(Scroll down to leave a comment on these two opposites)
The luxurious European vehicle sped from the Hotel Ritz Paris with pursuers in tow. It traveled to the Pont de l’Alma tunnel, where shortly thereafter the car was involved in a horrific crash that caused the death of three of its occupants, among them a member of British royalty and her rich boyfriend. It occurred just after midnight on August 31, 1997. The passing of Diana Spencer, the beloved former Princess of Wales, convulsed the world into such a state of grief that three million mourners and onlookers participated at the funeral in Westminster Abbey one week after the accident.
Dignitaries from throughout the globe made their presence felt at the event as Elton John performed a revised version of “Candle in the Wind” as a tribute. Meanwhile, more than one million bouquets were left at her London residence of Kensington Palace stacked five feet deep. It is estimated that approximately 2.5 billion persons viewed the ceremony which was broadcast to 200 countries in 44 languages. She was buried in a black dress clutching a rosary, a gift from a freshly minted confidante. The beautiful, elegant, educated and graceful princess was laid to rest on September 6, 1997.
Ironically, her confidante went to see Jesus at the ripe age of 87, the day before this most public funeral. Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu was born in Albania in 1910, and lived both in Ireland and India, where she became a Sisters of Loreto nun, teaching and later becoming the headmistress at the Entally convent in Calcutta. Called by God to serve and live with the sick and poor, she founded the Missionaries of Charity in 1948 and instituted the simple white cotton sari with blue borders as the uniform for those who joined her.
Mother Theresa explained that the Lord wanted her to be a free nun, covered with the poverty of the cross to remain faithful to the sick and homeless of India. She created many hospices, hospitals and orphanages; she believed that “a beautiful death is for people who live like animals to die like angels-loved and wanted.” By the time of her death on September 5, 1997, her organization had over 4,000 sisters operating in 610 missions in 123 countries. It would be safe to say there was not much physical beauty, gracefulness or elegant attire attached to “Mother”; she was a strong-willed, pragmatic yet Spirit-driven woman who called herself an Albanian by blood, and Indian by citizenship, a Catholic by faith, called to the whole world and belonging totally to Jesus. Upon her death, she received a state funeral by the Indian government one week after the flowers began to rot in London.
The word disparate applies well to these two souls. I was fascinated by one to the exclusion of the other. I could identify with Mother, given my association with the Catholic church and its schools, nuns serving as my teachers and spiritual counselors, and to some degree the “poverty” experienced during the first years of my life. It was easy to follow this diminutive woman whose sacrificial leadership was impacting the most needy and sick. On the other hand, never a fan of kings and queens, I found the excesses surrounding British royalty and particularly those of the princess less than palatable. So it is safe to say that I was taken aback when Diana traveled to Calcutta at the request of Mother to chat and tour the orphanages and hospices with her. Then, they ended their meeting in prayer.
Shortly before their passing, they met again in New York where they walked the streets of the Bronx for 40 minutes hand in hand. In a famous picture of this event, we can see the enormous contrast of the beautiful, tall, elegant and impeccably dressed young woman towering over the frail, weak, elderly lady wrapped in a sheet and wearing sandals and socks. Yet, you could see the smiles on their faces exposed the genuine love and respect they shared. And there, the mentor gifted the protege the rosary she literally took to the grave. Still, I was not convinced; Theresa was a warrior in the trenches while Diana was basically an onlooker and should be treated accordingly.
At the root of my skepticism is the concept of “fairness.” For many years as a follower of Christ, I took my gaze from the prodigal son and his return to the father in repentance to the plight of the older brother who stayed with the father, worked diligently, yet was never given a party or an expensive robe. “What’s wrong with this picture”, I would ask, until the Lord revealed to me that both sons rejected the father, one in search of self-discovery, the other in self-sufficiency, morality and entitlement, loving “stuff” more than the father. One decided to return in humility and repentance while the other remained supercilious. Turns out we are all prodigals, returning to the loving arms of the Father after squandering what is rightly His.
But what about the workers in the vineyard which is described in Matthew 20? Here Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner who hires workers at nine in the morning, then progressively at noon, three and five in the afternoon and pays them all the same salary at sundown. What’s fair about that? Well, the Lord here explains that the first bunch agreed to work for a specified sum throughout the day, yet it was the owner’s prerogative to pay likewise to the late arrivals. This parable underscores how God is gracious and loves the unwanted. Moreover, this is not about unfair payments. The full-day workers did not complain that they were being cheated; they decried the equality given to those who toiled less and the generosity shown by the boss.
Bookends of service
I can see where in the flesh Mother may have felt that Diana was given preferential treatment, though in her spirit-led life, she instead walked hand in hand with the sister who shared her concerns for the less privileged.
Ok, I get that they both shared the same interests and worked from the positions society afforded them. In life, one was known as the “people’s princess,” while the other received The Nobel Peace Prize and became the “Mother of Peace”, so both were recognized for their work. But how about their demise and their funerals? The world was so intent on following the funeral of one that they basically disregarded the passing of the other. Well, interestingly, much has been made about the fact that, upon her death, all of the nun’s belongings fit in one small box. On the other side of the world, one of the few belongings in Diana’s box was her friend’s rosary. Regardless of the pomp and circumstance outside, the interior of the box is basically barren.
These two women were bookends of service to mankind from their respective pulpits for His glory. God expects the same from me; to just keep my eyes on Him and not on the world. And who knows, maybe my first glance of paradise will be Mother and Diana holding hands while they behold the magnificence of the King of Kings.
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