Teresa's privacy, redux

So I've read the TIME cover story about Mother Teresa, and I'm pretty much convinced that I want to get my hands on Come Be My Light once it comes out. But I'm still not convinced that the book ought to exist at all.

The final paragraphs of the TIME article address Teresa's request for the destruction of her letters, suggesting that her "worries about publicizing" her spiritual struggles were "happily, even wonderfully wrong." The explanation assumes that her interpreters fully understand her purpose in requesting secrecy, and further that they understand better than she did how to fulfill that purpose (namely, by doing exactly the opposite of what she requested).

The logic seems to be:

1. Teresa worried that "people will think more of me -- less of Jesus" if her letters became public.
2. But people WON'T think more of her and less of Jesus if the letters become public.
3. Therefore, we are justified in making her letters public.

I'm not at all sure that (2) is true. For some, indeed for many, I am sure that her letters will be an encouragement in their own relationships with Jesus. In that regard, yes, (2) is at least partly true. But whose face was on the cover of TIME? And Who comes off looking sadistic in withholding affection from one of his most faithful devotees for decades?

I'm also not convinced that (3) follows, even if (2) is true. The reasons one gives to another for a position often are not coextensive with the real reasons one holds the position. Teresa stated humility as a reason for resisting publicity -- she didn't want to detract attention from her Lord -- but it was arguably also pride that motivated her: her spiritual struggles were "her most shameful secret." One could argue that pride is a base motivation which need not be honored, but I think rather that part of honoring the dignity of fallen human beings is respecting their own freedom over to whom and when and how to reveal their shames, struggles, and failures. Not absolutely, perhaps, but neither without strong cause.

On the other hand, I notice that the request for the destruction of the letters is dated 1959. It wasn't until years later that Teresa came to understand her spiritual dryness "as a gift abetting her calling." Do we know that at the end of her life Teresa still felt so strongly about hiding that part of her life, even after her death? Another part of honoring human dignity is respecting the right to change one's mind.

Surely Teresa, knowing herself to be an icon of charity in the world (however uncomfortable she was with that perception), could not help giving some thought to the legacy her image would have. Maybe she hoped that her memory would be a catalyst for the universal call to serve the poor, not an image of unattainable piety. And maybe, as TIME seems to suggest, she was a little too close to recognize that disclosing her letters would serve that precisely by subverting people's assumptions that she must have been some sort of super-spiritual person in order to do what she did.


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