by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Our culture has been aptly called a celebrity culture.
We honor and adulate star athletes. We worship movie stars and accomplished actors. We idolize singers and entertainers. In fact, one of the most popular shows in recent years is even called “American Idol.”
Our culture reveals what it values by those professions that we most highly compensate and celebrate. We even indicate that somebody is really important by referring to them as a “rock star.”
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend a Christmas concert performed by a woman who grew up in the former communist Yugoslavia. Her name is Tajci. Tajci’s parents were atheists. In school, she was taught there is no God. Still, in her heart something told her that there must be
Her father was a gifted musician who encouraged his daughters to love music. Tajci possesses an incredible singing voice and is a gifted musician. She is also a very attractive woman. Right at the time the Berlin Wall was being torn down, she won the equivalent of “American Idol” in Croatia. Her stardom was identified with the newly gained freedom for her country. She became an instant celebrity and a national icon. Tajci was literally a “rock star.”
She was Croatia’s biggest musical celebrity. She had realized the ultimate achievement in her chosen field of music. She had fame. She was wealthy. Tajci had everything she thought she ever wanted. However, she felt empty inside.
Tajci was more depressed than she had ever been before her success. Before she had become a celebrity, Tajci could imagine if she just succeeded or just had more money or became famous, then she would be happy. Now she knew that none of that was true. Tajci even wondered if life was worth living.
She was surrounded by people who wanted to use her and her celebrity for their own financial gain. Tajci had many fans, but not many real friends. She was idolized by many people, but not truly loved as a person. Tajci had everything, but, in reality, had nothing.
She met a group of young Catholics who invited her to come to church with them. Tajci recognized something in them that she desired. They had the peace and joy that she desired. She admired their compassion and love for each other, as well as their unconditional acceptance of her. This launched Tajci on a journey of faith, a spiritual quest.
Tajci left behind everything that she had achieved. She came to the United States and eventually began a new career, using her gift of singing no longer to gain fame or money, but to lead others to Jesus Christ and his church.
For those of us who are cradle Catholics and grew up in strong believing families, it is easy to take our faith for granted. Tajci’s testimony helps us appreciate the great gift of our Catholic faith.
During this season, we often develop a variety of lists. We have our Christmas card list, our Christmas gift list, and our Christmas decoration list. I suggest that we make another list, a list of people — family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, neighbors — who have stopped practicing their faith or maybe never received the gift of faith. I propose that you pray every day by name for the people on your faith list during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Make secret sacrifices for their spiritual welfare.
Pray and sacrifice asking God to somehow open the hearts of these family mem- bers, friends and acquaintances to be able to receive and experience Our Lord’s love. Ask Jesus also to inspire you to know what to say and, perhaps more importantly, what not to say to them. Perhaps the Lord desires for you to invite someone to come to Mass or go to a Bible study or attend a catechism class with you.
The fact that these persons are on your faith list indicates that God is asking you to befriend them, to make an effort to grow closer to them. God is calling us somehow to become more involved with those for whom we are praying and making sacrifices. If God desires to use us as an instrument to draw someone closer to him, then the other person must first know that we love them and care for them.
It may mean writing notes or making phone calls or sending text messages that will help make those on our faith list aware that we are thinking about them. People have to know we care about them before they will care about what we have to say.
As we spend more time with another person and our friendship grows, they will begin to recognize how important our Catholic faith is to us. They may even begin to ask questions about our faith and why it matters so much to us. The Holy Spirit may inspire us at some moment to share with another why Jesus and his church are the foundation of our lives.
During this time of Christmas, as we think about giving gifts, we should remember that faith is the greatest gift someone could receive. Let us pray and offer sacrifices that friends and family may receive this most priceless of all gifts. After all, having faith is better than winning “American Idol” or becoming a rock star!