Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Sanctity and Fame

With the feast-day of St. Teresa of Avila, I was doing some reading about her and I was somewhat surprised to discover how famous she was during her own lifetime. This got me thinking about the problem of sanctity and fame. I took a look at three Saints who reached celebrity status while they were still alive: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Bernadette. First of all, even in today's secular culture. St. Francis remains a pop-culture phenomena. His image reappears in garden statues, childrens' books, and even pet medals. His true power has been somewhat diminished by the influence of Franco Zeffirelli's misunderstood Brother Sun, Sister Moon, which caused many to reinterpret Francis as a medieval, flower-plucking hippie. In his time, Francis was a radical figure who inspired the laity and some in the clergy with his extreme forms of piety. He was so famous that he often escaped into the mountains in order find a semblance of peace. Here, on one occasion, he received the stigmata.
In her own right, Teresa of Avila stirred up an equal amount of admiration and hate. Her reforms of the Carmelite Order, and the distribution of her mystical writings, kept the eyes of the Spanish Inquisition always upon her. But she remained a faithful daughter of the Church. For she was always remarkably capable of staying above the fray. In one of the most bizarre encounters in History, Teresa caught the attention of the fame-hungry Princess of Eboli: the Baroque version of Paris Hilton. She was beautiful, rich, well-connected, and powerful. She envied Teresa's unattainable holy fame and tried to desperately glom onto her sanctity. When scandals plagued the Princess, she fell into disrepute, while Teresa went on unscathed.
Although Francis and Teresa, became famous on local and regional levels, particularly within the Catholic Church, the rise of the world-wide media made St. Bernadette into a global public figure. The photograph reproductions of her kneeling in the peasant cloths that she wore during the apparitions went everywhere. But unlike her famous predecessors, she retired young to the seclusion of a convent, rarely seen by the public after leaving Lourdes. And herein lies the secret to all three's ability to combat the corrosive and seductive lure of fame. At different times in their life, when the pressures and corruption of the world became too much, they retreated. But this was not a mark of defeat, they all knew that they needed the quiet of solitude in order to refresh their weary minds and bodies; and then once gain commune with the Lord.

In addition, none of them, unlike today's fake movie-stars and celebrities who constantly release their own home-made porn-films in order to get attention, endlessly tweet, and talk about nothing but their own personal desires, took themselves all that seriously. Francis, Teresa, and Bernadette were all well-known for their quick wit and often self-deprecating sense of humor. No one in the past 100 years more epitomized this disregard for fame and self-aggrandizement than Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa once said: “If I ever become a Saint — I surely be one of 'darkness.' I will continually be absent from Heaven — to light the light of those in darkness on earth.” (As quoted in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light [2007] by Brian Kolodiejchuk.) She always recognized Man's, and her own, fallen Nature. In fact, Mother Teresa, required from her Sisters, and still does, time in every day for Eucharistic adoration. The world never sucked her in. Her life was in complete contrast to that of the late Princess Diana, albeit they died within days of each other. Though she often railed against the world, in the end, Diana, like many of us, became weak and succumbed to it's evil.

1 comment:

  1. So much to learn from their examples. Their retreat from the calling given to them stands out the most to me. Too often, the need to refuel with our great God goes by until we are completely depleted. This time of solitude and being in His presence should never be taken for granted. Thanks Joe