Reflection - Fame! And Why to Avoid It
When I was Head of Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (oh, boy! Don’t we just love accumulating ever-more important-sounding job titles?), in a boys’ private school, I often had cause to discuss my pupils’ career ambitions and life aims. Among the many more mundane occupations they had in mind for their future selves (accountant, lawyer, doctor, banker and the like: no would-be plumbers, bus drivers, bakers, cleaners and the like in THAT school), there were a fair number of boys who seemed to think that it didn’t greatly matter what they did, as long as it brought them fame – and, no doubt, fortune, with it. Fame seemed, to them, to be the measure of the success or otherwise of their lives. In fairness, a number of their parents/siblings/relatives did ‘enjoy’ a measure of what passes as fame in the contemporary world and this probably influenced them a good deal. Fame today seems to be the preserve of footballers, pop musicians or rappers, or perhaps actors and politicians (much the same, really!). In the past, fame has been variously acquired by explorers, scientists, through military or naval prowess and acts of supreme valour – or even, at times, through spiritual endeavour and achievement! How things have changed!
Yet is fame really be sought after, even (or especially) if such fame comes at a price? The author, J.K. Rowling certainly has fame, but also a great deal of venom has lately been directed at her for daring to express opinions which, until a few years ago, were perfectly normal and very much in the mainstream. If she had not been quite so famous, it is unlikely that she would have garnered the degree of hatred which has been directed at her.
Christians are called to live their lives without concerning themselves with the acquisition of fame. It can, of course, be ours anyway, unasked for and it can be the means of doing great good in the world, but in general we understand that the aim of life is not success in this world, but success in getting to the next world, God’s Kingdom. Our Lady, in one of her messages disclosed to one of the children of Fatima, said that ‘If men truly understood what eternity is, they would do everything to change their lives.’ The question is, not how I can gain fame, but rather, how can I gain eternal life with God? Surely, properly considered, everything else is subordinate to this goal!
Today is the Feast of St Giles, truly a man who knew the pitfalls of fame. Born in Athens, Greece, in the middle of the 7th Century, Giles took this lesson to heart from an early age and, rather than seeking fame and fortune in this troubled world, determined to do his utmost to be found worthy, through the loving mercy of God, to inherit eternal life and citizenship of the Kingdom. However, although living a solitary life, his spiritual progress and feats made him an object of both curiosity and misguided devotion. Realising that this not only impinged upon his time but also came with the temptation to spiritual pride, Giles left Greece and travelled along the comparatively easy sea route to southern France, a place where he could find the solitude and anonymity he craved.
Residing deep in a forest as a hermit for many years, Giles accidentally came to the attention of the local king, who no doubt wished to gain ‘a friend at Court’ (the only Court which really matters). This king built a monastery for Giles and the few disciples he permitted himself. Credited with great holiness whilst living, on his death the fame could only increase with the many reports of miracles wrought through his intercession. Throughout the Middle Ages, his name and fame spread across Northern Europe, to the extent that his popularity as a true friend of God ensured his choice as Patron Saint of Edinburgh, later the capital city of Scotland.
So, although eschewing fame in this world, which he rightly saw as being detrimental to progress as a Christian, Giles has ensured, through his devotion to Christ lived through a life of prayer, that his fame as a true soldier of God would spread far and wide, This fame has inspired many people through learning of his life to make the effort to reform their own lives and also, following his example, to draw closer to God. That is the only sort of fame for which St Giles, hermit, monk and Patron Saint of cripples and numerous cities across Europe, would have any time: a ‘fame’ which can be used in the divine mission of bringing people to God.
So, let us not search for the passing ‘fame’ provided by this world, but rather, with St Giles and all the company of Heaven, for the true fame, the fame which can come only through knowing. Loving and serving Christ!