We all know Mother Theresa, who is now rightly St. Theresa of Calcutta. Like many people, I find inspiration in all her tireless work. But many people don’t know how much she suffered from depression. She once said, “If I am ever a saint, I will be surely be one of darkness.”
I’ve often shared this fact with patients and friends who suffer from depression. Despite all the progress made in societal attitudes across the twentieth century, there still persists a feeling of guilt among those who suffer from depression. They’re still often made to feel they’re weak. They take heart from knowing that even St. Theresa of Calcutta had terrible depression at times.
Was St. Theresa weak?
When she first received permission from the Pope to go to Calcutta, she was not the head of a global order of worldwide fame. She had practically no resources to work with; she had, of course, taken a vow to own nothing personally but a few saris and one pair of rough sandals. People across the world were not yet donating to her cause.
On one of her first days, she saw a man literally dying in the street right across from the hospital, so she went into the hospital to beg that something be done for this poor man. I don’t know what answer she got. By the time she came back, he was dead.
The first thing she did was start a House for the Dying, which was merely a bungalow with cots for people found dying in the streets of Calcutta. There was no medical aid available yet, no matter how much St. Theresa wanted to save the people’s lives. But they could at least die with dignity on a cot, out of the heat and dust of the street, with nuns praying over them. They did not die alone.
Can you imagine the pain she was in?
In the book Come Be My Light, you can read more about how much suffering St. Theresa personally felt as she struggled to relieve the suffering of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. And you can see how even one of the bravest and strongest human beings of modern times struggled with depression.
If you believe in God and the saints, you believe she is still here with us. She promised before her death, “I will continually be absent from Heaven to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” Whether or not you believe, though, her legacy still brings hope and inspiration in these dark times. You can take comfort in knowing that even this superhero of courage and compassion fell into despair sometimes. I bring her up because in 2020 many people are feeling despair, and because The Last Rose of Summer describes some awful behavior. Its message should be balanced with reminders of human greatness; you’ll see another in Dr. Taylor, the title character of the book.