Teresa’s crit­ics could learn from not-so-saintly Go­dric

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FAITH - JOHN LONGHURST Go­dric

I’M not a big fan of nov­els, but I re­ally liked by Fred­er­ick Buech­ner. Pub­lished in 1981, the book is about Saint Go­dric, who lived in the 11th cen­tury in Eng­land. Lit­tle is known about the holy her­mit, who was a sailor and mer­chant be­fore de­vot­ing him­self to a life of prayer.

What we do know was writ­ten by Regi­nald of Durham, who spent time with Go­dric prior to the saint’s death.

In Buech­ner’s re-imag­in­ing of their time to­gether, Regi­nald is set on writ­ing a rev­er­ent tome about Go­dric’s life — the kind that will in­spire the faith­ful.

But Go­dric will have none of it. He re­peat­edly tries to im­press on Regi­nald why he doesn’t de­serve a saintly write-up.

“I started out as rough a peas­ant’s brat and full of cock­adoo­dle­doo as any,” he tells Regi­nald. “I worked un­clean­ness with the best of them or worse. I tum­bled all the maids would suf­fer me and some that scratched and tore like weasels in a net. I planted horns (had sex with other men’s wives) on many a good­man’s brow and jol­lied his lads with tales about it af­ter­ward.”

As for be­ing a mer­chant, he ad­mits to cheat­ing his cus­tomers, thiev­ing, pi­rat­ing and other things that “are bet­ter left un­said.”

Those things may be in the past, but he’s no bet­ter a man to­day, he tells his bi­og­ra­pher.

“Know you this... Go­dric’s no true her­mit but a gad­about within his mind, a lecher in his dreams. Self-seek­ing he is and pea­cock proud. A hyp­ocrite. A ravener of alms and dainty too. A sloth­ful greedy bear. Not wor­thy to be called a ser­vant of the Lord when he treats such ser­vants as he has him­self like dung... all this and worse than this go say of Go­dric in your book.”

Of course, Regi­nald does no such thing. All that re­mains is a won­drous tale of the saintly Go­dric.

Thoughts about Go­dric came to mind re­cently when Mother Teresa — now Saint Teresa — was can­on­ized by the Pope.

From some re­ports, you’d think she was the worst pos­si­ble can­di­date for saint­hood. A French pub­li­ca­tion ac­cused her of glo­ri­fy­ing hu­man suf­fer­ing in­stead of re­liev­ing it, be­ing a penny-pincher with her money and hav­ing ques­tion­able friends in high places.

Christo­pher Hitchens, in his scathing re­view, called her a “fa­nati­cist, a fun­da­men­tal­ist and a fraud.”

In this news­pa­per, Michael Coren re­peated these charges, ad­ding that she “pro­vided sub-stan­dard med­i­cal care, took money from dic­ta­tors and crim­i­nals and of­ten co­zied up to them, pushed her faith on the vul­ner­a­ble and sick.”

What I think these crit­ics miss is that Saint Teresa, like Go­dric, was hu­man. And hu­mans aren’t perfect.

Saint Teresa seemed to know this. “If I ever be­come a Saint — I will surely be one of ‘dark­ness,’” she wrote in a pri­vate let­ter pub­lished after her death.

“There is so much con­tra­dic­tion in my soul, so deep that it is painful,” she added.

She went on to write about feel­ing not wanted by God, be­ing re­pulsed by God, hav­ing no faith, no love, no zeal.

“Heaven means noth­ing — to me it looks like an empty place,” she wrote. “The thought of it means noth­ing to me and yet this tor­tur­ing long­ing for God. Pray for me please that I keep smil­ing at Him in spite of ev­ery­thing.”

Go­dric, as imag­ined by Buech­ner, couldn’t have said it bet­ter.

In ad­di­tion to Go­dric, Buech­ner mused about saints in his book Wish­ful Think­ing.

“Many peo­ple think of saints as plas­ter saints, men and women of such par­a­lyz­ing virtue that they never thought a nasty thought or did an evil deed their whole lives long,” he wrote.

“As far as I know, real saints never even come close to char­ac­ter­iz­ing them­selves that way.”

The feet of saints, he went on to say, “are as much of clay as every­body else’s, and their saint­hood con­sists less of what they have done than of what God has for some rea­son cho­sen to do through them.”

I think that sums up Saint Teresa pretty well, what­ever her flaws.


Saint Teresa ac­knowl­edged her many im­per­fec­tions long be­fore her crit­ics did.

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