I wasn't eager to see a movie about Mother Teresa, whom I admired greatly, but I joined my wife in viewing "The Letters" last night and came away impressed. It was not a piously sentimental story of a saint.
The 2014 movie was not a critical success, and I can see why: the title is misleading. We don't see the anguish felt in the many letters Mother Teresa wrote, including her sense of hopelessness and depression.
But writer-director William Reiad has chosen to give us the full story of the woman's spiritual growth from 1946 on. As admirably depicted by Juliet Stevenson, the saint of Calcutta has been teaching in India at a convent school for privileged girls. Looking out the window each day, she is bothered by the poor and hungry who are there and feels driven to move out of the cloister to help them. She cannot ignore them.
Although many might agree with the Mother Superior, who asks skeptically, "how can you hope to make a difference amid such vast suffering?", Sister Teresa forges on to offer loving care to one dying person at a time among the poorest of the poor. For me, this change of heart, from being happy as a teacher to leaving her profession for something wholly new and risky, was memorable.
It led me to think, why don't more people volunteer to work for justice and peace in this world? Is it a sense of being overwhelmed by the enormity of world poverty and hunger, by the refugee crisis in Europe, among other horrors? Is it selfishness or perhaps the inability to imagine thinking outside the box?
Richard Rohr, in today's comment from the Center for Action and Contemplation, suggests another answer: that we easily fall into a kind of postmodern fatalism that leads us to retreat into our safe enclosures, where we try to remain. He refers to it as "the Late Great Planet Earth" view of history. Everything seems hopeless, and we easily believe that anything we do won't really matter.
How can people, especially believers, be happy or hopeful in such a culture? Negative thinking, Rohr says, is a great danger and has helped create a cynical, aimless, and futile lifestyle even among those who are otherwise good and sincere.
Very few are called, like Mother Teresa, to undertake missions to the poorest of the poor. But anyone with imagination can look out the window and see that there are needs all around us: lonely people who need attention, infirm neighbors who need help, poor people who need a dose of love.
It's so easy to be cynical in this world; it's more challenging to be positive.