No, I don’t mean people who were secular celebrities for whatever gift or notoriety, and who then became devoted Catholic Christians. I mean people, typically converts to the Faith with especially dramatic or radical conversion stories, who then became celebrated authors, speakers, and teachers. They became celebrities after conversion because of their speaking and writing abilities.
This is not unique to the Catholic Faith, of course. The Protestant world as well has their share of “successful” TV evangelists, who accumulate many followers, fans, supporters and donations. There is a lot of money to be collected from the faithful – and modernity makes it easier. I remember hearing one TV evangelist exhort the audience, “Plant a seed on your plastic today!” No, not in contradiction to biology 101 – but in convenience 101: “Use credit cards, it’s easy!”
There is an unnecessary tragedy when they fall. Yes it is a personal tragedy for them, but it is unnecessarily tragic for their followers, because these “stars” became something beyond God’s provision for His people. Such quasi-idolatrous “celebrity” is no gift of the Holy Spirit. Stars, heroes, celebrities – the whole concept seems radically non-Christian to me. Christians in general and Catholics included, unfortunately for us all, can succumb to a kind of idolatry of heroes. Catholics, unfortunately for us all, can seek inspiration of the “inexpensive” kind – the kind that passes as quickly as it came, the kind that does not threaten one’s life or life-style, the kind of inspiration that someone else has. The “celebrity saint” is booked many months in advance, in very large halls, with guaranteed funding, and all to the delight of his ardent fan base. They, filling the halls, sit in the audience. He, on tour, on stage, delivers his performance and everyone is happy.
Is Christ happy? Are disciples being made? Are persons being transformed into Christ? Are they growing mature in the Faith? Are they themselves becoming evangelizers as they support the professional evangelists? Or is all this theater a too-convenient way of avoiding the personal responsibility that comes with the grace of the Cross of Christ?
Mother Teresa knew sanctity in her profound humility. She did not seek the spotlight; she endured it for the sake of Christ and His mission. Attributed to her are these two comments on the matter:
Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent. If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are. If you are blamed you will not be discouraged. If they call you a saint you will not put yourself on a pedestal.
We must have a real living determination to reach holiness. ‘I will be a saint’ means I will despoil myself of all that is not God; I will strip my heart of all created things; I will live in poverty and detachment; I will renounce my will, my inclinations, my whims and fancies, and make myself a willing slave to the will of God.
Jesus came to give us something more than a crafted “inspirational” talk. He came to “in-spirate” us – that is, to pour forth the Spirit into our hearts and lives. He came to call us out of the audience, out of the safety of being a mere spectator, out of avoiding living by instead vicariously substituting the stage-lives of the stars, the heroes, the celebrities.
We are to be inspired by the Holy Spirit. We are to live lives of heroic virtue and faith. We are called to be perfect – that is, mature in the life to which God has called us, and for which He has enabled us. If the celebrity teachers are really doing what they are supposed to be doing, then they are working themselves out of a job – they are to point us to Jesus, they are to enable us to encounter Him personally, and to strengthen us to remain in Him.
And in Him, we will not long remain in the audience. The Church is sent to evangelize. How long will it take us to “learn” enough actually to do it?