Friday, August 31, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder

“Glances of true beauty can be seen in the faces of those who live in true meekness.”

- Henry David Thoreau

It’s hard to believe it’s been so long, but the morning news confirmed it, so I have to accept it. Princess Diana died in an automobile accident ten years ago. According to the reports filed today as many as two billion people watched her funeral and mourned her passing.

It’s also hard to believe that it’s been ten years since the death of Mother Teresa. While her death was also mourned around the world, it must be said that far fewer mourned her passing.


Princess Diana was stunningly beautiful, tall and angular. She was young, vibrant, poised, admired, and often adored. She had good causes she advanced – AIDS, the effect of land mines on innocent children in the war-torn Balkans. When the royal family jettisoned her she gained an enormous amount of support world-wide. She was the beauty scorned by the mighty. Given those circumstances, whose heart couldn’t go out to her? Underserved rejection, followed by an untimely death became the perfect recipe for the outpouring of grief.

Mother Teresa was craggy faced, short, with stooped shoulders. She was old and appeared to be weary to the point of death from the burden she’d carried for so long. She was a homely woman, not the type of woman men would lust after or desire to possess. The truth was, she was possessed by Someone else. That, I believe, troubled us.

She was admired, albeit at arm’s length. There was something we feared about her. Could it have been that the message she brought made us uncomfortable. Could she have been telling us that her burden needed more burden-bearers and that too few would come to her aid? Could it have been that she revealed the gaping holes in our philosophy? Could it have been that, by her life, she exposed the moral bankruptcy of our time?

It’s ten years later, and the world is remembering. Diana is being remembered for her beauty and tragic end. Mother Teresa is being remembered for her lapses of faith. Les Csorba, writing in today’s Houston Chronicle, put it this way:

“Ten years ago, Princess Diana's life was taken tragically in a tunnel in Paris. Up to 2 billion people would watch the memorial services around the globe. But, as the world wept over Diana, the news arrived that Mother Teresa had died of cardiac arrest. The irony was that while the world mourned the princess they conferred sainthood upon, they overlooked real beauty.”

It’s been said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If the majority sanctify Princess Diana the turn away from Mother Teresa, does it mean that that the message as well as it bearer are to be rejected? In this self-absorbed world it seems to be so.

Jesus said that the pathway to the kingdom of God is narrow, and few find it. In a world where our notions of beauty are so jaded, the truth of Jesus’ words pierce like an arrow to the heart. In a world so often corrupted by fame and worldly notoriety, they cut us to the quick. They go deep, to the depths of our souls, and we shun them. We’d much rather the superficial and the vain than to trod the lonely path of service and humility. There are indeed two ways, one narrow and the other broad. We most often choose the one that appeals to our vanity and pride. We must validate our choice, hence, Princess Diana is elevated and Mother Teresa is brought low.

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