So, Jon and Kate are getting divorced. On the fateful night of that announcement, a friend’s Facebook status read, “I want to look away from Jon and Kate Plus 8, but I can’t… It’s like watching a train wreck!” This is pretty much how I have felt about the few sittings of Reality TV I have stomached. Whether it’s a pop star hopeful about to share their tone deafness with the world, or a family inviting us into their dysfunctional lifestyle, I feel that watching such scenes is a lot like witnessing some person or object about to tumble to the ground… you know a mess is coming, but you just can’t stop it from happening.
Have you ever asked yourself why people subject themselves to such public humiliation? I have. For Jon and Kate perhaps the original motive was to make some extra cash to support their growing family, and maybe there are others who go on these shows for the money as well. But I think many who participate in Reality TV do so because it is exciting to be on a screen seen by millions, even if for only 22 minutes. I think there is a huge number of people today wanting to be famous, wanting to be known. Reality TV capitalizes on this longing.
I read of a study that polled teenaged girls’ dream career prospects. Would you believe that with all the possibilities open to girls today that being a personal assistant to Brittany Spears trumped doctor, scientist, lawyer, teacher, etc? Mind you, the girls preferred being a personal assistant to a pop star to actually being something lucrative and personally fulfilling. There is a good chunk of our young women who would rather pick up a famous person’s dry cleaning than figure out a cure for cancer! Why? They want to be known. Even being close to fame is close enough.
Contrast that study with 150 middle-schoolers, kneeling or sitting on hard carpet for an hour and a half, waiting for their 15 second visit from a soft-spoken middle aged man holding a piece of bread. They are singing, reading, crying, or even more strangely, just sitting quietly. Is this the newest extreme challenge show? No, it’s Adoration, and it’s these kids’ favorite part of a 5 day camp that includes swimming, boating, sports, music, a dance and games that involve getting completely covered in mud. The man is our camp priest and the bread, of course, is Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
It has been my experience that on any good retreat, teens love Adoration best. Average teens! Why? For the same reason that someone will eat a roach sandwich on TV. They long to be known. At the camp I am describing, the priest blessed each and every person with the monstrance, which is a beautiful gift. But even in huge college auditoriums with thousands of people, that Eucharist reaches every heart from its distant spot on the altar. In the presence of Jesus, there are no strangers. With their hearts opened by the other activities of a retreat, the teens encounter Jesus personally. They are not one of many, but a unique individual known and loved deeply and completely. The most famous Person in all of history, the One who created time itself and set the world in motion meets each person who comes into His presence, and supplies for each soul’s need.
So, that answers the title question: Reality TV and the Eucharist both speak to the human need to be known. But of course, we must also contrast these two things. In the interest of brevity, I will speak to only one main difference. The fame sought out by those involving themselves in Reality TV is fleeting and empty in the best case scenario, and destructive in the worst. For all the controversy they stir up today, in 20 years Jon and Kate will be no more than a question in the Entertainment column of the “00’s” Trivial Pursuit game. The culture will have moved on to something new by then. In more cases than not, fame consumes the famous, making their downfall a sport for others’ amusement. At the very least, those who sought to be known through fame will simply be forgotten.
With Jesus, of course, it is the opposite. Each person who puts themself in the presence of God is connected to the source of their life. Though God knows us completely even when we do not acknowledge Him, the more time spent with Him leads us to greater absorption of His love. The more we let Him love us, the better we know ourselves and the closer we get to who we were created to be.
Do you want to be known? Do you want to be the object of affection of the most important Person in the universe? So precious to the King of Ages that He would send His Son to die in your place? You already are. Go spend some time with Him and He will convince you that it’s true. He’s waiting!