Saturday, November 15, 2014

Fifteen minutes or eternity

We’re famous!  Everybody in town knows our faces. 
First the front page of the Metro section of the Washington Post had a big photo of Cristina Stumpo and a few of her friends in their Halloween costumes practicing their “monster walk.”  That made it easy for me to recognize her when she came trick-or-treating to my door that evening.
Then this week, on the same front of the Metro section, there were Allison and Libby Sippel and Bridgie Boyle cavorting picturesquely with the fallen autumn leaves.  I know them!
Then the Catholic Standard came and I saw a bunch of faces I recognized – our 13- and 14-year old girls, who had just won the soccer championship in their division.  Their coach, Michael Keehan, observed that they had all gone to Mass together before the game, and that might have contributed to their victory. 
All that publicity in the space of a few weeks was great.  It is somehow reassuring to see people we know show up in the media, because so often we see there people who do not seem to have anything in common with us.  Just like the joke that nothing really happens until someone uploads the video to YouTube, somehow seeing some of our own pictured in the paper can reassure us that we do, in fact, exist.
The media, both ‘old-style’ (television, radio, and print) and ‘new’ (internet and social media) are pumping out images, both visual and descriptive, at a rate and volume that we could not have imagined just twenty years ago.  Our lives, and our minds, are flooded with them. 
The purpose of many of these images is to make us want to resemble them.  Advertising obviously has this purpose, but less obviously, so do many of the other opinion- and behavior-shaping messages that fill all forms of media.  We see someone presented as beautiful, and want our clothes to look like hers; or someone presented as responsible or conscientious, and want our choices and actions to resemble his.  This is coming at us every day, and I would be hard pressed to say how it could be possible for anyone to remain completely unaffected by it.
But if we look closer, how many of those images really do resemble us?  When was the last time you saw someone on a television show or in a movie go to church, or set aside time for prayer?  Oh, sure, whenever the movie involves demons or the devil, you can bet that a priest is going to show up (for good or ill), but the normal practice by normal people of Christian faith is completely unrepresented.
One network television show has in every episode the family dinner table, where the family prays before eating.  This exception nearly proves the rule, as it has been a lightning rod of controversy as various groups and individuals have protested that such things should not be “forced” on viewers, whose “rights” it tramples.  Their logic eludes me.  Whose rights are “protected” by pretending that people of faith, especially our faith, do not exist, and believe, and practice that faith in the midst of the society we inhabit?
The absence of the Christian and Catholic practice from the images and stories that shape behavior in our country is having an effect, as more and more folks shape their lives to imitate even that part of what they see.  But look at the people you see here; we know the rest of the story.  We may not be famous, but we exist, and we strive to be faithful.  And everybody in town knows our faces.

Monsignor Smith

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