October 24, 2010


I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity. – Luke 18: 11

The Pharisee in today’s Gospel sounds like a variation on the self-centered rich man who never even saw Lazarus begging at his door. He is so distracted with himself that he is blinded to the presence & needs of the larger world.

An author by the name of Jake Halpern has written an interesting book entitled Fame Junkies on why Americans are obsessed with celebrities & the troubling & political ramifications of this obsession. His book demonstrates what we all know from everyday experience, namely, that the TV networks spend far too much time covering the lives of Hollywood celebrities instead of reporting the hard, significant & challenging news.

CNN asked Halpern to appear on TV to discuss his book. But when Halpern arrived at the studio, he learned that his segment had been cancelled. Why? Here’s the reply from CNN: “Why didn’t you hear? Britney Spears just lost custody of her kids & we’re running that instead!” Ironically, his important story got bumped to make room for the frivolous. It only proved his point.

The truth is that from time immemorial stories about the rich & famous have irresistibly drawn us. We have a built-in interest in celebrities & will always want to know if Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie have really split. This adoration is part of us, but the hidden message of our gospel warns that it shouldn’t take over our lives.

The spiritual damage arising from this addictive fascination is that we are diminished as human beings, as thoughtful people, as citizens & as Christians. The shallow & frivolous will fill our minds & hearts, dim our moral vision, dull our consciences, & (as one commentator put it) we end up “entertaining ourselves to death” – spiritual death. If its all “infotainment” as it’s accurately called these days, we have no time for serious reflection. That leaves us all poorer as a nation & as a church. How can we hear the cry of the poor when celebrities are crowding the screen? That’s the danger to anyone who wants to be a good citizen & live the Gospel.

Most of us are good & decent people but we have to be alert how every day we are seduced into wallowing in trivia at the expense of truth, in glitz at the expense of good, in celebrity at the expense of concern, & in passivity at the expense of justice.

There’s nothing wrong about being interested in celebrities, but only up to a point. Celebrity fixation, propagated by newsrooms, does us no service. The gospel’s subtle warning is that we will morph into the Pharisee whose mental & spiritual horizon’s do not exceed himself or his TV screen. And that, the gospel says, is too narrow a world for a disciple of Jesus, & we won’t go home justified if we live in that world. AMEN!