Can we can we please stop turning priests and evangelists into celebrities?
Why do so many Catholics seem to care more about the messenger than the message? Why do they put these messengers on so high a pedestal they’re bound to fall?
Why do we turn a servant of the gospel into a rock star, asking him for autographs, jostling for a photo with him, trying to touch his cloak . . .
I was talking to a friend recently about this problem. He knows whereof he speaks, because he is well known, has a prominent outlet for his views, and gets paid to express them—all the makings of celebrity. Happily, a good priest took him under his wing and warned him of the dangers of celebrity, warnings he took to heart—not least because the priest himself is well-known, has a prominent outlet for his views, and gets paid to express them. But he has not succumbed to the allure of celebrity.
He has not succumbed because he has developed things to keep him grounded. He has a family who wouldn’t hesitate to knock him down a peg or two if necessary. He has friends who love him for who he is and not because his celebrity makes them feel important. He prays and fasts and has been given more than his share of physical suffering. But most of all, he shuns all the trappings of celebrity and refuses to believe his own press.
But many who are not so well-grounded have been catapulted into celebrity. And some who start out well-grounded can be uprooted by the headiness of it all. Celebrity is like power; it isolates and corrupts. A celebrity attracts groupies and flatterers who, if he allows it, will gradually form a bubble of affirmation around him so that he only ever hears how wonderful he is. He is never challenged or contradicted, and he is constantly puffed up. He is like the frog thrown into a pot of cold water: He doesn’t realize it’s started to boil until it’s too late.
When he falls—as we have sadly observed more than once recently—his groupies and flatterers will split into two acrimonious factions. One side will defend him to the death and anathematize any who dare question his sanctity. The other will, with a sickening schadenfreude, say they knew all along he was a big fat fake and that his defenders are pathetic dupes.
Can we agree to say no to pushing another mortal down that path of ruination? Can we agree to forego the autograph and photo op and pray for him instead?