Many Americans, among millions of Catholics and non-Catholics throughout the world, are thrilled at the approach of this Sunday’s Beatification ceremony of Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in Rome. Now that all the royal hype on the anticipated royal marriage has established the British monarchy well in to the future with the marriage of Prince William and his Bride Kate Middleton, I was struck by way of strange contrast from 1997 and today. Mere coincidence or something more?
With today’s royal “show,” coming two days before this Sunday’s ceremony at St. Peter’s, the world remembers the tragic death of the beloved Princess Diana in 1997. Later in that week, the much admired, but hardly a fashion beauty, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India also died. While the funeral of Princess Diana was broadcast throughout the world, the funeral of Mother Teresa, now among the Church’s Blessed, almost had barely a mention one week later.
Rather than being surrounded by the richest of the rich, Mother Teresa was immersed among the poorest of the poor. Yet, only through moral persuasion did one of the major networks agree to televise her funeral from India. I believe it was NBC. There were no trappings in gold carriages, no anticipation on the bride’s dress, no kiss from the balcony but something far more meaningful that will impact the world. While good wishes go to Prince William and his wife as to any newly married couple, I think the events of 1997 and today present some opportunity for reflection.
The contrast between the British royal family, Mother Teresa and now Pope John Paul II could not be more distinct and we see it once again. Was God sending the world a message in 1997 about the question of true beauty, integrity, and holiness and might he this weekend be sending us that same message again? What is true beauty? What are true riches? Who really matters and is the world listening?
The royal wedding is a great pageant of color and fairy tale splendor. A wonderful show of dreams and harmless fun. Princess Diana’s funeral was tragic and sad but contained the same pomp for a near “sainted” (?) woman. But, the royal family has no real power and remains essentially a figurehead, a line of British history. However, like the papacy itself, they too have their virtues and their faults.
But, is it mere coincidence that twice the British family members, in 1997 and today, surrounded by the most opulent wealth and a fairy tale existence (are we envious?) have found themselves up against two towering figures on the Catholic and world stage? Near icons whose legacy will last for centuries to come and whose heroic Christian lives challenge the false assumptions of value based on physical beauty, material wealth, and the stifling weight of obscene opulence?
With all this in mind the Catholic Church will formerly recognize one of the great religious figures of the 20th century; a man whose legacy has yet to be fully grasped. The formal Beatification of an individual by the Catholic Church is near the last step, after an exhaustive study, towards Canonization in recognition of that person as “Saint.” There is no specific timeline for this procedure and it can take hundreds of years or much less.
I believe we may be witnessing somewhat of a gentle reminder. With all the interest and millions of dollars being spent on the royals will the same attention be given to this Sunday’s far more meaningful Beatification of Pope John Paul II? I think not and on a scale, William and Kate may win the day. However, which will stand the test of time? Which will bring society to value the more lasting virtues of holiness, truth, charity, compassion after the example of Christ?
Some thoughts as we focus on this Sunday. Princess Diana vs. Mother Teresa – Prince William and Princess Kate vs. Pope John Paul II. Royal diversion or a Divine comparison?