Mother Teresa: Silence and Paradox


I have been in a state of awe and incomprehension since last week when I read the article of # 1 interest to readers on Time magazine’s website, “Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith,” by David Van Biema (it’s here:,8599,1655415,00.html). Halfway down the first of six pages I said out loud, “this is ridiculous.” I felt Van Biema was another media skeptic all carried away with himself. But as I continued reading about Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light the forthcoming book of Mother Teresa’s letters — which I have ordered for its September 4th publication – I realized that the shock was not with Van Biema’s treatment but with Mother Teresa herself.

The book contains sixty-six letters that Mother Teresa wrote to her spiritual counselors and superiors over many years (one such counselor is the book’s editor). The letters speak of decades of profound paradox or contradiction. As Van Biema puts it: “Although perpetually cheery in public, the Teresa of the letters lived in a state of deep and abiding spiritual pain.” Not just pain, but terrific and abiding emptiness. It wasn’t always so. After 17 years as a teaching nun, Teresa’s life was changed when she heard the voice of Jesus himself, calling her to work among the most destitute. But as she began that ministry in 1948, she also began a period she described as “empty” and “arid,” doubting her faith, even her God. And that emptiness lasted her entire life. (There was one brief period about ten years into her Calcutta ministry when the silence seemed understandable, but the painful silence never left her.)

What in the world is the leadership lesson in this mind-bender, this Zen koan of Roman Catholic spirituality? The person who most famously spoke of Jesus, acted like Jesus with the poor, inspired others toward Jesus, could not in her own heart, feel Jesus’ presence.

I will have Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit editor of America magazine on my show this evening at 6:00 to share some of his thoughts. For me, for now, the silence of the saint certainly invites my own reflective and prayerful silence. Mother Teresa has always been an awesome leader to me, and these revelations strike a new awe. We live in noisy times, when we can all have a voice, but this is such a story of silence.

Maybe there’s a time to just be still to

Lead with your best self,


Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light

By: Brian Kolodiejchuk