The true value of suffering

By  Kris Dymtrenko, Catholic Register Special
  • September 10, 2007

{mosimage}The same day we learned the details of the pending book of Mother Teresa’s personal correspondence, including the much publicized “dark letters,” news spread about the suicide attempt of a celebrity. I won’t speculate that their trials were similar in nature. But their two very opposite responses to suffering are certain: the actor tried — and, thank God, failed — to flee it. Blessed Teresa, as we’re learning from released excerpts of Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, dove headfirst into her meeting with darkness.

During prayer, she was reported to appear enraptured, so focused on her God. And yet, in her private letters, she wrote of an unbearable sense of desolation. This defiant perseverance in dry, anguished prayer, paired with her sombre companionship of the sick and dying, provides ammunition to critics who call her a masochist.

Those charges are inevitable and forgivable, really, coming from people who see no possible value in suffering. But for Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, she saw Christ therein. She stared down darkness until light emerged.

{amazon id='0385520379' align='right'}To the extent to which we find Teresa’s heroic battle confusing (and judging by the perplexed tone of the extensive media coverage, many of us do), our deep-seated habits of flight reveal themselves. To avert loneliness, on goes the TV, the infomercial lady soothing you with her interminable chatter. Or you go for a late night run to the grocery store, even though there’s nothing in particular you want to buy.

With Mother Teresa’s determination, might we learn the value of those internal conflicts? How might we learn to engage the darkness in our communities?

I live on the eastern edge of downtown Toronto, where glossy retail stores are replaced by social service agencies. There’s never silence here. It may be 4 a.m. when, overheard from the street below, a woman yells at an imaginary foe. Typically, though, the late night noise is pedestrians just chatting — no homes, it seems, to direct their wandering.

If I were Mother Teresa, I suppose I would deploy my army of Sisters of Charity to provide care to the men and women here, many of whom feel trapped in poverty, addiction or mental illness. But as I struggle to discern how to best assist my neighbourhood — there is no shortage of volunteer opportunities here — I find myself instead just walking the streets every chance I get, unsure of what I’m looking for.

While walking in this area of town so commonly derided and feared, I’m surprised at the warmth that can be found. A young girl masters the bicycle with dad’s careful guidance. As a small audience of peers watches admirably, teenagers compete on the school yard basketball court. Sheltered by only a bridge overhead, a makeshift abode is impeccably laid next to the Don River: a kitchenette of ordered glasses and a kerosene lamp add faux-hominess to two tautly made beds.

I meet a familiar face as my walk nears its end. There he is, a friendly homeless man who camps out daily across from St. Michael’s Cathedral. As he gazes at the stained glass, I wonder if he’s sitting vigil like Teresa would, waiting for God to reveal Himself. He’ll invoke God’s blessing upon you if you give him a cigarette.

(Dymtrenko is an associate producer for Salt + Light Television in Toronto.)

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