Saturday, July 30, 2011

A personal pondering: Is proficiency prevented by pudge?

Last week the Governor of New Jersey had an asthma attack, something he has kept under control for a number of years. Smelling blood (or maybe his breath, I suppose), the national media moved in to dogmatically declare a flaw in a potential Chris Christie run for the Presidency.

Said nicely, he has "health issues". The underlying message which you got, once the media included pictures of the Governor's girth: "He's too fat to be President".

Not a day later, the L.A. Times opined about Governor Christie: "Is America ready for a President who, frankly, doesn't look healthy?" O.K., let's start by getting the sarcastic replies out of the way:
  • "Really, and how did a bodybuilder governor work out for you, California?"
  • "Are we really striving for a President whose waist size matches the unemployment rate?"
  • "Hey, California, 37 million people in your state you could've voted for and you brought back Jerry Brown. Seriously?"
This is just another passive-aggressive tactic of the liberal, democratic biased mainstream media. Their signal to let everyone start to pounce on Governor Christie. Leno, go to work. Conan, do your thing. Piers Morgan, well, no one really watches you anyway. Hey, maybe Tina Fey can put on a fat suit and try to do to Christie what she did to Sarah Palin? Maybe they can just refurbish the fat jokes they used on Ted Kennedy. Oh wait, they left his waistline alone.

Sad but true, the same bias exists in ecclesial circles. From the moment we're seminarians, we learn very quickly there's another evaluation going on besides academic or intellectual ability. I'll say it: Seminarians (and later Priests) are judged on their physical looks. I can remember getting off a bus with other seminarians during the 1996 visit of Pope John Paul to Baltimore. As we stepped off, a Priest pulled some guys out of the line and put them by themselves. We wondered what was happening? We found out: He needed seminarians to be interviewed on TV about the Papal visit, and was picking guys based on their looks (we knew this because the guys chosen looked like a GQ cover shoot; not a zit between the 5 or 6 of them). Nevermind some of these guys had never read any of the Pope's encyclicals; I'd bet some of them couldn't even spell "papal"! It carries through into Priesthood. If you're thin, somehow the judgment is made that you're a good, successful Priest, without anyone ever checking to see if they spend more time worrying about their looks than the parish to which they're assigned. If you're fat, the presumption is made that you've got something wrong with you. Hindsight, though, is always wonderfully honest in this regard. Nothing is less surprising in the Church then when a bella-figura Priest drops off the radar or announces he's leaving, the moment he's not the center of attention anymore. A well known example of this in recent history is the story of a young priest who had to be literally begged by a bishop (now retired) to become his secretary. The young man had a condition: he'd take the job only if, after a few years, he'd be allowed to go for further studies in Rome. The Bishop ok'ed it, and the young priest served as secretary, and then was sent to Rome. When he finished his studies and returned home to his diocese in the northeast, he found he couldn't function. He missed Rome, and in particular, a young Italian man he met while studying theology on his diocese's dime. When last heard from he was living in Europe with his special friend and teaching English to foreigners.

The truth will come as no shock that Governor Christie's brain is separate from his stomach. His ability to make decisions and lead has nothing to do with what he has for lunch... or dinner... or as a snack at 11pm. The same rings true for Priests. This is nothing more than schoolyard bullying modified for grown-ups who never, well, grew up. You want to wish he would lose weight so he can feel healthier? That's fine. But to say he shouldn't be President because he can't say no to Yodels or because Americans don't want to see a President with some meat on him insults both him and all of us.


Wendy said...

Well said, Father.

Fr. Selvester said...

VERY true! I appreciate your observations, Father. Usually the priests who "look good" are that way because they spend more time working on their appearance than they do on things like writing a decent homily or ministering to those in need.

Barb Szyszkiewicz said...


Ellen said...

Very good observations. Unfortunately we tend to look at the box instead of what's inside!

chloesmom said...

Spot on, Father! Most of my life controlling my own weight has been a challenge, and I have painful memories of the type of schoolyard bullying you mention, e.g."Fatty, fatty two by four, couldn't fit thru the bathroom door, So she did it on the floor", ad nauseam. And even though I'm now in my 60s, this type of bias still exists, especially in today's culture. Even though I'm now in better shape than I ever was, it's nowhere near what the culture considers sexy - and I'm "old", too, which is another bias entirely! But as the French say, I'm "at ease in my skin", and the culture can put their bias where the sun don't shine! Thanks very much for this perceptive post!