The Meaning of Greatness

In a single weekend, on both sides of the globe, billions mourned the death of two of the most famous women in the world—Princess Diana of Britain and Mother Teresa of India. There are similarities between the two women, of course; both are household names. But there is an important difference—a difference in the way the world has reacted. It is reported that one of the largest TV audiences in history-more than 2 billion viewers-watched Princess Diana’s funeral procession into Westminster on Saturday. Millions of mourners lined the streets. Since the world learned of Princess Diana’s death, there has been an outpouring of grief and publicity like nothing else I’ve seen since the assassination of John Kennedy in the 1960s. The car crash that took Diana’s life was a terrible tragedy, senseless and needless. The princess left behind two children and a great potential to do good, noble things with her fame. And yet the reverence—even worship—accorded her is nothing short of astounding. Why? Considered in the cold light of reason, Princess Diana engaged in humanitarian causes, but she did not accomplish great deeds. She didn’t found hospitals nor lead a nation in a noble cause. Essentially Diana was—not to be too harsh about it—famous for being famous. Sadly, millions of people live their lives through celebrities as they did through Princess Diana. This was the Cinderella story come to life. The slipper fits and the ordinary girl marries the prince. As it turned out, they did not live happily ever after. No matter, Diana became a glamorous icon anyway. The extensive media coverage of her life transported millions of people in their imagination to the glamorous lifestyle: yachts on the Mediterranean, jet-setting with the glitterati—always with Diana’s "Cinderella magic." By living in the fantasy world of the celebrity, ordinary people escape the ordinariness of their lives—the ordinariness of getting kids ready for school, getting dinner on the table, and getting to work on time. Fantasies and dreams can serve a good purpose, but viewing fairy tales as reality can be dangerous. God put us here to live each day precisely where we can do what He called us to do, and that constitutes the "good life"—with or without glamour. That’s what Mother Teresa understood. The contrast between her and Princess Diana can hardly be avoided. Mother Teresa was a woman who started with absolutely nothing except a vision from God, and with incredible perseverance and courage, she saved the lives of perhaps millions. No other person has done more in humanitarian causes in our century than this 90-pound Albanian nun. She did it selflessly, refusing the honors the world wished to shower upon her unless she could use them for God’s glory. I wonder if the timing of Mother Teresa’s death is no coincidence. The doctors said, after all, that she was supposed to have died a year ago. Maybe God kept her alive until just such a moment as this, her death following as it did a week of frenzied mourning over the fairy-tale celebrity princess. Perhaps it was God’s way of directing our attention to a real heroine-a heroine of faith and love.


Chuck Colson


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