The Constant Convert
Divine Privilege of the Pretty
I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie . . . but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet. . . . God didn't give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead the country for all I know. ~ Alexis Neiers as quoted in Vanity Fair, "The Suspects Wore Louboutins"
Between 2008 and 2009, a group of bourgeois Hollywood teenagers known as "The Bling Ring," was arrested for breaking into the homes of celebrities and stealing millions of dollars worth of luxury goods. The magnanimous suspect quoted above was too drunk to remember if she actually participated in the burglary of Orlando Bloom's home; nevertheless, surely the media frenzy surrounding her trial would make her famous enough to one day become president, because, well, she's good looking.
Youthful arrogance is not a new thing, I know. There have been times in my life when I thought good looks might open the doors to fame, privilege, and possibly even Heaven. I'm not the best-looking bird in the blogosphere, but I'm also pretty certain I'm not a dog, and in my younger years I thought this meant something. Almost every organization in high school, from the CYO to the FHA, offered a leadership conference when I was growing up. I went to them all; being good looking as I was, I had responsibilities.
I'd heard Christians say before: if that guy, or that girl would let Jesus rule their heart, there is no end to how influential they would be. My own conversion took so many years, and endured so many personal rebellions that I believed God had fought for me and that once I turned my life over, there would be no end to how influential I could be. I thought I was, as they say, the best thing that ever happened to Jesus.
When I went to work at a Christian missionary organization after college, we spent our first month of training in a retreat-like atmosphere that would prepare our hearts to receive our mission. At the end of the summer, a priest came to give us our assignments for the year. Some girls were sent to Ireland or Mexico to work in boarding schools, some to Rome or Atlanta to plan conventions and retreats. I was one of the last to receive my assignment, but remained peaceful, certain they were saving the best for last. I was a leader-girl after all. People had told me so my entire life.
I was assigned to stay in the retreat center, live like a nun, and make fliers. There would be no overseas travel allowing me to influence the youth with my beauty and intelligence. I would stay right where I was, in the cloister, doing something I hated.
A tantrum ensued. I had given up so much, all my precious sins, all my bad relationships—to make fliers? You duped me Lord!
And so he did. I still, years later, in spite of child-bearing, and the inevitable onslaught of aging, struggle with new reincarnations of the same old problem.
Me: I'm SPECIAL!
God: Everybody's special.
It's tempting sometimes to use the internet to construct a self-image that isn't really accurate. To manipulate words, make-up, camera angles, and lighting for the purpose of saying, "See, Catholicism is for the young, the beautiful, the hip. Don't you want to join the beautiful people?"
I love beautiful people. I'm attracted to beautiful people. I think beautiful people should go to Church. But as a friend once told me, "Anyone who's thin enough and has a good dermatologist can be beautiful."
And though it should have been obvious to me years ago, it still sometimes surprises me: Christianity is not about divine privilege, but rather, Divine Sacrifice. Being at the service of God means making oneself small, emptying oneself of ego, and resisting the constant temptation to accept a refill on the self-regard. It's for the soul who's willing to make itself small, to be nameless, faceless, a servant, a victim. "You duped me, Lord."
And yet it's only when we empty ourselves of ourselves, that God can really use us for his glory. For a better image of what it means to be Catholic, see Christ on the Cross.
Elizabeth Duffy is a freelance writer and author of the blog, "Betty Duffy." Her writing has appeared online at Faith and Family, the Korrektiv Press Blog, and numerous other venues. She and her husband live in rural Indiana with their five children.