Simone Weil, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa resided in three distinct and different places not only in their physical being but in their specific concerns as well. At first glance these differences would appear to create a definitive rift in comparisons between the three but at a second glance, these differences become small and the overall message of each of their lives becomes nearly inseparable as one way of being that defines the secular saint.
According to Dr. Ambrosio, the secular saint is a person who lives the question of meaning fully while at the same time they are committed to searching for meaning along both the paths of hero and saint. It is common for the secular saint to work toward mastering their vision. In the case of Simone Weil, she not only lived but also died her life in search of meaning. She died of tuberculosis that was aggravated by lack of food. This lack of food was self imposed as she was avoiding food in an effort to show solidarity with her countrymen in Nazi occupied France. This act alone provides us with insight into what makes Simone Weil and how she defines the secular saint. As someone who is trying to live a life that is meaningful at least to themselves, to die by this meaning would be to fulfill the meaning in its entirety. Simone Weil, in her spiritual zeal, felt it was necessary to show solidarity with her countrymen as a way of finding meaning for herself. She had lived her short life in such a way that this death comes as little surprise. She had tried to identify with others through the course of her life, in other ways as well. She had taken a year off from teaching to live as a factory worker, a way to better understand the challenges of such a life. Through these examples from the life of Simone Weil, we can see how she did toe the line between the path of the saint and the path of the hero. Through her spirituality and love of humanity as a whole, she exemplified the life of the saint while her commitment to living her life out in such a way as to find herself at death’s door while in the midst of living out the meaning of her life, she exemplified the life of the hero.
Much of the same can be said for Martin Luther King as well. He died as a result of following and living out the life he believed was necessary in order to bring justice to African Americans during the civil rights movement. Mother Teresa, on the other hand, died a natural death without a direct correlation to the life of justice she required for herself and those around her, however, she did die in the midst of living out the example of the type of justice she fought for. It is, for both Martin Luther King as well as Mother Teresa, this idea of justice that resounds so deeply within the heart of the hero that it becomes obvious that both, despite their religious affiliations, were living the life of the hero. Yet, it is precisely because of their religious affiliations, with King being a reverend and Mother Teresa being a nun that the life of the saint for each of them is evident. Just as Simone Weil had done as well, they lived out their vision of life fully, to the end.
Mother Teresa ached for the recognition of the human being as well as the recognition of their suffering. Though one may not be able to alleviate said suffering, one must try to be respectful of the whole human person and at least acknowledge it. Martin Luther King believed that everyone deserved the same rights, despite the differences in skin color. Simone Weil believed that while people may not be able to alleviate all suffering, no harm should be done either. People should attempt, in Weil’s opinion, to alleviate any suffering they can, at any cost but if this cannot be done, one must at least live their life in a way that sees to it that all avoidable harm is, in fact, avoided. In these stances in their lives, there is an overwhelming sense of the justice they were each seeking while an obvious love of humanity is also evident. For Weil, it is in her sense of justice where we can see the life of the Greek citizen hero has been of particular influence on her; the way that she focuses her vision on all, not just some.
In this modern age, we have many examples of the secular saint. These examples are a backbone of our society that people may not always recognize or consciously see as a “secular saint” but they do exist as a model for many. Secular saints, whether real or imagined, such as in the movies are everywhere. Whether looking on the news and seeing Mother Teresa serving the poor so diligently or watching the main character George in the holiday movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, there are examples of people who are trying to live their life not only in the spiritual realm but also in the very human realm, trying to find for themselves as well as others, a life of meaning.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 30.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 31
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 32.
Ambrosio, F. Philosophy, Religion, and the Meaning of Life (The Great Courses Series). Lecture 33.