There once lived a little old nun with disfigured feet and wrinkled leathery skin. She possessed nothing save her habit and her ability to love. Her home was in the streets with the forgotten, in the arms of the neglected, and at the bed-side of the dying. She devoted her entire life to the service of the poor, sick, ugly, and unwanted. Society’s outcasts she called her friends. She loved those who hated her in return. And as a result of all her efforts and extraordinary acts of love not a moment of solace or happiness was to be had or felt. On this earth the little old nun never experienced any satisfaction derived from her acts of love. For all the suffering which she accepted in order to aid the people of the streets, it seemed the nun was never given a moment’s relief. The people of the world she lived in would ask themselves: why did she submit herself to such deprivation? What deity could possibly be worth such humiliating servitude? Yet, those same people were grateful for her good works: at least someone in this forsaken world loved as she loved. They thought this even though they did not understand why her love was so different from theirs.
The little old nun, better known as Mother Teresa, was a heroic figure of the 21st century. Her actions were noble and her efforts sincere. She loved not so as to attain social status, wealth, or even happiness. She loved for the sake of Love. Her life was an example of complete service: service to the poor, service in the midst of humiliation, loneliness, and suffering, and service to God. Few would ask for a similar lifestyle and even fewer would deem it better to let beggars starve. Would I be writing about Mother Teresa now if her acts of charity were merely the actions of a humanitarian? We esteem the good works of Mother Teresa because her examples of morality, love, and virtue contained supernatural splendor, true beauty, and sublimity. There is an indescribable depth to her actions which distinguish them from the average humanitarian. Mother Teresa gave us an example of someone who had nothing but gave everything.
Something has to be said for this distinction between the Christian moralist such as Mother Teresa and the natural moralist such as a humanitarian. It seems that although the humanitarian possesses real moral values and can perform many noble and heroic deeds, his virtues lack the splendor, the transfigured sublimity, the breathtaking grandeur of Christian virtues. Dietrich von Hildebrand would claim that what the natural moralist’s virtues lack is humility. When speaking of humility, Hildebrand does not mean mere modesty or the absence of vanity, ambition, or pride. But true humility, the spirit that we find in Mother Teresa, embraces humiliations (pg. 163. Morality and Situation Ethics). The same humility that Christians believe is perfectly expressed when the Son of God accepted death even death on a cross.
I believe Hildebrand was right in saying that there is a clear difference between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus Christ. There is a presence of humility found in the saints and an absence of it in the philosophers. There is a complexing element and a dynamic mystery found in the humility of Christian morality which is not the result of reasoning. Although many philosophers have possessed great virtues, there are virtues such as purity and meekness which are impossible to fully understand outside the Christian realm. Thus the philosopher fails to explain the words of Christ: “Qui se humiliat, exaltabitur.” (He who humbles himself shall be exalted).
Think of the loss it would have been not to have seen the witness of Mother Teresa. Even the natural moralist Socrates would agree that the virtues of the Christian make this world a better place. The sublime beauty of Christian virtues shine brightly in the darkness.
Sources: Dietrich von Hildebrand, Morality and Situation Ethics (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1966) pg. 163.