What Did Mother Teresa Mean?


160 pages, $18.95

Just when you think you know all there is to know about Mother Teresa, along comes a short book to shed new light on her much-observed life and work. David Scott's slender biography provides fresh insights and reveals some hidden facets of the nun who set out to serve “the poorest of the poor.”

Offering neither an exhaustive chronicle nor a broad outline, Scott works from previously published resources to interpret what Mother Teresa's Christian witness meant to the world, given the time and place in which she lived.

The book begins by revealing how little we really know about Mother's early life. Scott then proposes that having the Iron Curtain descend around her homeland, Albania, made her “transparent”: In the end, he points out, all we were left to see was Jesus in the visage of a tiny, old nun.

Scott is one of the first Mother Teresa biographers to take into account the mystical revelations that came to light prior to her 2003 beatification.

Reading from her personal letters, we come to realize that Mother Teresa encountered a voice she believed to be that of Jesus Christ — not only during her famous 1946 train ride from Calcutta to Darjeeling, but also in countless episodes that followed. Gradually these mystical encounters led her to leave her convent to start an order devoted to serving the poorest of the poor.

Yet, soon after, she was thrust into an interior darkness. For the next 50 years, she suffered terrible dryness and heard no more from her Lord. “Mother Teresa carried this all of her life,” writes Scott, “yet all we saw was her smile.”

One of Scott's most memorable sections deals with Mother Teresa's outspokenness on abortion. He writes about the “God-incidence” of Mother Teresa's last-stop hospice launching right next door to a Hindu shrine to Kali — the goddess of destruction.

“For Mother Teresa, abortion represented nothing less than the abolition of man, the denial of the God-given destiny of each human person,” writes Scott. “In putting enmity between mothers and their babies, abortion made the living the enemy of the not-yet-born, and the present the enemy of the future. By abortion, we who were created to be our brothers' and sisters' keepers had been transformed into their willing executioners.”

Comparing her to her namesake, Therese of Lisieux, who lived during days when mass faithlessness found a foothold in the Western world, Scott notes that the history of Mother Teresa's century “reads for many like expert testimony that her God, if he ever really existed, was asleep at the switch or had recused himself from the affairs of his children.”

But that was never so, says Scott.

Look with eyes of faith at the 20th century — a century of widespread war, genocide and abortion — and you can see that God was raising up a generation of great saints to counter the darkness. Exhibit A: Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Register staff writer Tim Drake is based in St. Joseph, Minnesota.