Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch:
Blessed Mother Teresa’s ‘dark night,’ ‘Golden Compass’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the Dec. 20, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Reviews

The Sept. 3, 2007 issue of Time magazine had a cover story on “The Secret Life of Mother Teresa,” based the new book Mother Teresa – Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.” The book, published in hardcover by Doubleday at $22.95, is edited and with commentary by Missionary of Charity Father Brian Kolodiejchuk.

Blessed Mother Teresa’s letters to spiritual directors, archbishops, and friends give a powerful insight into the spiritual journey of an extraordinary woman that includes roughly 50 years of darkness in the tradition of the “dark night of the soul.” These letters that Blessed Mother Teresa asked be destroyed were thankfully saved so we might have a new insight and example for all of us on the same journey.

The book begins with the letters to spiritual directors and the Archbishop of Calcutta on her vision to leave her teaching order of Loretto and form a new order to minister to the poor on the streets of India. In these letters she seems impelled by a spiritual experience that changed her life. The archbishop asks for time to pray and reflect on her request. He asks challenging questions on how the new order would work. She responds again and again, with an insistence that won’t stop. You can imagine the archbishop asking for a “time out.”

Blessed Mother Teresa’s vision for the new order of Missionaries of Charity was based of the words of Christ on the Cross: “ I thirst.” Every person the Sisters are to connect with in their day-to-day life is to be seen as a wounded Christ on the Cross.

After the founding of the order in January of 1948, she begins to lose her feeling of being close to Christ. For example, in a letter to a spiritual director on July 3, 1959, she writes: “...I call, I cling, I want – and there is no One to answer – no One on Whom I can cling – no, No One, – Alone. The darkness is so dark – and I am alone. – Unwanted, forsaken. – The loneliness of the heart that wants love is unbearable. – Where is my faith? – even deep down, right in, there is nothing but emptiness and darkness. – My God – how painful is this unknown pain.”

Mother Teresa is a book that takes effort and persistence. And yet if you read it over a period of weeks or months it can be like a life-changing retreat. Not all of Blessed Mother Teresa’s spirituality will appeal to everyone. But parts of it sure will. She is a driven personality who hated meetings and said she found it very hard to speak in front of crowds. She is demanding of herself and of others.

But it is her struggle with the darkness that will appeal to anyone who in smaller ways has felt the darkness of which she writes. Her journey of darkness into light becomes our journey. She now becomes a saint with whom people in our contemporary world can identify. And in the end, did the darkness help her to respond more fully to Christ incarnationally in the people that were her life?


One summer in the early 1990s Father Jim Kuhns and I had the opportunity to attend an ecumenical theological workshop in Sweden, with a side trip by ferry and bus to St. Petersburg, Russia. The Lutheran pastor who was leading the group asked a Russian-American seminarian to see about getting tickets for the group of 30 or so to the Kirov Ballet. The seminarian asked if I would come with him. So we went to the theater where the ballet played and found out that in order to get tickets, we would have to deal with some men who would come to our hotel around midnight that night. The reason? We would have to pay more than the listed price.

So with some trepidation we went down to the lobby at the appointed time and met three or four young Russians. We bought a series of tickets for the group. When they left we looked at the tickets, which looked like they were printed on an old mimeograph. The name of the theatre on the tickets was Marlinsky, which was not the name of the theater we wanted. We panicked and asked a woman at a rental car booth if this was the theatre of the Kirov Ballet. She said that the theatre had just returned to its pre-Revolution name and was the Marlinsky.

The next night the seminarian and I took the last of the tickets. I still wasn’t sure they would work. The result was we ended up in the grand box that seated 20 or so. Then finally we realized that this was the box from which the tsar and his party and, later, Lenin, would have watched the ballet.

Ronan Bennett’s new thriller, Zugzwang, has the tsar and his royal party going to a concert at the Marlinsky Theatre in 1914. The scene has overtones of Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, with its dramatic ending at Albert Hall in London.

The title Zugzwang comes from the German: zug (move) and zwang (compulsion). It is a term used in a chess match; it means the player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness – obliged to move, but every move only makes the player’s position even worse.

Throughout the novel there is a chess match taking place between two principals. So anyone who knows and enjoys chess will be especially pleased with this novel. But those of us who do not know anything about chess can still follow the novel knowing that we are learning of characters caught in a “zugzwang”-type position.

It is pre-First World War St. Petersburg, with all kinds of groups plotting against each other and the tsar. Dr. Otto Spethmann is a Jewish psychoanalyst with several very interesting patients. Through his daughter Catherine he finds himself in prison, being asked questions he knows nothing about. Catherine has rather innocently met a young man who turns out to be a revolutionary who has been murdered.

The fast-paced plot centers on an international chess tournament taking place in the city. To that is added all the intrigue of the many groups seeking power and revolution against a cruel regime.

I must admit that, as with any novel taking place in Russia, I had a little trouble keeping every character straight. But you can follow the complicated plot and make sense of it. The plot has twists and turns that are continually surprising.

Zugzwang is published in hardcover by Bloomsbury at $24.95. It is a novel for adults because of its sexual content and violence.

Short Takes: Movies

There has been controversy around the new film The Golden Compass, based on the first book of Philip Pullman’s trilogy titled His Dark Materials. The Catholic League, led by William A. Donohue, urges people not to see the film because of a concern that children will seek to read the second and third volumes of the trilogy, books that are more directly anti-God and anti-Catholic.

Reviewers for the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting initially reviewed The Golden Compass, but that review has now been removed. The New Line Studio used a short quote from that review, but instead of crediting the reviewers in the Office for Film and Broadcasting, the quotation is attributed to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The quote, taken out of context, said The Golden Compass was “Intelligent and well-crafted entertainment.”

The plot of The Golden Compass is slow to start and complicated to follow. There are multiple parallel worlds out there. The evil group is called the Magisterium. You could certainly infer it refers to organized religion in general or the Catholic Church in particular. However, the group fades out of the picture as their representative, Mrs. Coulter (Nicole Kidman), becomes the evil character who takes the young protagonist Lyra Belacqua (Dakota Blue Richards) to the far north of Norway where captured children from England are being held in a research concentration camp. There are animals for each person that are called daemons (pronounced demons). At the camp, Lyra has friends who are being separated from their daemons somehow to protect their innocence. This may have something to do with original sin, but much of the movie is not clear unless you are familiar with the terms.

The movie gets more lively when we have the fight of the giant bears in northern Norway. It does remind you of the Coca Cola bears of the digitally animated commercials that appear each Christmas time. The bears are voiced by Ian McKellen and Ian McShane.

Along her journey from England Lyra meets a cowboy aviator (Sam Elliot), a friendly flying witch Serafina (Eva Green), and a group called gyptians. Her uncle in the film, played by Daniel Craig, disappears after about 10 minutes into the movie.

I found the movie packed with complicated information and dark. Who really wants to see children suffering so much?

The film is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) because of fantasy violence.


In an autumn of heavy and often violent serious films for adults, it is great to be able to recommend the new Disney movie Enchanted. It would be especially enjoyable for parents and their daughters. Adults who enjoy musicals or comedies will find the film worth seeing.

Enchanted begins in cartoon-land where a princess named Giselle (Amy Adams) who is living happily with many animals hopes a prince will come to marry her and seal the commitment with a kiss. But the Prince has an evil step-mother (Susan Sarandon) who ejects the princess to Time Square, New York where the characters are played by live actors. Giselle eventually meets a divorce lawyer (Patrick Dempsey) and his daughter (Rachel Covey) who help the lost princess. Most of the film, which does have some musical numbers, takes place throughout New York City, especially a very beautiful Central Park.

Will the princess meet her original prince or will she fall in love with the lawyer? The big production number in Central Park is exuberant and filled with a cast of hundreds. Throughout the film there is lots of humor, even the kind where you laugh out loud. The movie has done very well at the box office, taking in $70 million in 10 days. And Amy Adams is absolutely terrific as the princess.

Enchanted is a light-hearted confection that is great for the Christmas holidays.

The film is rated PG (parental guidance suggested) by the Motion Picture Association of America. The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting rates the film A-I – for general patronage.

(Father Caswell is Ecumenical Relations Officer and Archivist for the Diocese of Spokane, and a frequent contributor to this publication.)

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