“Do we live for God or do we live for ourselves? What are our priorities?”
It is a matter of priorities.
Actor Neal McDonough recently recalled a time when he was fired from the ABC television series “Scoundrels” for refusing to do love scenes with his series co-star.
“I was (surprised), and it was a horrible situation for me,” the actor recently told entertainment news site, Closer Weekly. “After that, I couldn’t get a job because everybody thought I was this religious zealot. I am very religious. I put God and family first, and me second. That’s what I live by. It was hard for a few years.”
“Scoundrels” went on to receive mixed reviews and lasted only one season. But the damage to McDonough was very real. The work lost in those years represented millions of dollars in potential pay. But the actor was firm in his convictions, “I won’t kiss any other woman because these lips are meant for one woman.” It became so difficult to find work that McDonough was ready to give up a career in Hollywood and return home to work in regional theater and help his parents at their Cape Cod motel.
Staying true to the tenets of the Christian faith can be difficult, and expensive in terms of lost opportunity. But that does not make bearing witness any less vital.
Throughout scripture there is a question that is constantly asked of us. It is asked in different ways, using different words but it is always the same question.
Do we live for God or do we live for ourselves? What are our priorities?
In the Gospel according to Luke, Jesus states “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” “Hate” is a strong word in our contemporary society. A better (and perfectly legitimate) translation would to “love less.” Jesus does not tell us we must hate our mother and father, rather He tells us that we must put God before everything else, even before family and friends.
The question God asks of us seems simple and easily answered but it is very demanding. If we live for God we must realize what it is we are saying.
The Priorities of Creatives
Creative people, artists, actors, and even bakers, have a unique problem. We are offered work on a project basis and those projects do not always compliment our beliefs and principles. In those cases we are faced with the decision to truly live according to our deepest held beliefs, or abandon those beliefs for the sake of worldly success. To add to the pressure, standing up for our beliefs by refusing certain projects can result in lawsuits, a situation that has yet to be addressed by our justice system. As it stands now, business owners have been fined exorbitant amounts, resulting in the closure of their business, for refusing to exercise their gifts in a way contrary to their morals and values..
But choosing to stay true to our beliefs does not necessarily mean abandoning our talents. Neal McDonough was ready to give up on Hollywood but not on acting. “That’s what I’m supposed to do,” said McDonough. “God gave me this talent of being an actor, and I’m not going to waste it. That’s just who I am.”
McDonough has been fortunate. Just as he was about to leave Hollywood he was offered a role in Steven Spielberg's “Band of Brothers.” which has led to a very successful acting career involving over a hundred different projects.. He still refuses to do love scenes and while it may have cost him some roles, it has led to other opportunities. When he was signed to star in the ABC series “Desperate Housewives,” he had to remind series creator Marc Cherry of his standing policy.
According to McDonough, “I said, I’m sure you know, but I won’t kiss anybody. He was like, ‘But this is ‘Desperate Housewives!’' I said, I know. He paused for about five seconds and said, ‘All right, I’m just going to have to write better.’ And we had a great time.”
Sacrificing our desires for the sake of God is a form of martyrdom. The word “martyr” comes from a Greek word for “witness.” We bear witness to the faith even if it means a loss of work, or income, even if it means privation and sacrifice for our family as well. This is not the “red” martyrdom that demands our life or the “green” martyrdom that involves fasting and penance. This is a “white” martyrdom.
When we say we live for God we are affirming our love for Him, even in difficult times, even when we are jobless, when we are having a difficult time paying bills, when we are in danger of losing our homes, when health problems cripple us or our loved ones, even when we lose those we love.
When we study the lives of the saints we frequently see that as their love for God grows their lives become more difficult. But those who prevail and find victory inspire us in our struggles.
How we answer this question dictates how we live our lives. Do we live for God or do we live for ourselves? These are the only two paths open to us. There is no other, middle way.
6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.org and can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com