Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Celebrity Culture


Today we have seen the canonization of Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  I suppose it is no surprise that Saint Teresa continues to divide opinion when the one she most tried to imitate – Christ – from the very beginning of his ministry divided opinion also.  I must confess Saint Teresa is not someone I know anything more about than anyone else I know; I have come to know saints such as Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Therese of Lisieux better.  Though over the years I have found myself listening to the words of Mother Teresa and am always struck by the time in which she experienced times of spiritual dryness, darkness and loneliness.  There will be some of her fiercest critics who will say that because of these reasons she should not be considered a Saint in the modern Church.  Yet if we look at history and all the Saints we ask the intercession of we see that they were just that: flawed, imperfect souls who wanted to imitate Christ and let their lives reflect his love.  They are more than just mere celebrities who are held up almost as idols.

I was struck recently by an article which outlined how our children and young people today need to hear the testimony of celebrities in relation to their faith.  Whether that be at a local level (eg: Mickey Harte) or an international one (eg: Justin Bieber). I wouldn’t dare attempt to draw a parallel between Mickey and Justin however it’s something which never ceases to attract attention: what do celebrities have to say in regard to their faith?

It’s something I have been guilty of many times myself.  I always look forward to the latest series of I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here, I’m amazed when I see a celebrity figure following me on Twitter (whether it be Eamonn Holmes or Frances Black) and my interest is peaked when I hear a celebrity speaking about their faith (Tulisa Contostavlos is of particular note for me).  The world watched in awe when Leonardo DiCaprio met with Pope Francis and every year there is interest in who mentions God in their Academy Award acceptance speech…Matthew McConaughey I’m looking at you!  Whether we like it or not, celebrity culture is all around us.

Back in 2010 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke to a group of schoolchildren.  In his comments he said a number of things on the matter:

“We live in a celebrity culture and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment… Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own it is not enough to make us happy…Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God.” 

Our children’s childhoods really are getting shorter.  The modern world is asking them to grow up quicker and take on responsibilities more readily.  When our children see the antics of Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus (who are both on their own faith journey, granted) it does have a serious impact on them.  I’m not suggesting we don’t allow children to be exposed to the lives of these people; to do so would be akin to King Canute ordering the tide to come no further.  In reality these stars are no more stars than any of us are.  The true reality is that each and every one of us has been made in the image and likeness of God and this is really worth celebrating.

wpid-unbreakableA few years ago there was a fantastic movie released called Unbreakable by the director M Night Shyamalan.  This film is about a security guard whose life is falling apart. His marriage is about to end, and he’s looking for a new job, so that he can move away.  Essentially he is struggling to find his place in the world. He wakes up everyday feeling sad. As the sole survivor of a catastrophic train accident, he begins to realize that he is now “unbreakable”; a bit of a modern superhero.  Egged on by his geeky, comic-book-infatuated friend, he learns to hone his abilities and saves a family from a deranged killer. The next day, he and his wife are sitting at the kitchen table over breakfast, seeing each other.  This is more than just looking at someone, but to actually see them is to know them so intimately, so profoundly.  The sadness is gone and he is at peace.

I loved this movie, because the journey it represents is true for all of us.  This plot device of a hero struggling to understand their identity and role is in every great film and book.  In The Matrix Neo doesn’t believe that he is “The One” despite Morpheus’ absolute certainty of it. Harry Potter is initially a pretty useless wizard and an insecure boy.  Even in our faith we see Moses telling God that he feels too weak to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt.

We struggle to find our place, to do the thing that we were put on this earth to do.  It begins with love of God, trusting Him and understanding who you are.  For whatever reason, few of us have found the path in which God dreamed we would walk.  The journey to our life’s work is a long and arduous one, but the most important pilgrimage of our lives. There are all sorts of twists and turns and calamities awaiting us. That is why many choose to not even begin. It may mean quitting your comfortable job or facing a certain fear. It’s scary. But the alternative is even scarier.

As Elijah Price (from Unbreakable) said, “You know what the scariest thing is; to not know your place in this world. To not know why you’re here… That’s… That’s just an awful feeling.”

Celebrity status comes and goes.  The Justin Biebers of the world will come and go.  God on the other hand will never come to an end.  His love for each of us will never come to an end.  I invite you to consider for a moment where you are right now.  Your family, friends, teachers and every single person you have ever met has been instrumental in shaping the person you are today.  As you go out into the world you will meet many challenges.  The world will want a lot of you, but what you need to keep your eyes peeled for is what the world needs of you.  God desires something wonderful of you.  You belong.  Find the place in this world where you belong.

Perhaps what we need in the world right now is less celebrity and more Saintly.  Saint Teresa of Calcutta please pray for us…



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