Wednesday, August 21, 2013

From Servants to Celebrities: A growing phenomenon in the Church

Fred A. Allen, a radio comedian who was popular in the 1940’s, once said, “A celebrity is a person who works hard all of their life to become well known, and then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.” In other words, fame is not all what it seems to be. There is a price to pay for being well known. Nevertheless, it is coveted by many. The night of the Oscars, for instance, with the red carpet and adoring fans, can make the life of a celebrity look rather attractive. And why not? Being adulated and accommodated by admirers has its perks.

Unfortunately, Catholics are not immune from coveting the kind of accommodations Hollywood stars enjoy. We have many gifted speakers, writers and musicians within the Church who set out to be servants of Christ but who, nevertheless, behave like celebrities. Instead of setting out to wash people’s feet like our Lord demonstrated, too often, some of these gifted Catholics come to parishes wanting their feet to be washed. Oh yes. They have a list of demands to be met. They, like the Hollywood celebrity, want to be accommodated.

If you are a diocesan or parish event-organizer you may know what I am referring to. Increasingly, I am hearing more stories from people who work for the Church. They tell me that high profile Catholic speakers and musicians go beyond requiring the essentials; that is, the means necessary to carry out their ministry. The funny thing is that these Catholics- many of them well known –profess to follow Christ and hold up the Saints as models to imitate.

For some reason, however, when their God-given gifts and talents are sought after by Catholic communities, something happens. Something gets lost. And that something is the instructions our Lord gave to his disciples. For instance, he said, “Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you…” (Lk 10:8) Elsewhere, he had this to say: “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.” As you can see, Jesus requires of his followers a simplicity and detachment from material things. Why? So we can avail ourselves to more effectively serve souls.

Now, many Catholics who are gifted speakers, writers and musicians start off with the intention of being servants. But when they become well known, some turn into celebrities. Instead of wearing sun glasses so as not to be noticed, the Catholic celebrity develops a long list of demands; not of essentials but of luxuries.

One musician from Canada came to a parish in America to share her musical talents. Before the event, she sent word to the parish leaders that she was “hyper-carbohydrate intolerant.” No, she wasn’t allergic to any foods. She just wanted a Jenny Craig-like entrée because she wanted to watch her weight.

Another high profile Catholic author and speaker demands a specific kind of purified water in addition to other non-essentials. And yet, another one insists on having a certain kind of granola bar. As for one musician I recently heard about, he will not play for any event unless the host has the newest top-notch keyboard.

Probably what is of high symbolic value of why Church is struggling the way it is with Mass attendance decline etc., has a lot to do with the hotel accommodations our leaders enjoy when they travel on their missions; hotel accommodations that the average person would be hard-pressed to afford. This suggests that many of our leaders- both clergy and laity –have either lost their way or are missing the point. I could be overstating this, but what has happened to many of them is that they turned a vocation of service into a position of privilege.

This, it should be emphasized, is a radical departure from what Christ and the Saints have taught us. The great spiritual classic by Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, tells us that they endured hardships and persecutions. And yet it was through these trials that souls were saved. In it, Kempis wrote the following:

“Saints and friends of Christ, they served our Lord in hunger and in thirst, in cold, in nakedness, in labor and in weariness, in watching, in fasting, prayers and holy meditations, and in frequent persecutions and reproaches. Oh, how many grievous tribulations did the Apostles suffer and the Martyrs and Confessors and Virgins, and all the rest who resolved to follow the steps of Christ!”

Several centuries later, our Lord confirmed the spiritual value of sacrifice and suffering to St. Faustina by saying, “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.” Yet, how is this truth being observed when our Catholic celebrities practically demand a manicure from the parishes and dioceses they are supposed to serve?

If suffering is an instrument through which conversion is brought about, then they better learn how to start washing feet again.