Now that 2014 is coming quickly to a close, we start to see "____ of the Year" awards everywhere. Every publication, it seems, has its own award for people who made a difference in the past calendar year. TIME magazine has its Person of the Year, as well as its Most Influential People awards. There's a Year in Photos, Novel of the Year, Games of the Year, and in an example of how low our society has sunk: a "Booty of the Year" award. I always thought these inane awards were a perfect fit for tabloids and newsstand magazines at the airport, but imagine my disappointment when a Catholic newspaper came out with their own version. Not to be outdone by the mainstream media, it too has an award at year's end: the "Catholics of the Year" award.
My heart sank when I saw the headline. Not us, too? Ugh.
I quickly flipped to the pages to see who the Catholics of the Year are, according to the newspaper's editorial staff. They are wonderful people, to be sure.
Inspirational? You bet.
Tireless workers for the Faith? Most certainly.
But I think we get into trouble with awards like this. I mean, who decides who should have such an "honor" bestowed on them? Should there even be such an honor? And why? And how on Earth can someone decide who is the "best" Catholic of 2014? It's distasteful.
And what does "Catholic of the Year" even mean?
Because truly? I can think of several people who are, in my mind, Christlike, generous, humble people...and they'll never get a half-page spread in a newspaper, even though they are Catholics doing awesome things:
The sole priest in a small, financially strapped parish who selflessly serves his flock, even though he isn't feeling well. And he does it quietly and humbly and tries to stifle any yawn. I've met him on one of those days and he simply smiled without complaint.
The senior citizen prayer warrior who prays every day in front of the Tabernacle for friends who ask her to, even though she has aches and pains and family troubles of her own. She signs her emails, "In His service." She asks "What can I do for you?' when you call her on the phone...and she means it. She saw a homeless family in our town while driving in her car one day and found the mother a job at a hair salon and a motel to sleep in. Last time I checked: no award for her.
The publisher (a friend of mine: you know who you are!) who tirelessly works to evangelize Catholics on a small publisher's budget, just to get good Catholic books in the hands of the faithful. She gives books away and prays for everyone. Award for this? Nope.
The friend I've known since high school who writes encouraging letters to her pastor who suddenly lost his mother a couple of weeks before Christmas. Her family makes him food and is a listening ear and a huge support for him.
The mom and daughter who spent Christmas Day serving the homeless at a soup kitchen instead of at home in front of a warm fire with extended family.
The man who helped an elderly neighbor by spreading salt on her driveway so she wouldn't fall.
The busy seminarian who offered to pray rosaries for someone he's never met, simply because she said she is going through a hard time.
The newly ordained priest who wrote to a friend half a world away to wish her and her family a Merry Christmas, even though he was swamped with his new pastor duties in an impoverished parish, because he didn't want her to think he forgot them at Christmas.
The divorced father who did without for himself so he could give his children presents under the tree and dress-up clothes to wear to Christmas Eve Mass.
I could go on and on with stories. So could you. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that you know people like this...or you are people like this. And you'd probably think that an award for that would be the strangest thing ever.
The people I named above are quietly doing what they do because they love Christ. Humbly, quietly, without splash, without medals, without space in a newspaper telling the world. Are the winners of these awards doing this as well? I'm sure they are. After all, they didn't nominate themselves for these awards; someone else did. In fact, some of them might even be downright embarrassed at the attention. It most likely goes against the very things they stand for!
Yet, they are the "Catholics of the Year." Why are we ranking Catholics, anyway? And out of the gazillion Catholics worldwide, why and how would we even try? Because that's essentially what an award like this is: by saying they are "of the year" they are saying that they outshine, outdo, out-Catholic all other Catholics.
This is weird.
For the secular media, it makes sense. You'd expect that from People magazine or your local daily. But Christians are called to a higher standard than this. And Catholic Christians, since we alone posses the Eucharist, are especially called.
Those in the Catholic media MUST be above what the secular media does. They HAVE to, because as Catholics they represent the Church. Anything less, anything secular like TIME magazine, is wrong.
God doesn't pass out awards to those who make the biggest splash. The Catholic media shouldn't, either.
Because we're all equal in God's eyes, I'm begging the Catholic media to stop "ranking" Catholics.
Have a blessed New Year.