By: Mariann Hughes
Communications Associate, Office of Communications
We’ve seen it happen many times, and it happens more than it should.
A charismatic speaker with an engaging personality and a message ringing with Catholic truth rallies throngs of supporters behind him and the teachings of the Church. And rightly so, for what is more engaging and attractive than the ultimate Truth, Jesus Christ?
But then, usually out of nowhere, something goes sour. Maybe a scandal breaks out or accusations surface involving this leader. People following the issue tend to break into camps: “Pro-Great Guy” and “Anti-Great Guy.” The “sides” are pitted against each other, newspapers and blogs explode with opinions and rebuttals, half-truths are spread. And while the tensions heat up, most of us throw our hands in the air and desperately wonder, “What really happened? Will anyone ever know?”
The unsatisfactory answer is: Sometimes we may discover the answer. Many high-profile figures in the Church have been proven either innocent or guilty of unjust accusations leveled against them. Other cases may be shrouded in mystery and confusion and could take years to sift through to the bottom. Like it or not, we will not always know everything.
But, regardless, there’s a lesson to be learned. When we want to throw our hands up in despair and lose our inner peace, we must ask ourselves: At the end of the day, who do I want to emulate or follow? Saint or celebrity?
I know that I myself have been guilty of Catholic “hero-worship” (I use the word “worship” here tongue-in-cheek). Working in the communications world makes me anxious to find courageous souls who use their talents to spread the Gospel attractively, efficiently, and effectively. We type-A people do not like to waste time or energy, and we love it when we find people who are passionate, and sound polished on the radio or look good in front of a camera! In fact, even the Holy Father has called upon us communicators to use technological tools such as internet, social media and increased performance in the digital realm to the betterment of the Kingdom. But balancing that call and sanctity (as with any walk in life!) is not as easy as it sounds, thanks to that little thing we call “pride.”
Many in the Church media world will admit that it is a challenge to balance the call to holiness with our desire to reach people through the bright lights of the media. Talk about two worlds clashing! In trying to polish up the message with glossy externals to reach a world hardened by sin, we cannot forget that in the end it is the message that really counts – not the sacred soundtrack, the awesomely designed website homepage, the soul-stirring voiceover, the trendy clothing of the deliverer, the outward signs of Christian piety or the good feelings we have when we agree with something someone says.
It comes down to, rather, the truth.
Sure, a celebrity (Catholic or not) may speak the truth. And if he does, praise God. But it’s not the style, the words, the voice, or the manner that makes a teaching true. The honor due to a message should all circle back to its intrinsic truth, back to the Church and Her teachings of the Gospel. The cult following of a celebrity is an American tradition, not a Catholic one.
Is it possible to be both saintly and a celebrity? I maintain that it is. Fulton Sheen was a Catholic television star in the 1950s, and his cause has been opened for sainthood. But there is that delicate balance to maintain, and we must be careful, if we are in the media field, to look closely at what qualities befit a saint, and what the tendencies of the typical American celebrity are.
A saint is obedient to those he vows to obey. A celebrity follows his own whims. A saint is humble. A celebrity is self-seeking. A saint is meek. A celebrity becomes defiant when pressed. Saints never face an easy road … does dying to self ever look like the easy way? A saint loves the Church as Christ loves Her, and lays his life down for Her. Like Christ, he is humbly crucified on the Cross he has been forced to carry, paradoxically, of his own free will. A celebrity markets himself and never permits any slander or injustice to go unresolved, since his image is his highest asset. A saint points us to follow Christ; a celebrity points us to follow himself.
No one will ever reach the perfection of Christ, but it is He we should emulate and His Church we should lay our lives down for. We cannot set a messenger on a pedestal higher than the King who speaks the message. No matter how good the message, no matter how sweet it sounds to our ears, if it is delivered in opposition to the Church, it is only a half-truth, which is just as worthless as a half-lie.
Those who serve the Church providing a media presence in the world need our fervent prayers. The temptations are many and the media world can be a dark one. St. Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us!