Cardinal O’Malley on vocations and celebrity

Cardinal O’Malley on vocations and celebrity

Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston gave a talk on religious vocations yesterday in Boston’s Old State House in the financial district during lunch hour. It’s the first in a series of lunchtime talks sponsored by the Vocations Office.

Funny, how the Boston Globe story says he “did not refer directly to the archdiocese’s shortage of priests and of teachers from religious orders.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard it referred to that way. Are we suffering a shortage of “teachers from religious orders?” Is this a problem? I’m not saying that there’s no value in having nuns and brothers teach in Catholic schools, but that I’ve never heard anyone speak of the decline in their numbers as anything but a financial problem. (Obviously, lay teachers require higher salaries.)

One interesting note is that the cardinal has asked that a relic of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests, be brought to the archdiocese after its stop in New York next month.

O’Malley spoke sympathetically to his audience of office workers on the difficulty of experiencing God in daily life.

``In our American culture, we are so often focused on celebrities and entertainment,” he said. ``These celebrities are not always the best role models. Often they are materialistic, self-important, self-absorbed.”

Whether a person is in the laity or a member of a religious order, O’Malley said, ``our personal vocation and our common mission is to announce the good news [the Gospel ] and to serve those who are suffering, homeless, sick and imprisoned.”

I’ve written before about the cult of celebrity in American culture and how it has supplanted the rightful admiration of those who should be our role models: “A culture in which celebrities are held on the highest pedestals is not a healthy one and a cult of celebrity is a sign of a spiritual rot that we need to rid ourselves of.”

We think we deserve celebrity too

Leon Wieselter, writing in The New Republic, sums up the “polytheism of American celebrity culture” nicely:

With the exception of the cognitive habits of a Googling nation, nothing more disfigures personal authenticity in America than the veneration of celebrities. This is America’s polytheism. It teaches Americans to live vicariously, passively, alienated from the possibilities of their own lives, in slavish imitation of people luckier than themselves. (Celebrity is in almost all cases a matter of luck.) One of the nice things about crimes against humanity, if you will pardon the expression, is that they seemed to be beyond the reach of the fabulous people, too shatteringly true to be absorbed into such a system of illusion; but no more.

What’s happened is that because of this fascination with celebrity, many people are no longer satisfied to live normal lives. We think we’re entitled to “meaningful” lives, which most often means lives of fame and fortune. And with the advent of lotteries and reality TV, the disease is even worse because no longer do you even need to be able to act or sing. Some people act like there are at most a few hundred people in the world and their turn at the money and adulation fountain is coming up.

If that’s the case what use is sacrifice? Is it any wonder so many people abandon their vocations? A few years of changing diapers and waking up next to the same person suddenly leads some to wonder why they can’t be like the Hollywood actor or pop star or that winner of Survivor. Dissatisfaction and a longing for life they never had a chance at set in. Soon enough it’s divorce, or even laicization. What, don’t you think the same disease can afflict priests? Of course it can.

The midlife crisis is a crisis of self-centeredness and a desire for those things we think the world owes us and it affects the priest as much as it does the rest of us.

Why do you think we have a vocations crisis, not just in priests being ordained, but also in people being married and having kids? Why do you think so many adolescents extend their childhood into their twenties and thirties? Because they keep unrealistic hope of celebrity for themselves alive.

Perhaps we’re ignoring the real vocations problem after all. Perhaps what we need to recognize that it’s our celebrity worship as a culture that distracts us from good marriages and from hearing the call of the Lord to our vocations.

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  • I don’t understand what this has to do with what I wrote about? Are you insinuating that I picked up something from your blog without attributing it to you?

    Sorry, Mary Alexander, but I don’t read your blog so that would be impossible.

  • I wonder how much of this sin I engage in as well; my one, singular waking horror is the thought that I shall pass from this world unremembered—that outside of the occasional rememberance of my siblings, no one will ever know or care that I ever existed.  That is why I have decided to become a writer—-in the hope that there will be some rememberence of Dennis Mahon, that he had enough of an imact upon the world—that he mattered enough—to be remembered.

    And yet—and yet, your observation has now given me pause.  Is it not the sin of Vanity to seek such a thing?  To declare—even if only to oneself—that I am worthy of rememberence by the wolrd beyond my mortal years?  To equate myself with those who deserve such recognition—to King, Gaiman, or Wolfe—based solely on what I hope to accomplish, when I currently do not?  Do I not also seek celebrity for my own selfish ends?

    You have given me much to ponder.

    (And yes, in case you were wondering—I am drunk.  And listening to Bach; he does stir the soul so.)