Mother Teresa's letters showed she often felt abandoned by God in her work with the poor.

CNS FILE PHOTO

Mother Teresa's letters showed she often felt abandoned by God in her work with the poor.

December 21, 2015
JEAN KO DIN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

Interest in Mother Teresa's sainthood reignited when an Italian news agency prematurely announced Nov. 18 that the canonization could be held as soon as Sept. 5, 2016 if a second miracle can be approved by the Vatican this month.

Whether or not the Congregation for the Causes of Saints can confirm the healing of a Brazilian man's brain tumour in time for the September date, it is clear Mother Teresa's life and work continue to inspire strong devotion among Catholics.

The world will get a look at Mother Teresa's life with The Letters, a biopic with a limited release in theatres across North America Dec. 4.

The film is an intimate look at the life of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta as told through letters she wrote to her spiritual directors over a period of 40 years. The film follows her journey from 1946, as a Loreto sister and headmistress of St. Mary's Convent School, to her speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979.

The film is about faithful perseverance. It shows how she struggled with reconciling her duties as a cloistered Loreto sister and her desire to serve the poor outside the convent walls.

English actress Juliet Stevenson, known for her dramatic work in film and on stage, shines in the lead role as Sister Mary Teresa. Stevenson's portrayal, while calculated, does not distract from the story of the film.

As shown in the film, Sister Teresa encounters firm resistance from her mother superior in taking her mission to the streets, but she insists her "call within a call" is the will of God. She waits obediently even as her reluctant mother superior appeals to their diocesan bishop on her behalf to begin her mission work outside the convent.

When she is granted permission, she is welcomed with suspicion and hostility, but her determination is unwavering. Yet, under her cheerful, gentle disposition a great spiritual battle is being waged.

The film is mainly told through the eyes of postulate Father Benjamin Praagh (Rutger Hauer), who is visiting one of Teresa's former spiritual directors, Father Celeste van Exem (Max von Sydow), as he builds the case for her canonization.

Father Celeste reveals to the postulator that Mother Teresa experienced a deep spiritual darkness during her almost 50 years of service to the poor and reads snippets of her letters over their 40-year correspondence.

Almost immediately after she began working in the slums of Calcutta, India, Mother Teresa began to feel abandoned by God, her letters reveal. The letters grew darker and darker as years passed.

In the film, Father Celeste said the darkness was an element of who she was. For Mother Teresa to be a light for people, she had to operate in the darkness. The film offers some hints to Mother Teresa's struggle, but it doesn't address it fully.

Ten years after her death, the real letters - which were first published in 2007 in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light - revealed intense inner turmoil that was hidden from the world. Many of her fellow Missionaries of Charity had been shocked by this revelation because Mother Teresa always seemed cheerful and tireless in her work.

Mother Teresa had asked her spiritual directors to burn her letters because she did not want the world to know about the burden she carried for a half-century.

SPIRITUAL DROUGHT

Father Brian Kolodiejchuk, the Canadian who edited the book and was also the postulator who oversaw her cause for sainthood, believed that her spiritual life can encourage many who experience a spiritual drought in their life. It seems a shame that the film only offers hints of an important part of her journey.

The film contains much narration from both von Sydow and Stevenson, which is to be expected when the story is driven by Mother Teresa's writings. So, the narration is balanced with a minimal soundtrack and many quiet moments.

WORDS OF WISDOM

The film's dialogue is filled with Mother Teresa's words of wisdom. People who have been inspired by her long list of famous quotes will find new meaning and context as they watch her ministry unfold before them.

Overall, the film is an inspiring portrayal of a complex woman. It seems only fitting that a servant of God who has experienced such turmoil in her life should be canonized at a time of great turmoil in the world; a time when her intercession is most needed.