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Ever since Paris Hilton was sentenced to prison for violating probation and driving with a suspended license, it seems we can't turn on the TV, connect to the internet, or glance at the cover of a magazine without seeing or hearing her name.

Where is Our Focus?

Another Celebrity Mess Poses a Challenge of Mercy

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Ever since Paris Hilton was sentenced to prison for violating probation and driving with a suspended license, it seems we cannot turn on the TV, connect to the internet, or glance at the cover of a magazine without seeing or hearing her name. Some people have been irritated by the excessive coverage while others have followed the developments eagerly.

Reflecting on the fiasco, I'm not as interested in the difference between these two camps as I am in the similarity. If my own fallen human heart is typical, I believe one emotion colors the attitudes of just about everyone who has commented on Ms. Hilton's situation: smugness.

If we're honest with ourselves, many of us will admit that we've done our share of snickering and self-satisfied head-shaking over Paris's behavior and treatment. I'll share just one example of many from my own conscience. When I learned that Paris attended church with her mother before she started serving her time, my first thought was, Well, maybe she should go more often, like I do, and then she wouldn't be in this mess.

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican comes easily to mind, but there is another gospel passage that has urged me to face my judgmental tendencies lately. It's the one we heard two Sundays ago about Jesus sending out His disciples two-by-two to bring the good news to the people. It's a familiar reading, but this time a particular line struck me. When Jesus commanded the disciples to leave a town that rejected them and to shake the dust of that town off their feet, He promised them that "it will be more bearable on [the day of judgment] for Sodom than for that town" (Lk 10:12). I wondered, How do we react to that: with smugness or with sorrow and prayer?

When we're pleased about others' falls, we enjoy and worsen the heartbreak of Christ. The disciples whom Christ sent out returned rejoicing that they were able to drive out demons. They didn't gloat aloud or in secret about towns that had refused to hear the word of God. We who choose to judge instead of love are sick and badly in need of our Divine Physician.

For the past few months, I've prayed an ejaculatory prayer. The words "Humble me and heal me, O Lord" came into my mind during Communion meditation at the Divine Mercy conference that was held in New York in February. Since then I have used those words to cry out to God when I notice my thoughts becoming arrogant or uncharitable, which happens several times every day.

God has promised to hear the prayers of a contrite heart, and I noticed the fruit of that promise during a hymn that was sung at my future in-laws' Lutheran church, which my fiancé and I visited last Sunday after Mass. One line echoed Jesus' grim prediction in the gospel: "Then woe to those who scorned the Lord" ("The Day is Surely Drawing Near" by Bartholomaeus Ringwaldt).

Those lyrics immediately filled me with sadness over the fate of souls who may lose God's friendship forever. I was surprised to realize that there was no corner of my heart occupied with the self-complacent assumption — and pleasure — that I wasn't in those sinful people's shoes, and I knew that only God could have effected that change in me. On my own, I'm incapable of pity without condescension (a good definition of mercy).

Even the Paris Hilton debacle has shown me that God is working to change my heart. Most of us have seen the provocative TV clip of Paris washing a car in a revealing black leotard and high heels. When I first saw it, I thought, That poor girl. She doesn't know what she's doing. She's letting all the men in the world lust after her instead of reserving her body for one man who will love and value her. No one taught her what she's truly worth. Make no mistake: that thought pattern is not like me. Normally I would think, What an impure woman. Thank goodness I'm not like her. The only explanation is that God Himself has taken pity on me and has been quietly answering my plea to be humbled and healed.

When we are tempted to exult over the sheep who have strayed from the fold, we need to pray: pray for those sheep, of course, but more urgently for ourselves, recognizing our mercilessness as a sign that we have wandered outside the heart of Christ. And when we are safely back in the fold, we should rejoice, as Jesus told His returning disciples, that by God's extravagant grace "[our] names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:20) and earnestly pray that the offering of Jesus' "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity" will move our Eternal Father to "have mercy on us and on the whole world" so that none of our fellow sinners — especially those lost ones who claim the greatest right to God's mercy (Diary of Saint Faustina, 723) and are therefore entitled to all our compassion — will read the Book of Life and find their names missing.

Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.

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m.r.c. - Jul 24, 2007

Thank you for this article - I too needed these words - especially today - I will also repeat this pray "humble me and heal me".

i.c.sebastian - Jul 16, 2007

This world offers us temporary delight. Is it a profit for us? Celebrity hunting is a "strange disease of this modern world with its sick hurry and divided aims." Our aim should be Dominus Jesus, the life of our soul. He is the Love of our Eternal Father.He is the Divine Word . He is the King of Mercy. This divine message embraces the whole world. God bless you.

john - Jul 16, 2007

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner! Jesus I Trust in You!