Of Many Things

In the future,” Andy Warhol once said, “everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.” Mr. Warhol’s premonition seems to have come true in our popular culture—the world of Snooki, JWoww and Honey Boo Boo. Or has it? And what exactly did Mr. Warhol mean? The historian Benjamin H. D. Buchloh tells us that what Warhol was trying to say was that the “hierarchy of subjects worthy to be represented [by artists] will someday be abolished.” That seems like a stretch, even for our increasingly relativistic sensibilities. A world without a hierarchy of values, in art or anywhere else, is inhuman and unlikely.

This issue of America indicates as much. In addition to the review by Leo J. O’Donovan, S.J., of a recent exhibition of Mr. Warhol’s work, whose fame is, for better or for worse, in its 48th or 49th year, this issue also explores the lives of the church’s 20th-century martyrs, those whose “fame” is, dogmatically speaking, eternal.


Life this side of heaven is a spatio-temporal mix of St. Augustine’s two cities, an amalgam of the fleeting and the everlasting. A Christian, of course, is supposed to have his or her global positioning system set for the City of God rather than the City of Man. All those billions of tweets, however, can interfere with the satellite signal, so the church gives us some other markers for the journey, some ways of re-calculating the route. In the lives of the saints and martyrs (some famous, some not) we find roadmaps to holiness; we find Christians who set their hearts on the good and the true, the everlasting. As a result, a funny thing happened: these Christians found the faith, hope and charity they needed to make their earthly pilgrimage.

To be honest, as a boy I found the lives of the saints really quite boring. I was making a common mistake. I thought that holiness was just about following the rules. In fact, it’s still tempting to think that. When we hear, for example, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” we are tempted to think, “Ah, I just need to be poor in spirit and then I’ll be a saint and heaven will be mine.” We might even start out on some kind of self-improvement project, an attempt to make ourselves poor in spirit, the way one might sign up for a class at the local Y. The truth, however, is that we don’t make ourselves saints. In fact, not even the church “makes” saints. Only God makes a person holy, the grace of God within us, transforming us, changing us. That’s not to say that we just sit back and let it happen. We must say yes to God’s invitation to holiness. And if we are to have the strength to say yes, then our eyes must be fixed on the things above, on the One who is above.

The glimpse of the eternal that gave the saints and martyrs the strength to live in their earthly moment was not a glimpse of some eternal law but an encounter with the God of love. In the midst of their great diversity, what all the saints and martyrs have in common is the simple fact that they were in love—with God and with God’s creation. It was this love that gave meaning and direction to their lives. In other words, their lives were more about faithfulness in relationship than obedience to the rules. Rules matter, of course, but discipleship is about a good deal more than mere discipline.

God knows it isn’t easy. It never was. The lives of the saints, however, demonstrate that our yes is possible, even in a broken world. Mr. Warhol may or may not have been right about fame. And as this week’s editorial makes clear, the price of fame in contemporary America is far too high. Ultimately, however, the lives of the saints and martyrs demonstrate that holiness, not fame, is what matters most. And that prize, God willing, lasts a lot longer than 15 minutes; indeed, it is eternal.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
5 years 11 months ago

Regarding the Divine Mercy revelations, which one does not have to accept,  Saint  Faustina Kowalska,  records Jesus saying,  at the hour of death, he comes one last time to everyone offering  opportunity to sincerely say, “Yes, Lord, I do believe!” I choose to accept Faustina’s word because it links up well to scripture, wherein   we learn that “God wills that all be saved.” It also links well to ordinary human experiences, in that repeated  opportunities to repentant are offered as can be seen not only in the lives of  saints, but in our lives too, for “Saints are sinners who never stop trying!”

 I don’t want to bore anyone to death with   preachy, dogmatic assertions on justification, but it is simply true that, saying “Yes” to the Lord in sincerity at any time  even if back pedaling happens,  is the ultimate Profession of Faith, upon which depends either everlasting life, or the total oblivion into everlasting death, truly a hell of  self-inflicted annihilation in which resurrection from the dead has been forfeited, speaking speculatively.  In the final analysis there will be only three types of beings – Angels, Saints, Devils. At least so it seems to me.

Happily, one   doesn’t   have to be a sad sack to be a saint, morosely   striking one’s breast, breaking a rib so to speak in venomous  fervor!  We don’t even have to weep as Peter did, although tears of repentance are cleansing to more than the eyelids! A sincere “Yes!” to Jesus will do it. Here is an example of “bend over in laughter holiness,” inviting us to"rejoice in the Lord always," the net result of having said “Yes” to Jesus to the end.


 Pope St. Pius X, as rector of the diocesan seminary liked to sit with his seminarians at the end of the day, smoking a cigar. He liked American cigars! One evening he lacked a match so one of the seminarians produced the kind that can be ignited anywhere and bending  struck the match on his backside lighting the rector’s  cigar. Almost immediately   future Pontiff humorously commented, “I have often heard “thunder” coming from that direction, but this  is the first time I have seen “lightening!” In his Beatification process the Promoter of the Faith also called the “Devil’s Advocate,” tried to use that remark to prove that Pope Pius X was no saint, but was over ruled.


In short, to be a saint one has got to be a “yes man/woman” in relation to Jesus AND be able to crack a smile, tell a joke, laugh. Like St. Teresa of Avila who said many funny things, the following one my favorite, “God and chocolate are better than God alone!” P.S. Angels are joyous beings and have their own special way to smile  Devils are too bitchy to  smile, Saints (that’s where we hope to be) can smilSo, for Christ’s sake, SMILE!


C Walter Mattingly
5 years 11 months ago
Bruce, you didn't waste your time being preachy at all. After reading the editorial here
on yet another group abusing children they are supposed to succor, I made a saturnine comment on the sorry state of affairs. Reading Fr Malone's essay above and your comment relieved that sourness and helped me refocus a little more productively. You both called to mind John XXIII's supposed comment along the lines of "Relax, Giussepe, the Holy Spirit guides the Church, not you." 
5 years 11 months ago
(#2)   Walter, Pleased that you found something useful in my post, also Fr. Malone's essay, the energy source for my "blast off," yours too. Getting feedback even when negative sure beats "talking into the wind" I mean getting the silent treatment.  SMILE!!!
5 years 11 months ago
Ha,ha,ha, Bruce and Walter, you two just put a big smile on my face. Thanks!
5 years 11 months ago

(#4)  Hi, Norma – Keep smiling and make this world a happier place – it’s also good for the muscles of your (our) face preventing wrinkles, also brings joy for miles and miles ‘cause in every sMILE there is a mile of camaraderie, which in its simplest form is what Jesus’ redemptive service  was all about namely Peace and Goodwill. Good for the New Evangelism too. No cream puff venture, this!

The Smile is also related to the Holy Spirit’s Gift of Joy, indelibly marked for us Christians in Baptism and embedded on the soul through the “Hammer of God” called Confirmation. Hmmm, does it matter than I'm theologically embryonic, lacking full development entitling theological attention? Well, people often say,  "what the  &%#@^ is he talking about?” and it hasn’t stopped me, so why stop now!!! Yes, I believe the thing we call a SMILE is rooted in and sourced from the Godhead, in whom there is only Joy, without which it is impossible to SMILE. That’s why heaven has got to be a place of SMILES, no wrinkled souls there. Having offered that profound explanation (profound?) let me quickly conclude this post already too wordy, saying SMILE! SMILE! SMILE! – its earthly good and heavenly good,


The latest from america

 10.17.2018 Pope Francis greets Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago before a session of the Synod of Bishops on young people, the faith and vocational discernment at the Vatican Oct. 16. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)
“We take people where they are, walking with them, moving forward,” Cardinal Blase Cupich said.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 20, 2018
Catherine Pakaluk, who currently teaches at the Catholic University of America and holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University, describes her tweet to Mr. Macron as “spirited” and “playful.”
Emma Winters October 19, 2018
A new proposal from the Department of Homeland Security could make it much more difficult for legal immigrants to get green cards in the United States. But even before its implementation, the proposal has led immigrants to avoid receiving public benefits.
J.D. Long-GarcíaOctober 19, 2018
 Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then nuncio to the United States, and then-Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington, are seen in a combination photo during the beatification Mass of Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, N.J., Oct. 4, 2014. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
In this third letter Archbishop Viganò no longer insists, as he did so forcefully in his first letter, that the restrictions that he claimed Benedict XVI had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick—one he alleges that Pope Francis later lifted—can be understood as “sanctions.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 19, 2018