Saturday, June 19, 2010

Mother Teresa: A Biography

Writing about Mother Teresa can be both a frustrating and challenging exercise. On the surface, she appears almost one-dimensional, living a simple life devoted to her calling and her faith. Closer inspection, however, reveals a personality so rife with contradictions that it is difficult to explain her motives and purposes. What is the reality? What finally can a biographer conclude about the life of Mother Teresa? In many ways, Mother Teresa defies the biographer’s art. Her life is not interesting. There are, or seem to be, no great adventures, no great crises, no great sorrows, no great turning points. Most biographies of her are so reverential and so one-dimensional, that it is easy to forget that she was a human being and did not from birth belong to the ages. Even a list of her numerous accomplishments and awards does little to capture her inner life. She did not appear to suffer from the terrible internal conflicts, hardships, or adversities that often mark a great and memorable life. Rather, her life was mundane and ordinary, and she never pretended it to be otherwise. Perhaps, though, her very ordinariness provides a starting point for the biographer. How did this unexceptional woman captivate and console so many that she has come to take her place among the monumental personalities of the age? Mother Teresa, however, was something of an artful dodger. When asked about most any topic, but especially herself, she uttered platitudes and pieties that sounded almost meaningless. She concealed herself behind them. Yet, coming from her, these expressions had a ring of truth. That may be because the story of Mother Teresa is not the story of a great life in the modern sense. Mother Teresa was not a celebrity. On the con-trary, hers was a life lived on a different principle. She devoted herself to an old-fashioned sense of calling. She worked among the poor of Calcutta because she believed it is what God required of her. She would have done the same work in anonymity if she herself had lived and died in obcurity.It is that devotion that makes the life of Mother Teresa so interesting.

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