Betty Duffy

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Divine Privilege

“I see myself being like an Angelina Jolie…but even stronger, pushing even harder for the universe and for peace and for the health of our planet…. God didn’t give me these talents and looks to just sit around being a model or being famous. I want to lead a huge charity organization. I want to lead the country for all I know.” (--Alexis Neiers as quoted in Vanity Fair, “The Suspects Wore Louboutins”)

While I was on my girly weekend in Florida, I read a lot of magazines, including this article on “The Bling Ring,” a group of bourgeois Hollywood teenagers arrested for breaking into the homes of celebrities and stealing millions of dollars worth of luxury goods. The magnanimous suspect quoted above was too drunk to remember if she actually participated in the burglary of Orlando Bloom’s home, nevertheless, surely the media frenzy surrounding her trial would make her famous enough to one day become president, because, well, she’s good looking.

Youthful arrogance is not a new thing, I know. There have been times in my life when I thought good looks might open the doors to fame, privilege, and possibly even Heaven. I’m not the best-looking bird in the blogosphere, but I’m also pretty certain I’m not a dog, and in my younger years I thought this meant something. Almost every organization offered a leadership conference when I was growing up. I went to them all, being good looking as I was, I had responsibilities.

I’d heard Christians say before: if that guy, or that girl would let Jesus rule their heart, there is no end to how influential they would be. My own conversion took so many years, and endured so many personal rebellions that I believed God had fought for me. And that once I turned my life over, there would be no end to how influential I could be. I thought I was, as they say, the best thing that ever happened to Jesus.

When I went to work as a co-worker for Regnum Christi, we spent our first month in training—a retreat-like atmosphere that would prepare our hearts to receive our mission. At the end of the summer, a priest came to give us our assignments for the year. Some girls were sent to Ireland or Mexico to work in boarding schools, some to Rome or Atlanta to plan conventions and retreats. I was one of the last to receive my assignment, but remained peaceful, certain they were saving the best for last. I was a leader-girl after all. People had told me so my entire life.

I was assigned to stay in the House of Formation, live with the Consecrated women, and make fliers. There would be no overseas travel allowing me to influence the youth with my beauty and intelligence. I would stay right where I was, in the cloister, doing something I hated.

A tantrum ensued. I had given up so much, all my precious sins, all my bad relationships—to make fliers? You duped me Lord!

And so he did. I still, years later, struggle with new reincarnations of the same old problem.

God: Everybody’s special.

Every now and then I’m tempted to slap up a really gorgeous picture of myself on this blog. Of course it would not be indicative of my real life (as I sit here typing in a nightgown, glasses, and sweaty armpits), but the make-up, the angle, the lighting would be just right to say, “See, Catholicism is for the young, the beautiful, the hip. Don’t you want to join the beautiful people?”

I love beautiful people. I’m attracted to beautiful people. I think beautiful people should go to Church (I’ve written about this before). But as a friend once told me, “Anyone who’s thin enough and has a good dermatologist can be beautiful.” And though it should have been obvious to me years ago, it still sometimes surprises me: Christianity is not about divine privilege, but rather, Divine Sacrifice. It's for the soul who’s willing to make itself small, to be nameless, faceless, a servant, a victim. “You duped me, Lord.”

Such is the price of eternal life. I think I want it.

My daughter brought me this picture the other day and asked which person I wanted to be.

Being that they’re all the same, I was tempted to point to the biggest one, up on top. I couldn’t bring myself to choose one of the little ones on bottom. “I don’t know,” I said. “You choose.”


Gardenia said...

Betty, just beautiful. this really rang the bell for me today. "being christian is not about diveine privelege but about divine sacrifice." "becoming nameless and small." motherhood is like that too -- your "agenda of me" become less -- for your child. bless you!

Anonymous said...


Very nice piece. I enjoy your writing.

I sometimes think that there is a parallel between our relationships as parents, to our children, and our relationship, as children, to God. Both involve (among many other things) the subordination of ego.

I don't think its any accident that as we become parents, in our 20s and 30s, we begin to rediscover our faith. Yes, it's a function of maturity to some degree. But it's also a function of what happens when we stop filling ourselves, and begin emptying ourselves.

Mike Benz

Young Mom said...

This is awesome! I think that you explain part of the appeal Calvinism has for some protestants. They want to be "special".

Darwin said...

Every now and then I’m tempted to slap up a really gorgeous picture of myself on this blog.

Aw, come on. TS and I dare you to.

Jus said...

I would be game for a gorgeous image of you as well..... some of us don't see you on a regular basis ;)

BettyDuffy said...

Mike, Agreed. Parenthood, while it doesn't guarantee the emptying of oneself, certainly lays out all the coordinates to make it possible. The sorrow, however, is that the ego, once emptied, very willingly takes a refill. One is never cured.

Youngmom, I'm sure you know more about Calvinism than I do, but I think adolescents of any denomination carry a lot of ego around with their faith. Growing up middle class, making good grades--it's easy to consider oneself "blessed and chosen"--but there are an awful lot of blessed teenagers in America. I wish I'd known then, that if I really wanted to be different, I should respond with humility, sacrifice, and love. Love (except for selflove) was not on my radar at all.

Darwin and Jus, it's impossible. I have now set the standard so high, any picture is bound to disappoint. Also, nothing's changed since the last time either of you saw me. I've gained two pounds since the start of Lent.

BettyDuffy said...

Gardenia, Thank you!

Suz said...

This is an excellent post! I was going to write something about that 'I'm good-looking which makes me more valuable than other people' feeling... one of these days...

Love these lines-

'being good looking as I was, I had responsibilities.'

'I thought I was, as they say, the best thing that ever happened to Jesus.'

'Christianity is not about divine privilege, but rather, Divine Sacrifice.'

Great writing!

Darwin said...

I have now set the standard so high, any picture is bound to disappoint. Also, nothing's changed since the last time either of you saw me.

Perhaps you could shake things up by engaging in your very own photoshopping scandal?

BettyDuffy said...

Gisele Bundchen's body with Gywneth's hair? If only I had an ounce of photo editing ability (or software).

TS said...

Delightfully honest!

I also find it refreshing you haven't tried to maximize your blog's potential by using your looks and posting pictures or by using a more interesting pseudonym. ("Betty Duffy" doesn't sound like a looker, with apologies to any Bettys listening.)

As I sit here typing in a nightgown...

As if! As if that's a detriment? That may be one of those classic gender differences where girls think they have to be all dolled up to be attractive.

BettyDuffy said...

Never heard of a "hot betty"? I guess it's not what I had in mind when I started the blog anyway.

Nightgowns...not really seeing the appeal--but I suppose there's something there for people who prefer mystery to realities.

TS said...

I suppose there's something there for people who prefer mystery to realities.

There's nothing more real than mystery and there's nothing more mysterious than reality.

Anyway great post. You still got it.