I was in Calcutta during the funeral of Mother Teresa. The Church of St. Thomas, where she was lying in state, was the site of an endless procession of her admirers and devotees. Along with throngs of American reporters and visitors, I filed past the body of this wonderful and selfless woman. It was moving to see the poor of Calcutta wound around the serpentine kilometers of filthy sidewalks waiting their turn to pay their last respects. Each paused a moment before the bier, dropped a rose, and filed silently by.
As I watched the hordes of the adoring poor, I found myself wishing that Mother Teresa might have passed away at some other time when she might have had the world's undivided attention. Unfortunately, she had to share the world's attention with Diana of Kensington. A thousand tabloids, forced to choose between focusing on a "show-biz" saint and a nun with four decades of street ministry to commend her, abandoned the expatriated Albanian and her beloved, dingy City of Joy.
As royalty goes, Diana brought warmth to the aloof Windsor image. She was compassionate, touchable, and devastatingly pretty. Both Teresa and Diana seemed to speak of all that was best in the human spirit. But most of Diana's life was not really comparable with this "saint of the gutters." Consider the ways they were not alike. Mother Teresa was not wealthy. Her commitment was her lifelong gift to the Savior. Her clothes were simple and never to be auctioned at Sotheby's. She was obsessed with Matthew 25, and convinced that every act of kindness or healing done in Calcutta was an act given to Jesus Himself.
Early reports said the friends of Diana, in committing $169 million to charities in her memory, gave more than was given by all of Mother Teresa's friends during her entire lifetime.
But my struggle to compare them ran aground on a different objection. I found it odd to try and separate Diana's good works from the unceasing mention that she had once danced with John Travolta. Were Americans more captivated by the fact that she had visited with AIDS patients and cleared the land mines from Albania, or that she was glamorous and had once danced with John Travolta? Diana visited many sick children and she once danced with John Travolta. In fact, only a few months before her death, she even called on Mother Teresa, bringing cheer to the nun's desperate and needy flock, but she also once danced with John Travolta.
Diana was suggested as a candidate for the Nobel Prize (a prize Mother Teresa already held). The Pope has intimated that Mother Teresa may shortly be canonized as a saint. But as I viewed Mother Teresa and thought of Diana, my mind reflected back 100 years to Lottie of Ping Tu. Neither saint nor Nobelist, her simple ministry as a faithful evangelist and minister of mercy would in time inspire more money to be given for hospitals and schools than either Diana or Mother Teresa. She died on Christmas Eve, 1911, and her tombstone bears the simple inscription "faithful unto death!"
I speak not to deplore anyone's sacrifice: all incarnational living gives glory to God. But in our rush to celebrate great women of faith we might actually do our Baptist celebrating a little closer to home. Lottie seems to me to have lived the most definite witness possible. She believed that Christ was the only hope that any of us have for achieving eternity or living a meaningful life in this world. She was committed to the commission and in love with her Lover. So here's to a hero of mine, Lottie Moon, who died before CNN and who never danced with John Travolta. But cut out the money given in her name and the world would be dark indeed this Christmas. At the feet of Christ is the life of this simple missionary, and such a gift is a treasure indeed.