Welcome to the My Sisters the Saints Book Club! We're reading My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir, by Colleen Carroll Campbell.

Saints Book Club rect

Several times in this chapter, Colleen Carroll Campbell describes her reluctance to spend time with her dad and his dimentia. She sends her husband to meet her dad at the ER instead of going herself; she stalls in the nursing home parking lot before taking her turn putting him to bed; she quickly files away information detailing the progression of the disease. She dreads the transformation Alzheimer's is causing.

And yet she goes to her father. Sometimes reluctant, sometimes frightened, she always returns to her dad's side. She has a choice, of course. With a busy work schedule and her own medical issues, Colleen could offer plenty of legitimate excuses to avoid the nursing home. But she continues to get in the car and make her way "down the highway I had driven hundreds of times to see Dad at his apartment, his day-care center, his nursing homes and hospitals, and finally, his hospice house."

What keeps her faithful to her dad? Love. Colleen and her dad have a relationship, a relationship of love.

Jesus invites us into relationship too. God is love (1 John 4:8), and loves us first. When we return that love, we begin to discover the relationship God thirsts for. In John 14:23, Jesus says when we love him, God always returns our love; God comes to us, and "makes a home" in us. Love gives us a home.

This "Into the Darkness" chapter reminds us how crucial it is to allow God to make a home in us. If God takes up residence in our hearts, it wil be easier for us to remember his address when darkness falls, when suffering bites us and we begin to doubt in a loving, all-powerful God.

Colleen's saintly companion in this chapter is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa allowed God into her heart in a powerfully intimate way when, in 1942, she vowed to give Jesus everything, to hold nothing back from her divine spouse. Jesus responded with a gift of intense union, described by her spiritual director as "deep and violent." This was no ordinary home Jesus built in Teresa's heart.

The ecstasy did not last. As Mother Teresa took up her ministry in Calcutta, she fell into impenetrable darkness. With few exceptions, she experienced spiritual emptiness for the rest of her life. She felt abandoned and unloved.

And yet Mother Teresa continued to tend to the poorest of the poor. She searched for the face of her beloved Jesus in the filthy, diseased, and dying. With the help of a spiritual director, she came to see that her perpetual experience of abandonment echoed the suffering of Jesus on the cross. "I have come to love the darkness," Mother Teresa wrote, "for I believe now that it is a part, a very, very small part of Jesus's darkness & pain on earth."

Jesus had made a home for himself in her heart. This home was so secure, so expansive, so intimate, that there he shared with Teresa the deepest concerns of his own Sacred Heart--on fire with love, yes, but also pierced, bleeding, and surrounded by thorns. If we know Jesus, we accept both the joyful and the sorrowful movements of his Heart. When we ask for friendship with the Lord, he will let us share the light and the darkness.

We know God is everywhere, but "Into the Darkness" reminds us that God lives in an especially intimate way with the poor. Jesus teaches us not to despise the poor and the weak, but to recognize himself there. Jesus makes his home there.

Jesus makes his home in our hearts, but the Prince of Darkness hates us to be intimate with God. He is a home-breaker. When the Lord draws close to us, to let us share more fully in his life, the enemy tempts us to fear. When we suffer, Jesus draws close to us. However faintly, our pain echoes Jesus' agony. Instead of embracing this opportunity to know Jesus better, though, we often panic.

We probably know this panic well. Whether we're dealing with vocational discernment, financial hardship, war, illness, death, or family trauma, crisis moments tempt us to despise the darkness. We feel these bitter moments are things to be solved and swept away, not endured and embraced. But Jesus lives right there in the darkness.

The Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us.  (John 1:14)

Jesus embraced our suffering. When we ask to be close friends of his, he sometimes allows us to see how that feels. We can't really know what it's like to be God--perfect, timeless, and all-powerful--who humbles himself to become a human person destined to die in agony. But we know our own trials only too well; these sorrows teach us about Jesus.

My first response to suffering is usually anger: this didn't need to happen! That resentment leads me away from Jesus' neighborhood. He lives in us; he knows both the light and the darkness in our lives. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). The Gospel says Christ's light is IN the darkness, not shining upon it from a safe distance. My anger subsides as I beg, "Help me to find you in this darkness. I know you live here."

"Into the Darkness" deals with one of the greatest stumbling blocks in human experience: the problem of suffering. All of us have suffered, and have watched others suffer. In the darkness, we may be tempted to cry out, Why? Colleen's insight from from her dad and Mother Teresa surely help us all: "How liberating it must be to stop evading, questioning, or complaining about your trials and start embracing them as opportunities to draw closer to God, to realize that even if Jesus is all you have, he is enough."

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. Is there a dark place in your life--a memory, an unhealthy situation, a sin--you avoid thinking about? Would it help to invite Jesus into that darkness, or to remember that he's already there?
  2. Recall a moment when you sacrificed to show great generosity to someone. Where did the strength to do that come from?
  3. How does Mother Teresa's faith inspire you to take a new look at difficulties you face?

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week's reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we'll cover Chapter 6, "Triumph of the Cross." For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the My Sisters the Saints Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Grace Mazza Urbanski