The Passing of Heroes

vigilNot just mine, but other people’s. And even people I don’t consider as heroes. My brother passed around on facebook a meme or two that expressed a certain wishfulness about David Bowie and Glenn Frey and a certain reality-tv clan, that perhaps their fates would be better switched. You know of what I speak, right?

I wouldn’t wish an untimely death on anyone, and in my work with funerals (seven so far this month) even a good death is not always a welcome event for those left behind. It may happen someone dies whom we’ve admired, usually from afar, we may well feel a sense of loss on par with a close friend. I remember playing all my Beatles albums on December 9th in 1980. But I didn’t light any candles. Even in the internet age, I don’t always catch the news in a timely way. When one of the guitarists I admired most passed away, it was months before I found out.

So far in 2016, a lot of mourning for artists of stage and screen passing on. I was not a David Bowie fan, but people I respect admired him. Rock music is just too big to love everything. My wife and daughter are bigger fans of Eagles than I, but when their concert dvd from Australia goes in the player at home, I do pull out my guitar and play along.

My own public reaction is something in between buzzkill and fawning tribute when a rock musician dies. The Vatican approach seems balanced to me. But others have a problem with this “misplacement.”

I remember this proverb from high school’s Latin II:

De mortuis nil nisi bonum.

Perhaps derived from my mother’s wide-ranging corollary:

If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, then don’t say anything.

When Father George Rutler suggests that Catholics have adopted “the diction of political correctness and it compromises the prophetic charism of the Church,” I think he overstates the case. Way overstates.

It strikes me that Fr Rutler has indulged a particularly Catholic brand of political correctness in his approach. It’s what I call the hermeneutic of subtraction. In part, it’s a pendulum swing against courtesy and politeness that indulges the inner grump. In some circles, it is just unsatisfactory to tout one’s own heroes and creeds. Too often it seems necessary to hack the legs out from under others, their mentors, and beliefs as well. This is not prophecy. Prophecy is a much rarer bird than most people think. Perhaps they are engaged more often than apostles, but they strike me as not nearly as numerous as teachers. No, not prophetic charism. Just bumpkin behavior.

Thinking about classical artists and composers from centuries past, they have it good. We’ve forgotten their sins, their indulgences, their petty squabbles with patrons, even church patrons. Nobody remembers many of their errors, subtle or gross. Their partners in misbehavior have vanished from the books as we elevate their music and writings and paintings and statues to fond and untroubling decorations in our modern lives.

In the modern culture, people are often startled at expressions of grief and sadness. That’s not how life is portrayed in advertisements, usually. A person crying in a public place, alone, is likely to get a wide berth and a few curious stares from passersby. Maybe in groups, people feel more at ease lighting candles in the wind and dropping flowers to wilt in remembrance.

My sense is to give such persons a dollop of respect. It might seem that my possible disagreement with their heroes would lead me to be “prophetic.” But that would just be oafish behavior on my part.

Image credit.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Hermeneutic of Subtraction, Music and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Passing of Heroes

  1. Atheist Max says:

    Very lovely post. Thanks.

  2. Liam says:


    The culture of celebrity differs in some important respects from the culture of fame, though there is overlap. I admit that I find intense emotional reactions to the deaths of stranger-celebrities to partake of a certain amount of displacement and projection that tends to reinforce the artificial bonds of the culture of celebrity. Yet, still pray for the dead. Of all kinds. Celebrities no less, and nor more.

  3. Jim McCrea says:

    Poor George Rutler. He is an apostate smells and bells uber high church Episcopalian who has discovered that his “poping” has not caused significant retrograde actions in his new denomination that will make it Anglican without the gay and female bishops (or so he things that would be, but we know differently, don’t we?).

  4. Atheist Max says:

    And Bowie wanted no funeral. What a great affirmation to life. <3

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s