Editor's note: David Van Biema, the chief religion writer at Time Magazine for ten years, is author of the illustrated biography "Mother Teresa: The Life and Works of a Modern Saint," now being reissued and made available in Spanish as "La Madre Teresa: La Vida y las obras de una santa moderna."
By David Van Biema, Special to CNN
Fifteen years may be less than an instant in celestial time, but here on earth it's a lot of news cycles.
Mother Teresa departed this Earth on September 5, 1997. What more can we say about the woman who became synonymous with love for the "poorest of the poor," picking up a Nobel and tweaking the conscience of millions? What do we know about her now that we didn't know then?
A lot, it turns out.
Here's a quick Blessed Mother Teresa primer, emphasizing the stuff that you probably don’t know, some of which we only learned recently.
1. She was born a rich girl.
Born in 1910, Mother Teresa came from money – at least by the standards of her native Skopje, Macedonia. Her parents were so well-off that there was a local saying "as generous as the Bojaxhius." (Her last name was Bojaxhiu; her given first name was Agnes.)
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Agnes was cultured and well-educated: She wrote poetry and played the mandolin. Her family took in orphans and she tagged along as her mother went out to tend to the destitute. All of this challenges the notion of pre-saints as nasty, or no better than average, until God flicks a switch (think Paul, pre-Damascus).
In Agnes’ case, if God flicked a switch, he had clearly laid the circuitry carefully beforehand.
2. For a long time, it was hardly obvious that Teresa would end up who she became.
She emigrated to India to become a nun at age 18, but worked as a teacher another 17 years before receiving a series of startling visions and locutions (verbal communications) from Jesus. The experience, wrote her confessor at the time, was "continual, deep and violent."
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She later recalled it as a dramatic dialogue taking up pages: Jesus calls her "my little one" and demands that she "carry Me into the holes of the poor. I want Indian nuns … who would be my fire of love among the poor, the sick, the dying and the little children." She hesitates. He asks impatiently, "Is your generosity gone cold?"
It had not. After two years spent convincing her local bishop, she was released from her previous vows and founded her Missionaries of Charity.
3. She changed our view of the poor.
"There are plenty of nuns to look after the rich and well-to-do people, but for my very poor, there are absolutely none," Teresa wrote, describing communication she got from Jesus.
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That seems a bit exaggerated. But Teresa redefined the concept of "working with the poor" in the modern age. For poor she substituted "poorest of the poor," a new category with a corresponding moral imperative. She understood the word "with" as obliterating the line between benefactor and beneficiary, plunging her nuns deeply into the world of the slums.
As for "working," Teresa combined case-by-case spontaneity with an organizational genius. In Calcutta she developed institutions – schools for poor children, homes for pregnant homeless women, orphans and lepers, and hostels for the dying – that became a template for her ministries the world over.
4. She was a marketing guru.
"Billions know about her compassion," says evangelical megapastor Rick Warren. "But what is not so well known (were) leadership skills, evident in the multiplication of what she did to other parts of the planet."
Teresa instinctively leveraged her growing renown, cultivating a United Nations of world leaders and donors and paving the way for the Missionaries. Four decades after her solo start in India, her order was in over 100 countries, making her one of the church's truly great founders. "If there are poor on the moon, we will go there, too," she joked – sort of.
5. She cultivated her celebrity.
Teresa was famous first in India, then worldwide, partly through the efforts of British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and partly due to another gift. "The way she spoke to journalists showed her to be as deft a manipulator as any high-powered American public relations expert,” noted Irish rocker/philanthropist Bob Geldof.
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That that gift seemed to be unconscious did not make it any less effective. After winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979, she became part of a Mt. Rushmore of greatest-generation religious icons – including Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham and the (relatively youthful) Dalai Lama – that has no successor generation.
Of them, Teresa attained the purest pop-culture status, capped by her touching friendship with then-Princess Diana of England. When the two died within a week of one another (Diana in a car wreck, Teresa by heart attack), a T-shirt immediately popped up showing both with halos.
6. Teresa had a long, dark night of the soul.
In 2007, a cache of newly released private letters introduced a startling unknown side to Teresa: a 39-year period, coinciding almost exactly with her Missionaries career, during which Jesus, previously so present, seemed utterly absent to her, in prayer and even in the Eucharist.
"The silence and the emptiness is so great," she wrote, "that I look and do not see– the tongue moves (in prayer) but does not speak."
Critics like the late Christopher Hitchens said the correspondence proved Teresa was just a "confused old lady." But the letters were issued by her postulator, the Vatican-appointed advocate for her sainthood.
Her church regarded her perseverance in the absence of a sense of divine response as perhaps her most heroic act of faith. Both her torment and underlying faith were evident in another letter: "If I ever become a Saint – I will surely be one of 'darkness,'" she wrote. "I will continually be absent from Heaven – to (light) the light of those in darkness on earth."
7. She’s not a saint yet – not officially.
Not as recognized by her own Roman Catholicism, where validation of sanctity is a multi-step process.
A year after Teresa's death, the Vatican waived a five-year-delay to allow her "cause" to begin early. In 2002, it announced her "heroic virtue," and in the same year credited her with the disappearance of a tumor affecting an Indian woman who had prayed to her.
This first miracle led to her beatification, for which 250,000 people flocked to Rome. But canonization awaits a second miracle. Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, her advocate, says reports of her "supernatural favors" to believers currently total 4,200. He is currently investigating a case in Colombia.
Of course, the church freely admits that saints are saints before it recognizes them, and many Catholics fervently believe Teresa is one. So do others, including Rick Warren, who defines a saint as "a true hero" who "sacrifice(s) for the benefit of others." Suzie van Houte, left in infancy with Mother Teresa and now an Episcopalian living in Washington state, says simply: "A saint is a person who's gone out of her way."
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Van Biema.
LOL!!! The singer looks like Jeffrey Dahmer. This song is a joke. To blame God for the troubles that mankind has caused on this earth is preposterous. God did good, mankind messed things up.
LOL Great Video. Very true. Faith based religion is a parasite infesting humanity and it is time to destroy it.
"LOL!!! The singer looks like Jeffrey Dahmer. This song is a joke."
Great comeback, as if one could've expected any better from the likes of you. Now go listen to your old Stryper albums.
I'll skip the religious particulars as I am a protestant Christian and not a Roman Catholic – and yes, I do have a few problems with my Catholic friends' core beliefs, including exactly how "saints" are or are not determined in this life.
Failings, doubts and imperfections? OK, Mother Teresa probably had them. Nevertheless, her life will rightly be remembered as a bright, shining example of living for others; of bringing undeniably real charity and compassion to those around her and extending the same to countless others in far places. That would be a pretty good epitaph for any man or woman of any faith.
Absolutely laughable that someone would call her a manipulator, namely, someone who "manages or influences skillfully, especially in an unfair manner" She was an embodiment of faith, hope and charity. We Catholics will always remember her for who she really was, shrug off pathetic efforts like those of Hitchens to smear her good name, and patiently await the day of her canonization.
If only you cared as much about the children raped by your priests you worship in your pedophile infested cult. You child rape enablers are more disgusting than the child rapists you support.
Wow a person tormented by their conscious so much so that she does all the right things and then is suddenly surprised by the lack of torment. Amazing grace!
"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, and said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." ~~~ Matthew 21:12-13 King James Version
Remember that "Mother" Theresa took stolen money from Charles Keating. Remember that, ye generation of X-tian vipers. Remember that.
imagine what he would have done if they were priests harming children and the pope covering up the crimes
Did she know it was stolen. I would put her concept of missionary work up against Mitt Romney's any day of the week.
omg! That explains why she was always wearing diamond jewelry. And that explains why she was always munching on caviar day and night. Some one once told me she would she would down an entire crate of French champagne every week too, all by herself! And those shoes! She must have paid 500 or 600 dollars easily for her shoes. She was like the Imelda Marcos of nuns! LOL. You people are so idiotic, attacking this old lady. Can't you find anything better to do?
"Ask yourself what Jesus would do if he were given the fruits of a crime; what Jesus would do if he were in possession of money that had been stolen; what Jesus would do if he were being exploited by a thief to ease his conscience? I submit that Jesus would promptly and unhesitatingly return the stolen property to its rightful owners. You should do the same. You have been given money by Mr. Keating that he has been convicted of stealing by fraud. Do not permit him the 'indulgence' he desires. Do not keep the money. Return it to those who worked for it and earned it! If you contact me I will put you in direct contact with the rightful owners of the property now in your possession." ~~~ Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles Paul Turley's response to "Mother" Theresa's request for clemency on behalf of Charles Keating
For a better understanding of the life and works of Mother Teresa, what spirit she served (Luke 9:55; 2 Cor. 11:13-15) and by what authority she was professed to be a ‘Saint’, we invite you to read the articles ‘Sainthood by the Pope’, ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘Popes and the Princes of This World’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca
All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.
This poster is a TROLL on this site they are only here to try and sell their book and website that is full of lies associated with their cult. Click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL!!
For a better understanding of the life and works of Mother Teresa, what spirit she served (Luke 9:55; 2 Cor. 11:13-15) and by what authority she was proclaimed to be a ‘Saint’, we invite you to read the articles ‘Sainthood by the Pope’, ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘Popes and the Princes of This World’ and ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’, listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca
MT, the vaticans marketing agent at the cost of the suffering. All to bring in vatican revenue.
This poster is a TROLL on this site they are only here to try and sell their book and website that is full of lies associated with their cult. Click the report abuse link to get rid of this TROLL!
Reading many of the posts I've come to the conclusion that many of you believe there is no Heaven. However I'm also certain Hell is before you every morning you wake up.
that's your delusion, not ours. You're proof that fear owns you, brainwashed
@Truth- The real truth will set you free!
no wonder I feel free.. thanks. I am the truth
"Hell is before you every morning you wake up."
As I'm reminded when I look in my bathroom mirror every morning. Quit rubbing it in. ;-P
@truth- Your statement "I am the truth". Is indeed somewhat frightening, if you genuinely believe that. You may be correct that truly one of us is delusional.
@Quaid- Don't confuse what you see in the mirror. It's not important as long as you can live with it.
Does this mean the Vatican will be conducting the 500th annual Pedophile Games and Bingo Tournament? All you alterboys better start sucking it up if you want to be on the greased boy roping contest with your bishop.
How you can read about a beautiful woman who gave her entire life helping people who needed it most – and respond with that – it amazing. You have no soul, you have no class and you have no dignity.
Now you know they have these games on a monthly basis to train the altarboys, so that they can work their way to the Pedophile Olympics, and have the chance to represent their country & parish with pride.
"I think it is very beautiful for the poor to accept their lot, to share it with the passion of Christ. I think the world is being much helped by the suffering of the poor people." ~~~ Mother Theresa
Notice how the MT desciples steer clear of your comment?
John: The MT worshippers steer clear of every Truth that could set them free, and still embrace what ever BS will keep them enslaved. I believe that's called being delusional.
Everybody suffers. That's just a fact of life. People deal differently with suffering. She followed a certain type of spirituality that you would probably find hard to accept; most of us would. You would have to learn about her spirituality and the people she cared for to make a real judgment about her. In the first place, you seem to be unaware that most of the people she helped she called the "poorest of the poor" for good reason. Many of them were elderly, unable to move or function, rejected by even their own family members, outcasts of society with no where to go, sleep and no way of feeding themselves. You really have no idea what it is to be in that situation and you've probably never met any one in that situation since most of the poor she helped lived outside of the US.
"She followed a certain type of spirituality that you would probably find hard to accept..." You got that part right. As if anyone would even want to understand what she was thinking, apart from criminal psychologists.
Quid, you should do that; find a credible mental health expert and ask him/her to compare you to Mother Teresa. Come back and tell us what you're told. . .and what medications they prescribe for you. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to erase the good this woman has done for the poorest of the poor, people you would never want to talk to or associate with I'm sure, but yet people Mother Teresa took into her arms and cared for. Your heart and mind are like stone; I feel sorry for the people who you come across.
DeeCee1000: Don't you have anything better to do with your time than defend an accomplice of thieves who masqueraded as some self-delusional "saint" to the poor and dying? Or is it because you yourself suffer from the same delusion? Yeah, I'll see a shrink if you'll take your own advice by seeing one first. You and your ilk are obviously the ones in need of psychiatric help.
"I feel sorry for the people who you come across." Look in the mirror; you're one of them.
And I'm actually thankfully that you've accepted Jesus as your savior. You're exactly the sort of person He came to minister to.
Quid, I never said I was Christian. I don't have a religion either. Simply put, you're just a jerk. You're also an idi ot for attacking a human being who actually accomplished some good in this world.
DAmn! She was an ugly troll midget!!
Well that is all dependent on genetics, we cannot really blame her at all for her inherited physical characteristics. I personally find her mental characteristics of more interest. But I am not entirely impressed, by what I see there either. By supporting the church she helped aid the spread of aids, by telling people condoms are evil. She also helped fuel the over population problem in India by saying that condoms and contraception use was evil.
"The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" – I Samuel 16:7
JacMac, thanks for the compliment but I really am not god, even though I didn't judge Teresa by her looks. Actually no one is god. There is absolutely no reason to suppose that a god exists as there is no evidence whatsoever of there being a god.
To claim the existence of god without evidence is to delve into insanity.
The null hypothesis is that there is no god. Since there is no evidence to support the existence of god, the null hypothesis holds as the logical position. To depart from this position without evidence is to delve into fantasy and insanity.
Just as it is insanity to believe in the 6ft tall green monster in my closet without evidence of its existence, so is it insanity to believe in god without evidence.
Oh goody...bibull verse time!
Psalm 137:9 – Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
Bottom line we all eventually take steps of faith in something – "belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence."
Atleast some are humble and aware enough to know they do.
John – you do understand literary terms and context, right?
Steve your mom called and said she needs you to go lick her va gina for a while.
DeeCee1000 sez: "Steve your mom called and said she needs you to go lick her va gina for a while."
Yet more intelligent, insightful discussion from a Mama T worshipper. Way to go DC1K! You go grrl!!!
Jacmac this will help you understand how evidence works and why it keeps us sane and rational.
JacMac here is the video about evidence
Funny how this author didn't know that she was a closet Atheist and was using the Church as a vehicle for her own real charity...
Here is an excerpt from a CBS article:
"But now, it has emerged that Mother Teresa was so doubtful of her own faith that she feared being a hypocrite, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Phillips.
In a new book that compiles letters she wrote to friends, superiors and confessors, her doubts are obvious.
Shortly after beginning work in Calcutta's slums, the spirit left Mother Teresa.
"Where is my faith?" she wrote. "Even deep down… there is nothing but emptiness and darkness... If there be God — please forgive me."
Eight years later, she was still looking to reclaim her lost faith.
"Such deep longing for God… Repulsed, empty, no faith, no love, no zeal," she said.
As her fame increased, her faith refused to return. Her smile, she said, was a mask.
"What do I labor for?" she asked in one letter. "If there be no God, there can be no soul. If there be no soul then, Jesus, You also are not true."
"These are letters that were kept in the archbishop's house," the Rev. Brian Kolodiejchuk told Phillips."
She was a fraud and admitted it many times but she was so needed by the RCC as a cash cow.
Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me." People wrestle with their faith in different seasons of life – since you are posting this, I'm assuming you are too right now. She ultimately embraced her faith and I pray you will too.
So how about you try working with the poorest of the poor, and see how long it takes for it to affect your psyche?
I am sorry that you don't understand. Everyone has "hole" dan "darkness" on spiritual journey. Our faith can be up and down cause we are human. In spiritual journey, when God is invisible, our faith can be empty and dark.
9 years ago, I experienced the emptiness and darkness where God seemed empty and dark, invisible. I almost lost my faith. Less than 24 hours, God turned around everything and miracle happened. I asked God for forgiveness. I totally understood what Mother Teresa experienced. As it is written on bible: "There is no one righteous, not even one; Romans 3:10
Ugh, a grown man attacking a little old lady for helping to feed and clothe the poorest of the poor. How sad.
Hitchens was brave enough and moral enough to speak the truth, no matter what. Hitchens was an excellent example of a human being, he was good because he was a good man, not because he was afraid of some none existent hell or some non existent vengeful god. He was a sane adult, unlike the religious who cannot judge reality from evidence and spend their times talking to imaginary friends for which they have no evidence of existing.
THE TRUTH is that there is a grown man attacking a little old lady for helping the poor. It is what it is. . .how sad.
I think one of the most amazing things Jesus Christ ever did was to say to God, "Forgive them for they know not what they do" about the very people who tortured, mocked and then crucified him. It sure is hard to walk the way of Christ.
he too had a problem, too bad they didn't offer psychological help back then. Anyways, he's dead now
Too bad he delusionaly believed in a god that did not exist and got himself killed following that path of insanity.
But it was nice of him to forgive his executioners, but this is not uncommon. Many men who had to face the axeman would be polite to him even forgiving and thanking with a tip or bribe to the executioner so that he would perform a clean kill rather than a slow painful death.
It is also hard to walk the red road if you are native american and equally hard to remain as one with the forces of nature and the spirits within the forest. not every human and some of the purist tribal people on earth follow your christianity. and you know what they should not have to. let's talke about the missionaries who brought disease and pestulence into the rain forest, killed whole tribes, all in the name of some jesus.
The good news for you and I is that he isn't dead! He loves you and forgives your mockery too ... for real. Please remember that.
I deny the existence of the holy spirit and I think it is asinine. According to the bible, that is the only unforgivable sin. So could Jesus forgive me of that? Because if he can, that means that God was wrong.
Jesus is most certainly dead a doorknob. All evidence points to his existence having expired long ago. There is 0 evidence whatsoever of a god. An the concept of a soul or immaterial ghost in the machine has been completely debunked by neurology. When the interaction of your neurons ceases you blink out of existence forever, and as those neurons die or get disrupted parts of who you are get destroyed too, such as in old age dementia. Gone forever.
Not so ... you haven't taken your last breath ... good news – God hasn't given up on you yet!
Are you enjoying your university intro classes? Really, there is proof that that soul doesn't exist? Please give me your evidence.
I graduated long ago, with degrees in Psychology and Neurology. I have seen enough evidence to know that the bible is a load of ancient lies written by 1st century fools who knew nothing about the natural world. Why would you look into the ignorance of the past to try and find truth, that's utter foolishness.
Some real history regarding Christianity:
And what have you done with your degrees, since graduating?
I work in the field too and the more I do the more I realize how complex we are as people. I'm still waiting your 'proof' the soul' doesn't exist
He also said, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" A great doubt must've arisen in him, whilst hanging up there on that cross, suffering...waiting for God to come save him. No help ever came. Jesus Christ must have died in utter disillusionment. Very sad indeed.
Mother Teresa is a total waste of skin.
a confused woman trapped in a mans body, that MT
JazzDawg, your mom just called and she said she wants you to go lick her va gina again.
I think you've set the bar very low for yourself in life – if she is a 'waste of skin' after devoting her life to the poor of the world ... and what have you done?
whew!! thank your gods the article still reported her as some kind of saint. i thought they were going to say she pole danced in Calcutta or something. espiritu sancto and 12 pope bennies . . .
they do have poll dancing at the vatican where the priest dance for the pope
I wouldn't quit your day job. . .a comedian you definitely are not. zzzzzzzzzzzzz
Now that visual is quite comical.
All HATERS, stop dissing my lady. She did A LOT for my church!!
yes, she was the front man for more vatican wealth. She would have been a better person if she handed out condoms.
Consider, for example, that in order for some Mother Teresa type to distribute canned goods, a selfish capitalist first had to conceive, finance, construct, and profitably operate a cannery (all while Mother Teresa types scorned him for profit-seeking).
For U2's Bono to fly to poor countries and make snotty remarks about the very system that if they embraced would enrich them (and does enrich him), capitalists first had to create such things as airplanes, tarmacs, cameras, microphones, the sunglasses and leather pants he sports and satellites that broadcast his whimpers worldwide.
If not for self-interested individuals producing goods for profit, community-interested hander-outers wouldn't have diddley squat to hand out.
Wayne Dunn -
So people like Mother Teresa who basically give all of their life to help the poorest of the poor are "bad" for asking the rich to give a little? You're not even making any sense.
Um. It makes perfect sense. The people suffering the most are in countries where there is very little capitalism or freedom. OP is saying that people who bash capitalism while giving handouts are ridiculous idiots because capitalism gave them those things to hand out.
I'm thinking that you're twisting people's ideas (as usual). Usually, people who are in charge of caring for the poor do not hate capitalism, they only hate the greed and selfishness that sometimes goes along with capitalism.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.