Diana & Mother Teresa

In 1997, two of the most famous women in the world died within a week's time of each other. Princess Diana, age 36, died 31 August in a fiery, high-speed automobile crash in a highway tunnel in Paris. Mother Teresa, age 87, died 05 September in Calcutta and was given the honor of a state funeral by the Government of India. She said of herself, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus."

A highly-publicized memorial service is planned for Diana, married to Prince Charles with whom she had two sons, for 31 August at the Guards Chapel, just across the road from Buckingham Palace in London. Her sons had already staged a celebration of her life in a musical extravaganza at Wembley Stadium on 01 July and attended by more than 60,000 people. For Mother Teresa, there will be many local memorial services held, but without the pomp and circumstance of which she most likely would have disapproved, in any case.

The London papers, especially the tabloids, have always been filled with news of the behavior of members of the royal family, and Diana's remembrance activity simply provides more fodder to be exploited. For reasons known only to himself, notwithstanding anything he might say about it, Canadian-born Father Brian Kolodiejchuk has written a book about Mother Teresa, entitled "Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light," to be released on 04 September, in which he recounts the doubts and fears she had regarding her faith – even abandonment by God – during her long ministry among the "poorest of the poor."

Sixty-six years worth of Mother Teresa's deeply personal letters to superiors and confessors – preserved by the Catholic Church despite her dying wish that they be destroyed – are published in the new book and already excerpted in Time magazine. It's hard to understand why her wishes were not honored, but the Roman Catholic Church is, if anything, a hierarchal institution, and someone at the top had reasons.

Diana had as a cause the land-mine problem that still exists in areas throughout the world, and there's no doubt that she did some good with her life, if only as a raiser of both awareness and funds in the effort to do good things. For instance, earlier in the month of her death she was in Bosnia where up to 70 people a month were injured by land mines left over from the 3 1/2-year war that split the country. She also brought vividly to the public eye – not surprising, since her every move was covered by the paparazzi – a lifestyle marked by infidelity and shame, and died with her lover at that time. Her husband was no better, and the two of them marked the royal house with perfidy.

Mother Teresa had the sort of "Jesus experience" to which Christians rarely give much attention. Even though she had given her life – literally – to the cause of helping the vulnerable, she sometimes – if not most of the time – did not feel the intimate kind of "presence of God" that preachers often describe as absolutely essential. The fact is, however, that Jesus, a hunted man in his own country, during the night before his ultimate sacrifice prayed fervently to be delivered from the awful death he knew he was facing. God's answer was "no." The next day, on the cross shortly before his last breath, he uttered the words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?".

The apostle Paul knew the feeling and described it in II Corinthians 12, explaining that he had a problem he called a "thorn in my flesh" (most likely a physical problem) and entreated the Lord three times to remove it. God's answer was "no" each time, with the promise that his grace would be "sufficient" for Paul, his power being made perfect in Paul's weakness. In other words, as people watched Paul do God's work despite the difficulty caused by his "thorn," they would see what faith could mean.

On second thought, perhaps Father Kolodiejchuk, as well as the church, were right in preserving an account of what it takes to do what is known to be right, whether or not there is personal happiness in the process. Mother Teresa felt abandoned, just as did Jesus, and she craved to know God loved her as she loved him, like Paul in asking just for a bit of healing, but God perhaps decided that the focus on the task at hand would be sharper if the followers were less joyous or appreciated and thus more determined because of having to fight off the disappointment (and maybe better understanding that of others), to do the job.