Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
So the other day, my son sends along this trailer for a little film called Wordplay, about the world’s greatest crossword puzzler:
I love stuff like this because, as a dyed-in-the-wool Chestertonian, I like things like small hobbies, people who do great things in quiet ways, and the general theme of “He has lifted up the meek and the lowly”. i dislike the cult of celebrity, but strongly favor the cult of Quiet Heroism.
The cult of celebrity is evil because it teaches ordinary people, possessed of a dignity given to them by God most High, that they are nothing and can only find happiness and fulfillment through identification with those people who typically represent the very worst the world has to offer: namely, people who are famous for being famous. Result: millions of people seriously modeling themselves on vacuities like What Paris Hilton is Wearing Today or striving to emulate the immense pride and narcissism of Madonna or battening on the pathologies of Brangelina or Britney Spears. The cult of celebrity robs everybody involved in it (including, especially, the Celebrity) of their humanity. It creates, not a relationship of love, but of sick co-dependence.
The cult of quiet heroism is different. It allows ordinary people to do something they excel at, to be a hero for somebody else, to admire and wish to imitate excellence in the hero, and then to resume normal lives as fallen sinners and struggling saints. In short, it is ordered toward human dignity.
The woman in Wordplay, for instance, is completely ordinary. That is to say, she is a human being created by God in his image and likeness and possessed of a value greater than that of the whole universe. Moving among her fellow creatures in a way that is not egocentric or full of the flash, dazzle, and glamor of the Kingdom of Noise that the devil presides over, she quietly does something she loves and, in the process, becomes the best in the world at it. The result: the highly Chestertonian phenomenon of a human being who is, in a very particular room, among a very particular group of people, revered as a hero and a role model to be imitated. What a beautiful thing!
And it happens all the time. Somewhere in the world is the world’s greatest stamp collector, the world’s finest plumber, the best Macarena dancer on earth, the most awesome collector of Victorian toy theatres, the best ocarina player. When that person walks into a certain room, heads turn, members of the opposite sex feel faint, and a murmur arises: “It’s him! It’s her! I’m in the same room with the Best of the Best! Oh wow!”
Such people will seldom get movies made about them, but they foreshadow, I think, some of the real (as distinct from fake and tinsel) glory that awaits us in heaven, when all the saved will be “famous” in God’s eyes and will be known with complete love and admiration by their fellows.