“She was first and foremost a teacher,” claimed Blessed Mother Teresa’s spiritual director Father Celeste van Exem, played by Max von Sydow, in the opening of “The Letters.” Today, Mother Teresa’s legacy continues to teach and inspire many. “The Letters,” although not a perfect portrayal of Mother Teresa, depicts her life in an illuminating way for audiences who are new to the saint or already admirers.
In under two hours, this film gifts audiences with a peek into the story of Mother Teresa’s life, and even exposes elements of her cause for canonization. “The Letters” beautifully illustrates Mother Teresa’s trust in God’s will for her to serve the poor- a most humble sacrifice. The magnitude of this sacrifice is enhanced by the portrayal of the trying oppositions she encountered. And God’s great glory is revealed through her unwavering trust.
The challenges portrayed in the film were predominantly taken from the The New York Times best-selling book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. It’s the book that exposed her deep interior life, and “spiritual darkness”, something very difficult to capture on film. What the film does well is introduce the darkness and struggles into Mother Teresa’s story. Such an introduction seems to inevitably provoke the viewer to want to discover more. There are now many books published about Blessed Mother Teresa that tell of her saintly life.
The books compiled by members of the religious congregation she founded, The Missionaries of Charity, more accurately portray Mother Teresa’s spiritual darkness, and also her relationship with Church authority, than the film does. The movie’s representation of ecclesiastical hierarchy seems negative and flawed on multiple accounts. Yes, Mother Teresa was required to be patient, and the General Superior of her first religious order, the Loreto Sisters, was not fond of losing Mother Teresa. Yet, it is important to note that Mother Teresa was never disobedient; she was persistent. For something as radical as starting a new order, the Church had to take time for prayerful consideration. A viewer ought to be aware that the waiting period was not a sign of being at odds with the Church; rather her trust and patience was a sign that it was truly God’s will.
As the film states, “God used her nothingness…,” and as it masterfully portrays, she loved and trusted God enough to devote her life to the charity of the poorest of the poor, even amidst great struggle and sacrifice, and with hardly any consolation. Despite the flaws, “The Letters” provides a wonderful introduction to this great woman known by millions as “Mother Teresa”.
By Clare Eckard, Mother Teresa Scholar (Class of 2018)
Student group visiting Harbor Chase Nursing Home.
Clare is in the front row, first on the left!