Our diocese participates in a vocational prayer program that many other dioceses around the country have also adopted. It's called the Chalice Program, and the idea is simple:
What is the Chalice Program?There is a special prayer for vocations which accompanies this parish program. In our parish, the prayer for vocations reads as follows:
Many parishes throughout the diocese have implemented the Chalice Program to encourage families to pray for religious vocations. A chalice (or another symbol) is presented to a volunteer family at each weekend liturgy for the family to display in their home while offering prayers for vocations throughout the week. The family brings back the chalice the next weekend when they attend Mass, and the chalice is presented to another family.
Lord, guide all who are seeking You. May Your Spirit direct all who are called to a religious vocation and strengthen those who have committed themselves to priesthood or religious life. Inspire men and women to serve Your Church, and keep us all in Your grace. Amen.Yesterday our family received the chalice and took it home in its special box to place it in a place of prominence so we would remember to pray for vocations. That place is on top of the computer armoire where I am sitting right now as I write this; not only is it a central spot in our living room, but has the added advantage of being one of the handful of places Smidge, our auxiliary back-up cat, has not been able to reach by jumping or climbing.
I was thinking about our participation in this program as the story about Father Corapi broke this weekend. My reaction to the story has been much like that of Mark Shea: we don't really know what is going on, it's not our business to interfere in an investigation either by being outraged that the investigation is taking place, or by being outraged by the mere existence of accusations, and the proper response to the whole thing is simply prayer for all concerned. I myself have never heard Fr. Corapi speak, nor watched him on television, nor heard him on the radio, nor read any of his writings--I truly know nothing about him other than that he is very popular. That popularity, on the one hand, is producing some people who are heaping scorn and anger on his accuser and on those responsible for his suspension during this investigation (despite the fact that this is pretty much standard procedure even for lay people accused of harassment or some such thing, and thus not all that horrifying), and on the other, people who are pointing to his popularity and the trappings of fame as proof that there's probably something behind the charges.
Neither of those responses are valuable. If anything, though, they are both driven by our culture of celebrity, by our tendency, in America, to become fiercely partisan over our movie stars and sports figures and politicians, to defend hotly the ones we personally like or approve of and to rejoice in the downfall of the ones we don't like at all.
Translated to the Catholic sphere, we've become rather enamored of the idea of turning some of our religious figures into celebrities in their own rights. We like the idea of the famous priest, the monk we've seen on TV (and not the crime-solving fictional layman character, either), the nun whose order is known for its humble holiness so much so that it's become a sort of brand identity for the convent or order; we even like the idea of lay Catholic cult figures, the rock-stars of the pro-life community, the "in" crowd of the Catholic blogosphere, the Catholic homeschooling guru or the popular author of "keeping it real" vocation-of-motherhood books aimed at Catholic moms from the boardroom to the playground to the kitchen-table school.
We like fame, we Americans. We like celebrity. But the danger of insisting that our favorite Catholic figures be celebrities is that we end up trying to turn holiness into one of those "set-apart" things that we like about celebrities. It's the Catholic version of being able to get reservations at swanky restaurants at the last minute or being given bucketloads of free stuff in exchange for endorsements: holiness is seen as one of the "perks" of being a Catholic celebrity, a quality that both elevates certain well-known Catholics to celebrity status and proves that they're worthy of that status in the first place.
There are tons of things that are wrong with this view. The most obvious is that holiness is a call for everyone, not just for the people who make it big in the relatively small Catholic pond. Another is that assuming the Catholic celebrities we like are already holy diminishes them a little as people, making us incapable of seeing them as capable of struggle, pain, suffering, temptation, and sin--which they are, as we all are.
But perhaps the most troubling aspect of viewing holiness as a sort of perk of Catholic celebrity is that we reduce holiness to an outward quality, a thing discernible by how well someone writes or speaks or inspires or challenges or converts others, a quality that automatically follows words like "orthodox" or "reverent" or "inspirational" or "on fire."
We should know, we who are familiar with the Gospels, how wrong that is, how possible it is for a charlatan, a fraud, a hypocrite to appear orthodox, reverent, inspirational, or even on fire for God. Jesus confronted such people frequently--they were the Pharisees, who made such a show of their religious observances that ordinary people looked up to them as if they were holiness-celebrities, people who had it all right and had figured it out, people who were conferring honor upon God instead of it being the other way around by their demeanor and habits. Inside, of course, they were what Our Lord called rotting sepulchers--full of deeply ingrained sins, bad habits, contemptible practices--people, that is, like us.
The truth of the matter is that we can't tell how holy someone is from the outside. We simply can't. We don't know whether someone is a troubadour for God or a noisy gong, a clanging symbol--not until they've left this life, and the Church has examined their lives and declared some of them saints. Only then can we call them "holy" and know that this is the simple truth.
That is why it is appropriate to pray for priests, for nuns, for bishops, for cardinals, for the pope himself. That is why it is appropriate to pray humbly for each other, regardless of our status or lack thereof in the Catholic celebrity world. A vocation is not a guarantee of holiness; gifts of teaching or preaching are not guarantees of holiness; dedicated lives of service are not guarantees of holiness--nothing, in fact, that we can see from the outside of a man is a guarantee that he is holy. Only God, who sees the heart, really knows.