If We Gave Jesus His Due
Celebrity worship isn't wrong, it's just misdirected
There’s a thing called Only Fans. People pay for content created by people they admire. (Not as novel as some make it out to be. This was called ‘patronage’ for a thousand years.)
Then there’s TMZ. Nothing but celebrity gossip and news.
And a thousand other television networks and programs, websites, social media platforms, and other things exist to allow us to worship celebrities.
MBAs even have channels to worship their corporate heroes.
Hero worship is all the rage.
If there’s one thing Americans know how to do, it is how to worship people more famous, more wealthy, more ‘fabulous’ than themselves.
And it’s not bad. It’s just misdirected.
Look, I don’t despise celebrities the worship they receive. I started college as a theatre major for one reason: I wanted people worshipping me. I wanted to make it big on Broadway and parlay that into a Hollywood career. I was (am?) more narcissistic than Narcissus.
When I was 18 years old, I’d sit in my room and rehearse my first appearance on The Tonight Show, Starring Johnny Carson.
“. . . this is Ed McMahon along with Doc Severinsen and the NBC Orchestra, inviting you to join Jonny and his guests: Don Rickles, Shelly Winters, New Kids on the Block, and Bill Hennessy”
I figured I could wing my first hit on David Letterman because he was more laid back.
I once blew off a date with my girlfriend because I was doing amazingly well in one of these imaginary Tonight Show appearances. (To be fair, in this particular fantasy, Sinatra did a walk-on just as I was about leave, and he wanted to talk about a stand-up bit I did earlier. You can’t just walk out on Sinatra.)
No, I’m serious. I did that. For hours. More than once. I’d even yell “cut” if I caught myself rambling, which caused my mom several fits of worry.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s nothing wrong with hero worship. As long as we worship only those worthy of worship. And that’s where most of us get everything wrong. I know I did.
You might think I’ve always been a Jesus freak, but nothing could be further from the truth.
I’ve always been a conservative, but when it comes to religion, I’ve been a heathen most of my life. I went to Mass every Sunday (or Saturday evening) until I got to college, at which point I was too All That to be bothered with sitting in a dark room for an hour. Especially a dark room where no one was paying attention to me. So, I stopped. But nature, like the spirit world, abhors a vacuum.
At a Catholic college, I hung out with the people who mocked the ‘Jesus freaks,’ as we called them. The ‘goody two shoes’ who organized fundraisers for victims of hurricanes or genocides or whatever their do-gooder purpose was at a given moment. Some of the do-gooders were cute, so we’d never ridicule them to their faces, of course. We did it behind their backs like real champions.
You can lather, rinse, and repeat to get a picture of my life until about 2017. (That’s a span of 30 years if you’re keeping score at home.) I spent three decades pretending to be a Christian. Those years in theatre paid off for something, right?
And, shocker! all those Tea Party events with a Christian pastor praying invocations and benedictions? Yeah, I played along because it was expedient. But I also worked quietly behind the scenes to make sure we didn’t go too evangelical and alienate the libertarians. (Yeah, that was me.)
And, oh, how I worshipped celebrities, especially political and sports stars. I met William F. Buckley and George Carlin. I got to question the Republican presidential candidates on stage for the Heritage Foundation. I hung out with Jeb Bush backstage. I met George W. Bush before he got into politics.
To my simple mind and weak constitution, those things proved I was special. That I was going to Save the World!
In the meantime, I went through a couple of marriages and caused my children scandal and worry. Even when I was living decently, I put politics ahead of being a father—ahead of being a man.
And, if it were up to me, I swear I’d still be the Tea Party leader and social gadfly and climber I was for most of my life.
But it wasn’t up to me. I didn’t create my life or this world I live in.
One morning in June of 2017, I lay in bed watching the sun’s rays slide between the slats of the blinds in our bedroom. I decided (God knows way) to pray the Morning Offering I learned in grade school.
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all my works . . .
When I finished that silent, childish prayer, I heard a distinct command.
“Spend more time with me.”
It wasn’t a voice. My wife was in the bathroom no more than eight feet away, but I knew she didn’t hear it. Yet, in my head, the command was voluminous. Not intimidating in the least, but all encompassing. It shut down every other thought and sound and sensation for two seconds. “Spend more time with me.”
I wasn’t scared or freaked out. I wan’t even confused. I was in the Navy, and I knew a direct command when I heard one.
The command came from Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and He said it to me directly, to no one else. It was His personal call to communion with Him. (I’ve never told anyone about this.)
“Spend more time with me.”
What does that mean?
I knew immediately what it meant. “Stop trying to save the world, because you, Bill Hennessy, cannot save the world. The best you can do is to shut up and spend more time with me. If you want to save the world, spend more time with me.”
But I am so bad. Would my prayers even matter?
“Spend more time with me.”
I thought of Mitch Albom’s heuristic: You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. And I realized that if one of those five people were Jesus Christ, God become man, I could raise my average exponentially. (Yes, I am still narcissistic.) And if the other four people were saints, my average would be Hall of Fame worthy, would it not?
On that morning in June 2017, I slid out of bed and knelt and prayed a simple prayer. I don’t remember what it was, but I remember the gist: show me how, Lord, because I’m lost.
Jesus took His time. He let me stumble around on my own for months chuckling at my stupid attempts to become more religious. (Trying on our own to become more religious is as useless as a man trying to become a woman.) Then one day He grew weary of watching me make more errors than a Cubs team from the 80s and used my wife to set me straight.
I got a group text from my wife about a Pontifical High Mass at something called the Oratory of Ss. Gregory and Augustine. We would go to that Mass instead of our neighborhood parish on a Sunday in February 2019. The celebrant was Raymond Cardinal Burke, and my life changed. Jesus showed me how to spend more time with Him. My childish prayer was answered.
And I had a new hero.
I told you I am all for celebrity worship, and I meant it. But you have to pick the right celebrity. Why waste your time worshipping a celebrity who is here today, gone tomorrow, as all celebrities are? Athletes last 20 years at best. Actors 10 years. Politicians five. Entrepreneurs and inventors last a bit longer, but they fade away, too.
What if we worshipped the Creator of the Universe? What if we worshipped the God who became man and took this punishment for our sake?
What if we applied all our advanced skills in celebrity worship to the worship of the only man who ever took the entire burden of humanity and its sinfulness on his back?
“Spend more time with me.”
Only Christians know that Jesus is alive and with us today. As He would say, blessed are those who believe without seeing—or hearing His command in the sunlight of a June morning. Blessed are those whose hero-worship is directed to the true hero of humanity who became flesh and dwelt among us.
And, that explains why I look ever forward to Sunday, October 30, the Feast of Christ the King. The day we celebrate and worship the one man who deserves the accolades and admiration we stupidly pay to singers and dancers and actors and politicians.
We have been trained how to adore and honor celebrities. Next Sunday—and every day before and after—let’s direct our remarkable worship skills to the only person deserving such attention and adoration and . . . time: Our Lord and Savior, the unblemished and innocent lamb, Jesus Christ!
He’s all we need.