Her Dark Night

The media was agog that Mother Teresa suffered fifty years of anguish. Time, NPR, and other middlebrow oracles reported solemnly, but with great fascination, that Mother Teresa had a fifty-year spiritual drought during which God seemed to be absent. In the view of at least some observers, she was a closet atheist persevering in good works despite the fact that her original motivation had disappeared. What greater modern story of unbelief could there be-the Nobel Prize-winning nun, founder of a flourishing religious order, serving a God she no longer believed in.

Scott Simon began NPR’s Weekend Edition with the story of his own experiences with the holy woman. He described her in her hand-woven sari as “more the image of God incarnate than any pope in golden finery.” He went on to quote Christopher Hitchens, describing him as “that most eloquent atheist.” Hitchens compared those who say periods of doubt are not uncommon in the lives of the saints to the old Western Communists who were incapable of acknowledging the lie at the heart of the Soviet system.

Among the Catholics I know the response was, perhaps predictably, quite different. At Notre Dame, where I teach, we have Catholics of all stripes: lefty and righty, pious and impious, and those who could best be described as impious-pious. Here the reaction to the big news about Mother Teresa was fairly unanimous: “Well, of course: after all, she’s a saint...

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About the Author

John P. O’Callaghan is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.