known as the “Saint of the Gutters” she won a Nobel Peace Prize and was universally celebrated for her example of humble sacrifice. Yet her secret letters show that she spent almost 50 years without sensing the presence of God in her life.

“[But] as for me –The silence and the emptiness is so great – that I look and do not see – Listen and do not hear,” she declared in a letter to a close friend in September, 1979.

Her remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God, but she was living out a very different spiritual reality. The Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain. In more than 40 communications she bemoans the “dryness,” “darkness,” “loneliness” and “torture” she is undergoing. She compares the experience to hell and at one point says it has driven her to doubt the existence of heaven and even of God. “No one knew she was that tormented,” recalled another friend.

The tragedy of Mother Teresa was that she was driven to sacrifice her life for others in order to win the approval of Jesus, whose sacrifice for her, and for others, is the only sacrifice that matters.

Compared to what Jesus Christ did on our behalf, all of our “sacrifices” are puny, and unnecessary. If we sweat and strain and work to impress God, our efforts are in vain; if we surrender completely to Him and rest in His love, we experience joy “unspeakable” and peace “that passes all understanding.”

Then, and only then, can we be spiritually fruitful in His service. Then, and only then, will those to whom we minister encounter God’s strength and not our fallible weakness.

Mother Teresa’s tragedy is that she was bound by a religion that required her to labor in her own strength to earn the grace of God that was offered to her as a free gift. Equally tragic is the fact that this made her incapable of passing the gift on to others.