IN THE SPACE OF ONE WEEK last month, the world wept over two of the best known - maybe the best known - people in the global community. Both were women. One old, one relatively young. Both had public funerals in churches. They had met and knew each other. Both did much to help the poor and downtrodden in society. Both gave much love.
Christians believe that outward appearance often belies what lies beneath. God alone knows the secrets of our hearts. So to compare Mother Teresa and Diana, Princess of Wales, has obvious limits.
Perhaps it is more instructive to look at the reaction to their death by both the secular world and the church.
Mother Teresa lived like the poor among the poor, among the poorest of the poor, among those utterly dehumanized, discarded for the rats like rotten, half-chewed food. She, who worked among the untouchables of Indian society, seemed untouchable herself. Her self-giving seemed overwhelming: people looked for wrong or controversy connected with her to bring her nearer humanity. But despite allegations of accepting tainted money and espousing views on birth control that made sense to few given the rising numbers of poor she ministered to, it was barely a scratch on the mantle of charity and humility she wore. When she died, people said she was a saint and recalled how she said she was only following Jesus' example of humility and love and that she saw the face, the body, the wounds of Christ in every broken unfed body she cared for.
She drew spiritual strength and love from those people, her religious community and the sacraments of the church.
Her funeral was a requiem: a service of thanksgiving to God for bestowing such grace on one in our midst.
Diana was also untouchable to most of society, an aristocrat of better pedigree than the royalty she married into. Hers was proclaimed as the fairy-tale come to life: sweet and shy that became stunning, glamorous, rich, travelled and adored by an ever increasing number of people. Love for her, however, was elusive. As her marriage provided less and less, she turned to promoting various charities, not merely by turning up at high-society dos but by comforting the afflicted, lepers, people with AIDS, and binding up the wounds of civilian casualties of land mines (and challenging an amoral government whose friends in the defence industry feared for their profits). In short, she took on an increasing amount of work as a servant; like Mother Teresa, the traditional work of deacons. …