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Spirituality: Saints and Celebrities

January 30, 2012


It’s Awards Season, folks, and if you’re anything like Kerry Trotter, it’s leaving you wanting for some genuine inspiration. And the award for Most Overdone Gripe with the Culture of Celebrity goes to… read on.

The champagne cork was popped, the red carpet looks were assessed, and my husband and I had our evening cleared. The Golden Globe Awards were on, and we were standing an excited vigil.

Quick cut to 30 minutes from its start, with my husband’s nose in Twitter and my fed-up hands in a sink full of dishes, blowing raspberries from the kitchen where I could just barely hear the litany of tired, insincere acceptance speeches. “Booo!” I intoned during shaky-voiced thank yous to the Hollywood Foreign Press. “Oh, come ON!” I’d howl when winners scoffed at the canned orchestral music swelling to cue their brevity. “For shame!” I’d bellow during feigned shock at winning (seriously, Meryl? You didn’t see that coming?).

And now the Oscar nominations have been announced. It’s upon us again, folks, Awards (Malaise) Season.

As I age, I find this happening with more frequency—lots of build-up for the Hollywood Deference Parade followed by weapons-grade disappointment. The sentiments of “Yay! Pretty dresses! Beautiful people! The arts!” quickly devolve into wishing them all an afternoon spent at a Kolkata orphanage, or more humbling in their world, an afternoon spent waiting for a table at a restaurant.

Now, this all sounds awfully jerky and curmudgeonly, especially since I’m about as superficial as they come (and because receiving a Golden Globe to, say, an up-and-coming actor or director is a very cool thing), but I walked away from the awards show feeling genuinely sorry for many of the A-Listers present. Is this it? The end-all, be-all of their already award-laden existence? A “Not Oscar”? 

To reiterate, if I won an award for, as an example, washing dishes while castigating celebrities, I’d be blubbering so hard I’d need supplemental oxygen. No judgment on the emotional toll the element surprise takes coming from me (ever been the recipient of a surprise party and burst into spontaneous tears? Then you know what I’m saying). In addition, I am in no way diminishing the winners’ sizable God-given talents and dogged determination, as making a movie or television series looks like it would be a real pain in the neck. So hats off to them.

But it’s the culture of one arriving, one “becoming someone” when one gets an award, as though this is the ultimate fraternity to pledge, that gets me. The “we win therefore we are” bastardized Cartesianism. The thanks to God, AKA Harvey Weinstein. 

Blech. And worse, it’s “blech” like that year after year.

While I was whining about the runaway train that is the cult of Hollywood celebrity (now there’s a new rant), Father Steve mentioned Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who will be canonized later this year, the first American Indian to achieve sainthood.

“The culture of celebrity is the exact opposite of that of a saint,” he explained. “A saint’s life is a self-gift. For a celebrity, when you do things you get things.”

Hmm, I thought. That’s a lot more interesting than reading me complain about the Golden Globes. 

Kateri Tekakwitha, the 17th century daughter of a Mohawk chief in upstate New York, lost her family and nearly all of her eyesight to the ravages of small pox. She found Christianity at a time and a place when it was extremely unpopular to do so. “Mortification of the flesh” became the way in which she experienced the suffering of Christ, piercing her skin until it bled, and lying on beds of thorns. Fearing persecution, she fled to Canada where she cared for the elderly and sick until her death at age 24. It is said that the disfiguring small pox scars on her face disappeared before her death, a miracle that triggered similar effects in others. 

Boy, that would make a good movie, I thought after reading up on her, still missing the point. 

But here’s a woman who had so much taken from her, so many reasons to be angry, and yet she gave. Wholly. Faithfully. Asking nothing in return.

If you’re anything like me, you might find the saints and the “blessed” to be incredibly intimidating. That level of love and self-gift is a little too untouchable for the likes of vain, judgmental, fond-of-indoor-plumbing me. What’s the point? I’m as far from that as they come, so why even bother? It’s like flubbing your lines in the school play and thinking, “I’ll never be Tom Hanks.”

That’s the spirit, right?

We’re surprised and, for whatever reason, relieved when we hear that a celebrity is actually a nice person in “real life.” The default emotion is disappointment with those we lionize. A pedestal is a precarious perch for anyone. The center of gravity is too high. The moment we realize how lofty we are, we look down, panic sets in, and we topple. 

But there’s a reason saints don’t fall. Their feet never lifted off the ground, their backs never raised far from the bed of thorns. They’re eyes were always skyward, God-ward, never down at their feet or fixated at how high they had gotten. They died as “unknowns” and only later (in Kateri Tekakwitha’s case, much later) do we begin to feel the tremors of their core-rattling love.

And then we can begin to follow suit, however small the steps, in however big the shoes. 

But we do try. And there’s rarely an audience. 

Thinking back on the night of the Golden Globes, I remembered the speeches. I’d like to thank my agent, my publicist, my movie’s producers, my this, my that—all those people who contributed to me getting this, more. (Michelle Williams’s sweet speech about her daughter was one of the few exceptions). Kateri Tekakwitha, during her brief performance here on earth, thanked God, thanked Jesus, for her life full of death and sorrow and pain and scarring that all somehow led to her joy, a joy she turned around and gifted to others. The less fortunate? Who could be less fortunate than her? 

Who could be more fortunate than her? Her award goes a very long way.