The recent death of the world’s two most famous women within a span of five days was an extraordinary concurrence,
especially since Diana, Princess of Wales and Mother Teresa of Calcutta shared a passionate concern for the poor and a
personal friendship. In most other respects, however, their lives could hardly have been more different.
Diana was born into wealth and privilege; Mother Teresa, a humble commoner, who turned her back on material comforts for
vows of extreme poverty.
Diana was a wife, the mother of two sons; Mother Teresa married the Church and became mother to the poor. Diana lived in
glamor and luxury; Mother Teresa in self-sacrifice and prayer. Diana wore designer gowns. Mother Teresa a simple nun’s habit.
Diana felt unloved and insecure; Mother Teresa was beatifically happy; Mother Teresa’s long life ended peacefully; Diana, 50
years younger, was in the prime of a life that ended with tragic, violent suddenness.
Comparisons of these two exceptional lives must be viewed in their respective contexts. Millions of women, especially,
identified with Diana’s motherhood and personal struggles. Few people could identify personally with Mother Teresa’s
saintliness. Many would have gladly traded places with Diana; few aspired to Mother Teresa’s lifestyle.
However, contrasted with Diana’s tragic angst, the peace, joy, and happiness radiated by Mother Teresa calls into question our
notions of what constitutes the “good life,” and what really satisfies the unconscious yearning of our inner soul.
Diana’s enduring legacy will be her sons, one a future king of England, and her contribution to the royal bloodline. Mother
Teresa will almost certainly be sainted in the fullness of time. She leaves behind the order she founded and more than 500
missions to the poor worldwide.
Mother Teresa’s uncompromising Catholic orthodoxy makes her a more enigmatic figure in popular perception than Diana.The
causes Diana embraced, while commendable and worthy, also seemed carefully selected for political correctness. Mother
Teresa was anything but politically correct on issues like abortion, birth-control, divorce, and extramarital sex, which put her at
odds with the West’s liberal cultural elites. “I always say one thing,” she once remarked: “If a mother can kill her own child, then
what is left of the West to be destroyed?”
She was accused of treating symptoms of poverty while ignoring its causes, and of pragmatism about whom she accepted
money from to support her work. When told that efforts had hardly dented India’s poverty problem, she replied, “It may be a
drop in the bucket, but without that drop the bucket is empty.”
A white European Christian missionary in a mainly non-Christian country, Mother Teresa was considered a cultural imperialist
by the liberal-left. Her adopted country (she was a naturalized Indian citizen) had no such ideological hang-ups, giving her a full
state funeral and the posthumous title “Mahatma,” reserved for great persons. These honors would not have pleased her. “I think
God wants to show His greatness by using nothingness,” she once said of herself.
One sister mused that God might have purposely summoned Mother Teresa so soon after Diana’s death. If so, part of that
purpose may have been to impose a reality check on what really constitutes sainthood.
The Princess of Wales was a kind and compassionate person who genuinely cared for the afflicted and the downtrodden. But
holding the hand of an AIDS patient or cradling a dying child in a cancer ward, while wonderful and commendable and a lot
more than 99 per cent of us ever do, simply cannot be equated with a lifetime of total service to the poor and the suffering.
“When I wash the leper’s wounds, I feel I am nursing the Lord Himself,” said Mother Teresa. “Is it not a beautiful experience?”
Diana visited and comforted the poor and the sick, but Mother Teresa chose to live with them and minister to their physical and
spiritual needs full-time. Making that distinction in no way diminishes Princess Diana’s good works, but it helps put any
comparisons into proper perspective.
Mother Teresa remarked in a 1989 interview that poverty for her was not a mortification or a penance, but “joyful freedom. I
find the rich much poorer,” she said. “Sometimes they are more lonely inside … I find that [kind of] poverty hard to remove. The
hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” Spoken three years before she met Princess Diana,
but how uncannily well it applies to the woman who wanted to be the “Queen of Hearts.”