The National Catholic Review

Doubtless there will be some readers who will find this an inappropriate topic for the blog of a Catholic magazine.  And who will no doubt roll their eyes.  It is hardly a recondite topic.  But I have to ask: Have you seen the video of the woman called Susan Boyle singing on the American Idolish show called "Britain’s Got Talent?" 

It may be the best example of the how God sees us--and the way that the world often doesn’t. 

Ms. Boyle, a matronly 48-year-old unemployed woman, who touchingly described herself on camera as "never been married, never been kissed," lives in a small Scottish village in the flat where she was raised, with her cat, Pebbles.  A devout Catholic, she had spent the last several years caring for her ailing mother, who recently died at age 91.  When she strode onto the stage of "Britain’s Got Talent," you could see the contemptuous grimaces in the crowd.  And when the heavyset woman smilingly announced that she would sing the vocally challenging song from "Les Miserables" called "I Dreamed a Dream," you could see the collective judges (including the ever-present Simon Cowell) literally roll their eyes in barely disguised disgust.  Please.  

When Ms. Boyle opened her mouth, however, out came a voice that silenced her critics.   Watch her video (which is unembeddable) here if you haven’t already. 

Her Youtube video at last count has received, all tolled in its many incarnations, tens of millions of hits.  Why?  A few reasons, some obvious, one not.  First, there is the shock factor: what a surprise that this unknown woman can sing so well!  Where has she been all these years?  Second, the sympathy factor: we feel compassion for a somewhat plain woman who seems to have been so unlucky in life.  Third, the physical appearance factor: "American Idol" stardom, or even success, is typcically the province of the PYTs, pretty young things.  Not of people like Susan Boyle.  Fourth, the Big Discovery factor: the thrill of perhaps seeing a new career jumpstarted, a formerly "unknown" person (a la Ronan Tynan) thrust into the limelight.  Fourth, the uncanny resonance of the lyrics of her chosen song, for someone who seems to be travelling through a tough patch of life: "I dreamed a dream in time gone by/ When hope was high,/ And life worth living/I dreamed that love would never die/ I dreamed that God would be forgiving."  

But there may be something else that accounts for our delight, and for those millions of hits.

The way we see Susan Boyle is very nearly the way God sees us: worthwhile, special, talented, unique, beautiful.  The world generally looks askance at people like Susan Boyle, if it sees them at all.  Without classic good looks, without work, without a spouse, living in a small town, people like Susan Boyle may not seem particularly "important."  But God sees the real person, and understands the value of each individual’s gifts: rich or poor, young or old, single or married, matron or movie star, lucky or unlucky in life.  God knows us.  And loves us.  

"Everybody is somebody" said Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan at his installation Mass in New York City yesterday.  That’s another reason why the judges smile and the audience explodes in applause. 

Because they recognized a basic truth planted deep within them by God: Susan Boyle is somebody. 

Everybody is somebody.

James Martin, SJ


Anonymous | 5/14/2009 - 7:00am
"very nearly the way God sees us" ... and hears us, may I add.  I have long believed that our Creator has one obvious and blessed limitation.  He is tone deaf.  That is the only way I can explain the fact that my croaking, toneless, embarrassing singing voice is as welcome at Mass as the marvellous Ms Boyle, or Caruso, or the choir. 
Anonymous | 4/24/2009 - 7:30pm
I cried when I saw the YouTube video and heard Susan Boyle's angelic voice. She is a beautiful person who exposed the cynicism and grossly distorted values of our vane and nihilistic Western culture that holds dear the most insipid and trivial of passing things. God bless her most precious soul. What a lesson in love and in what is really important in this life.
Anonymous | 4/28/2009 - 10:55am
God sees Himself within us and reveals Himself through each of us. The beauty of Susan Boyle's soul reveals itself in her voice and through her words. Through her song over the Internet, God's love has now been shared with so many humans in need of recognition of each person's individual God-given beauty.
Anonymous | 4/26/2009 - 9:19am
I had the same thought, wondering if Susan Boyle was sent to us by God to remind us of His creations, and to help us learn again to honor one another as we honor Him. This is a lesson that seems to have been lost in recent times. As Susan Boyle sings, it's difficult to not think that she is divinely inspired, and the manner in which her voice and personality seem to touch all of those who listen confirms that there is much, much more to a person than a slick appearance. Can there be any doubt that she is truly beautiful, and in God's image?
Anonymous | 4/24/2009 - 2:23pm
Thank you for the best article on Susan Boyle. Touched on everything I saw, felt, wondered about, etc. Good message to find my center with God. Best wishes to Susan on this adventure. Go with God. Yes, I saw God's hand at work, felt his love that I had been ignoring. Yes, his timing is always right.
Anonymous | 4/24/2009 - 1:14am
Thank you for the reminder. Only GOD see's the whole picture of all of us. I was blessed to see this person show so much beauty that God has given her.
Anonymous | 4/21/2009 - 10:59pm
Interesting. The first time I heard Susan sing, I was and am still amazed. However, I am not amazed at the gift God has given to this woman to share with this world that is so focused on beauty, greed, lust, etc. She is a breath of sunshine and fresh air, and as God always does, she was "given to us" to hear and see when HE deemed we needed to. I hope she never changes, and as for never been married, no big deal. Somtimes it is much better to use the talents God gives us than focus on what the world thinks we should have. God Bless Susan!! Debi
Anonymous | 4/21/2009 - 10:42am
Susan is the opposite of what the media dishes as the ideal. Our eyes are titillated by exaggerations and distortions of what it is to be female. The media deprives us of purity in sexuality and certainly in regard to beauty and talent. We are exhorted to ''Think about these things: whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, any excellence, anything worthy of praise.'' We see these things in Susan. Let us pray and hope to see more of these things in the media.
Anonymous | 4/21/2009 - 9:12am
Susan is a member of the Legion of Mary.
Anonymous | 4/21/2009 - 7:06am
Your words ring so beautifully true. Susan Boyle is such a shining example of life - dignity, grace, talent and treasure, God's love made manifest in the human form. She is not of the "perfection" of our society and culture but rather of the symbol for what life is as meant by God's expression. Susan is a gift and one that we should all be paying attention to with great reverence and thanksgiving.
Anonymous | 4/20/2009 - 3:47pm
Dear Fr. Jim; Your blog is totally appropriate!! A marvelous example of ''Finding God in all things''. Each time I play the Youtube video, sent to me by friend, I weep with joy at not only Susan's singing but her sheer goodness; goodness not goody-goodnesswhich is sooo smarmy! She has courage,wit and an abundance of love to give to the world. My prayer is that she remains rooted in her Scottish home and in her profound faith which came through in her singing and set the world on fire! Thank you for gentle, perceptive blog!
Anonymous | 4/19/2009 - 10:50am
Great! I'm glad that reading your blog actually made me listen to Susan Boyle. (I had seen the link to the video in my yahoo homepage a couple of days ago, but was in a rush and went right into my emails). Thanks!!
Anonymous | 4/19/2009 - 8:39pm
Notice Simon's sarcastic question before she sings: ''Ok, what's the dream?'' So apropos, given her song choice and all the more satisfying seeing his exaggeratedly low expectations so thoroughly shattered. Piers' voice is choked before he gives ''the biggest yes'' he's ever given. Marianne Williamson this morning: @marwilliamson via Twitter: ''Still thinking about the Susan Boyle phenom: Technology has allowed us to have a GLOBAL EPIPHANY. Think what that means...''
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 4:09pm
Right On! Thank you!
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 4:07pm
thank you for this and right on. the bad news was the way in which almost everyone in the room judged her immediately. the good news is the way most of them felt after hearing and then reflecting on their immediately prior judgment. now if they can all just hold on and remember their experience and use it in their lives. this truly is how God sees us all behave, isn't it?
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 2:22pm
I cried. Not very macho, but there it is. Wait. I cried three time straight while watching it. Both Father Jim and Mike Hayes identified the reasons, but I think it goes even deeper. I think I was choked up because of the way *I* would have treated her when she walked on stage or if she didn't sing like an angel. Susan showed me how judgmental and foolish I can be - and it hurt! Thanks be to God for sending her (and you too Fr. Jim) to give me His message...
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 12:06pm
I am SO happy to see Susan get all this recognition .. deservedly SO! I think it comes at a very significant time in our history and I really think that "GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS" is written all over this :) I cannot look at the video without joyful tears. No Susan, you won't be lonely any more .. but I will be keeping you in my daily prayers that you be protected from the unscrupulous people that will try to manipulate and use you. God has been good to you in so many ways. To have your dear parents with you so long and to be able to care for them ... what a blessing and how proud they are of you now! Your humility and sacrifices have not been in vain! Susan, I hope you get to read this ... I hold you so DEARLY in my heart and pray that you hold fast to not changing in any way because of this new found fame. May the Lord continue to be your focus ... He ALWAYS gives the better portion! I hope everyone joins me in prayer for Susan .. she will be facing many challenges now and will need much strength and discernment! Finally ... CONGRATS SUSAN! VERY WELL DONE!!! :) *HUGS*
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 10:18am
I just wonder why Fr. Basil Clark had to make comments about her ''eccentric behavior'', or her learning disabilities? First of all, they were unneccessary. Second, her behavior seemed like nothing more than a very sweet, sheltered, shy woman in a situation which makes even the most self-assured among us feel a little nervous. I think her behavior was charming, and her lack of sophistication refresing. Susan is Susan, with all her idiosyncracies, just like all the rest of us. We really don't need to put a label on her....she is God's Susan, just exactly the way He made her, and she must surely be pleasing to Him in her quiet, sheltered life. We should all try to be just the way God intended us to be, without the facades of wordliness we put upon ourselves.
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 8:16am
What has touched me the most as her story has been revealed, is how willingly she sacrificed her dream of being a singer for the sake of putting her family, especially her mother, first. It's a lesson on selflessness and patience. And can anyone question God rewarding her now for that?
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 8:00am
Dear Jim: Thank you!!! Thank You!! And kudos to America Magazine for printing and circulating your marvelous thoughts! Kay
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 2:28am
Wow. Thank you for posting this, Father. That was wonderful. I had yet to watch the video. It made me cry tears of joy. She's an amazing woman, yes, very beautiful. I don't really know what else to say but that was a blessing to hear.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 11:28pm
Gordon just a suggestion. If you get a chance do me a favor and check out God Bless.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 7:40pm
Gordon, All you need to do is approach a priest at any Catholic church or visit/call the office of any Catholic parish and convey your interest. You will be guided through the process. It is a journey and a choice only you can make and you will have ample opportunity to discern whether this the right path for you. But it would seem that maybe God is inviting you to check this out. I will pray that you do.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 4:31pm
A great post, Fr. Martin! :)
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 8:53pm
Dear Gordon, I'm sorry it took me so long to respond to your heartfelt request. Peggy is right: just approach your nearest Catholic church, or a church where a friend goes, or a church that a friend might recommend. There is a wonderful program called the "Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults" usually referred to as "RCIA." It's a great program of helping to introduce people to Catholicism at all times in their lives, and they will, I'm sure, be very welcoming. Also--and this is important--trust that the very desire to join the Catholic community comes from God. This is the way that God "calls" to us, through these simple but profound desires. That is, trust that God desires for you to be part of a faith community. And I will be praying for you! Peace, James Martin, SJ
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 3:37pm
Ms. Boyle gives new meaning to "make a joyful noise unto the Lord." And anyone who can make Simon Cowell shut up is onto something.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 8:50pm
Overwhelming, as is your very moving commentary, Fr. Jim. I just forwarded it to all my family. Does anyone know what has happened to Susan Boyle since the show? More, more, please.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 3:06pm
Oh i forgot to mention. I liked your blog and agree. Even though not Catholic i do believe in god and the devine spark that resides in us all and that we are all somebody. Cheers!!
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 2:55pm
On a personal note..Talking about social exclusion. I was brought up in catholic School (StAndrews, Scotland) although never baptised i was still enrolled there. However, during my years at school I was often excluded from taking part in lots of things that baptised kids did. Although i was interested in the traditions. This had made a negitive impact on my life as when i left school i turned my back on all that i knew of Catholism. I am now work in a science related role and have understanding about many things. Most importantly i always look for empirical evidence and facts. I respect peoples belief in the bible but after reading it i have seen many contradictions and areas that do not make sense (they are not gods mysteries but poorly written pieces by whoever wrote the story). Is it just me being picky and maybe everyone interpretates it differently. This is the thing that bothers me most otherwise i would consider joining the Catholic faith. Anyway, what do i have to do if i decide to become Catholic? Susan Boyles song seems to have inspired me to think about it again.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 2:41pm
I live not far from her in Scotland and very proud of her, i'm sure most Scots will be too. I envy her abilities not to mention her belief in god especially as good number of Scots including me have become more Agnostic or Athiest in approach to lives. Maybe, making even just a little room for god in our lives will make us better people and not the cynical, intollerant, materialistic and judgemental things we are.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 11:05am
What could possibly be wrong with celebrating that performance? St. Ignatius Loyola said that we should praise, reverence, and serve our Lord to save our soul. We should never neglect praise in favor of the other two. And like Jesus' parable, what you do for the least of my brothers, you do unto me. So I have no reservations about praising her. Praise is the most fun chore of salvation, and we don't do it often enough.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 1:29pm
I cried the first time I saw this video -- not ashamed to admit it. You are spot-on, Jim. Jarett T. DeAngelis Fordham College at Rose Hill '01
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 12:37pm
The reason she was prejudged was because most people with that kind of talent would have been encouraged to, or determined on their own, to make the most of it by changing what externals needed to be changed and by seeking out opportunities long before the talent seekers came to town. Obviously, she knew of her gift, but found other things in her life at least as compelling as exploiting it for the attention or money it could bring her. That is, in fact, the thing I find most admirable about her, that she knew it, used it, but didn't fall into the temptation to exploit it.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 11:24am
Fr. Jim, You are so correct, and I am so grateful that AMERICA and yourself would recognize this amazing fact about Susan Boyle, and at the same time, helping us, in this Easter Season, to see another side to the Resurrection. Thank you so very much for your honesty. I have been touched in a totally new way this Easter Season. God Bless you and your staff.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 10:50am
A most appropriate topic Father Jim... no matter her religion. The show is ''Britian's Got Talent'' so while we may not have thought her a good or bad person, nearly all of us prejudged her ''musical talent'' based not only on her plain looks, but also her background, her age ( everyone laughed when she said she was 47—oh my I am 47 too!) plain dress and the way she talked. Part of the joy of this video and this event is the self awareness that “wow was I fool” for prejudging her. And the celebrity judges to their credit speak for all of us when they apologize and admit their mistake to Ms Boyle.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 9:33am
Dear Ray, Yes, I just read that she was a devout Catholic. I'm glad I didn't know that beforehand, or I would have been accused of liking her simply because of that! Dear Mike, Yes, Susan would still be beautiful if she couldn't sing! Even if she couldn't say a word. Dear Paul and Margaret, Yes, Scotland! My geography of the British Isles, which I've visited only once, is pretty sketchy, but thanks for the correction. She certainly has the requisite burr. Also, dear everyone: In an interview on a morning show today, filmed in her house, you can see a crucifix on her wall. And I was touched, again, when the announcer noted that the woman who had "never been kissed" was being showered with love. Amen.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 5:43am
Ms. Boyle is from a village in Scotland, not England. There is a big difference.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 2:39am
I made this comment on my own blog, but it's worth repeating: What if Susan Boyle couldn't sing? Simon would still be making fun of her and we would have excused the crowd's horrible treatment of her eccentricity and frumpiness. She'd still be on You Tube but only as a foolish symbol of someone who was hoping to be noticed. The point that we need to see is not that Susan is wonderful because she sings, but that Susan is wonderful because she is Susan. She is one of us--a child of God in all her frump and dowdiness. Her voice betrays that worthiness to be sure--but our lesson is that we should've seen her worth long before her song. More here:
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 1:24am
Jim Martin hit the nail on the head. I have already watched the Susan Boyle video a few times. Each time I get choked up. I don't know that she could have chosen a song with better lyrics to startle the world. For each of us, when he named us before time began, God sang a song that each of us is meant to sing. Only I can sing the song that God intends for me, only you can sing the song that is uniquely yours, different from every other person's. Living the Christian life is all about learning that song. Susan Boyle learned hers over her 48 years, and when she found her voice the world stopped and listened. It is no different for each of us. In the stillness of the night, in loneliness and despair and in time of great joy, we must listen for the tune God gave to each of us. And when we find that tune and sing it, the world will applaud, and God will smile. I'm still learning that song. I catch phrases of it at odd moments, and at liturgy, and in service to others. One day I hope that it will come together, and I will sing before the throne of God the song that he whispered in my ear when he first imagined me. Please God, let it be before I die.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 8:43am
Just one thing.... I think she is from the small village of West Lothian in Scotland, not England.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 12:42am
This isn't inappropriate at all. You'll be happy to know she is a devout Catholic and gained a lot of practice singing in the church choir. God is literally using her to show the world that we should treat each other with kindness no matter how someone looks like.
Anonymous | 4/16/2009 - 11:28pm
Thanks, Jim. This was a meditation.
Anonymous | 4/22/2009 - 3:32pm
I think Susan is beautiful. Not just for her voice but for her spirit. Have you seen the kids movie Babe. Her story parallels that movie. Dispite what others think she carries forward, bravely and does what she does. Babe is my favorite movie and Susan is my favorite person. God Bless
Anonymous | 4/18/2009 - 1:56pm
This is a reminder that God's grace is available to all of us and that he may show his light in the most unexpected venues. After laughter and tears I started thinking about how I could thank beyond prayer and Mass attendance. I decided to volunteer for the 24 hour hotline at my local service center. The past two nights I've been there to talk to lonely souls in the middle of the night and actually pointed several people to the video while we talked. We laughed and cried together and they didn't open a bottle.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 11:32pm
I pray to that Susan Boyle stays close to her faith with her God given talent. I hope by the grace of God He protects her like "the Priests" in their musical endeavors and I hope that the negative side of the music business never touches her. I hope we all send our prayers out to her. She is beautiful in her voice and she looked very well in her dress. I dont think she was so dowdy etc. She dressed very well and I think that she isnt as unattractive as people say. We are many faces. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 10:55pm
I linked to Susan Boyle on Facebook a week ago and shared the video with many others. To the person, they echoed the sentiments people here expressed. Father Jim's commentary is spot on. The first thought that came to my mind when I watched the video was a verse from the gospel of Matthew that we need to remember more often,"Judge not lest you be judged" (Mt. 7:1).
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 7:08pm
Thank you. I noticed how everyone glowed when they heard Ms. Boyle's beautiful voice (most especially Simon Cowell). It was as if Ms. Boyle was passing on God's light to us.
Anonymous | 4/17/2009 - 5:53pm
Susan Boyle, I take my hat off to you!~!! That was most incredible thing I have ever heard. You are truly an inspiration to us all.......You go girl and you make your dreams come true!!!!!
Anonymous | 6/9/2009 - 9:15am
Gordon, This the most important decision you will ever make and if you decide on a "yes" to the Catholic Faith, the best decision you will ever make.  HOWEVER, be mindful of which church and Priest you decide to go to for direction.  Even though we Catholics should all be on the same page, we aren't. Unfortunately, many priests have become seduced, by the Devil into "lukewarmness" in their faith and can really turn someone off.  You know the saying, "you can't give what you don't have".  So find a Priest who is solid in their faith and who has the guts to teach the Truth of the Church, because it is the True Faith, believe it brother! Cheers and God bless you.