Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Catholics and Fame

This blog post most likely won't win me any popularity awards. But I've been observing something over the past four years that has puzzled me and I finally decided to write about it.

I remember when I used to attend non-denominational Christian conferences and met all the various people who had "ministries." Because I had a position of influence within a global ministry, I was often handed their business cards, subtly and at times overtly, being asked if there was any need for their ministry.

I worked within a ministry school, and for many of the students, the pinnacle of "success" was to have one's own ministry, traveling across the country to preach at a church and then dashing off to speak at some large Christian conference. It all left a bad taste in my mouth. Somehow, I suspected that this was not what Jesus had in mind when He said to go out into all the world and preach the gospel.

With the eager conference attendees who were promoting their ministries, there simply seemed to be too much ego involved. It was all about them. The ministries often featured their name, along with some type of Christian imagery like a lion, a flame of fire, or a dove. "Empowering" was a popular description.

Even when I was heavily involved with those non-denominational churches, I would frequently think back to my "Catholic days" and remember how low-key Catholics usually were when it came to serving others. There weren't obvious "ministries" because most Catholics just shouldered whatever service came their way without much fanfare. The work just needed to be done and they did it. Case closed.

Fast forward to today and my goodness, how things have changed.

I know the Internet has played a major part in this change. On one hand, I am thrilled to see Catholics involved with online Bible study and catechesis. But the dark side of the Internet is that it has elevated the desire of some to be famous. "Elevated" may still not be the word I'm searching for, but I do know that I've seen more Catholics online over the past few years seek recognition and fame. And to what purpose? Are we really reaching out to the lost with such pursuits? Or is it all an ego-stroke-fest that proves how clever we are?

I haven't spoken of this before because I know my words could be construed as an unfair judgement. After all, don't I have this blog and am I not enjoying the same exposure as the Catholics who seem bent on getting a book deal? Fair enough. I am, but will add a caveat: I have deliberately chosen not to pursue recognition. I had several occasions over the past three years where I met famous and influential Catholics. These were people who have a presence in the media. Although it was at first tempting to leverage those connections, something held me back.

Granted, at the time I yearned to share my story so other lapsed Catholics would consider returning home. But since I had already seen the "other side" of getting a wider audience to hear my message, I was convinced. That path may be for others but it is not for me.

I don't say such things lightly. In fact, this may be one of the most honest "confessions" I've shared. It is really tempting to spout out thoughts and ideas, to have people agree with you, and then start to follow you. It is tempting to encourage such admiration, turning it into a validation of my worth instead of looking to my heavenly Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit for how much I am loved.

It is tempting to think that just because I have a large following (which I really don't, but for argument's sake, let's say I had thousands and thousands...), then I'm right about everything I say.

Tempting, but wrong, and oh so dangerous for my soul.

When I returned to the Catholic Church, one website totally blew me away. It is Audio Sancto. I've mentioned it before, but will again restate my first impression of this beautiful website. I was shocked that such solid, delicious, "meat" was being served up online for FREE and without attribution.

If you've never been a member of a Protestant church, you have no idea how radical that is.

Any preacher or teacher worth their salt in a Protestant church would have been slapping a label on a CD containing such teachings and selling them as a boxed set in a New York minute. They would not be free. Some churches today are now charging "membership fees" for a person to listen to an audio interview or watch it on video.

This is completely shameful to me and reflects very poorly on the Church.

We are not to profit from the Gospel's message. It should never be seen as a way to make a living. (Except those whose vocation is Holy Orders.) Even St. Paul was a tent-maker and when he received money, it happened because he had let others know of his needs and the Church responded with love and generosity. He never sold his letters to others or any type of miracle. To do so would be to relegate our sacred beliefs to nothing more than an infomercial.

This steals the life from the transformative message of the Gospel. And speaking of life, there have been contentious debates from some Catholic blogs that have drained the life from the Church. Seeds of disunity have been sown and at a time when we cannot afford such division.

I feel like I have to add another caveat of "no I'm not perfect." It is rather silly to think that every time a brother or sister observes something in the Church that concerns them, they're immediately taken to task by some self-appointed holier-than-thou sort who tells them to sit down and shut up. Don't be judgmental. Take out the log in your own eye. How dare you speak out?

Well, I do dare. I have asked God for His grace more times than I can count. But I also realize that we need to be careful when it comes to jumping on the "fame" bandwagon. Getting contracts, our own book, or a TV or radio show may be a great thing if approached with humility and an attitude of service.

But when such developments cause one to become more egotistical, more contentious, and more divisive, it is time to step back and ask a hard question. Whom do you serve?

Asked and answered honestly might be the best thing we've ever done with our lives.

(P.S. The fact that I've not finished the book I intended to write for lapsed Catholics is a direct result of my inner conflict regarding this topic.)