True Confessions: Riches, Honors and Fame

Today I make my “true confession.”   I suppose the thought to do this comes from just having attended my 35th Jesuit retreat.  In the Catholic tradition, before you can take Holy Communion, you must make an honest recital of any sins, grievous or otherwise that you have committed since your last communion.  Since, I have not been to communion in more years than I can remember; I decided to think about a question raised at the retreat as to what Riches, Honors and Fame meant to me.  This led to my realization that I want Riches, Honors and Fame more than anything in the world.  Thus my confession:  I want to be rich so that I can buy everything I have always dreamed of – exotic cars, luxury boats, vacations at places where only the glamorous go – emeralds – diamonds – rubies – gold watches – Rolexes – several Ferraris and a few Lamborghinis would do nicely.   Did I mention the five houses overlooking the ocean, bay, lake, mountain and Hollywood Hills?

If I were a rich man,
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
All day long I’d biddy biddy bum.
If I were a wealthy man.
I wouldn’t have to work hard.
Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.
If I were a biddy biddy rich,
Yidle-diddle-didle-didle man. — Fiddler on the Roof

I also want Honors galore – Best novel, Best writer, the Nobel Prize for Literature, Pulitzer Prize for Blogging, Most Influential Author, Number 1 on the Amazon, Times and Wall Street Journal Best Seller lists.  I want to be the Man, the recognized expert.  The one the talk shows all call up to pontificate on the latest subjects.  I want to receive honorary Doctorates from Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge and the Sorbonne.  I want to be “Time Man of the Year” and get the President’s Award for Lifetime American Achievements.

The most important men in town would come to fawn on me!
They would ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise.
“If you please, Dr. Persico…”
“Pardon me,  Dr. Persico…”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes!
And it won’t make one bit of difference if i answer right or wrong.
When you’re rich, they think you really know!  — Fiddler on the Roof

Finally, wealth and honors are not enough for me.  I want to be famous.  I want to have six million people every day read my blogs.  I want my writings translated into 179 languages.  I want my books sold on every continent including the South Pole.  I want to be a guest lecturer at Carnegie Hall and introduce the President at the Journalists Awards Dinner each year.  I want to have the public clamoring to attend my lectures at the Kennedy Center and exhibition halls around the world.  I want women standing in line with their children for me to kiss and men willing to stand in line for hours simply to get my autograph.

If I were rich, I’d have the time that I lack
To sit in the synagogue and pray.
And maybe have a seat by the Eastern wall.
And I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men, several hours every day.
That would be the sweetest thing of all. — Fiddler on the Roof

Finally, I cry out in Frustration like Faust at being neglected and unnoticed –  “Some get 5 million readers each week while I am lucky to get even five who read my blog.”  Faust who was the smartest and most learned man in the world but wanted more.  So he sold his soul to the Devil for youth and fame.

But Lo! What is this?  Who is this strange creature who suddenly appears and with a hideous laugh asks me “What do you want?”

Have I not just made my confession?  I believe he knows the answer but he must affront me.  So I reply “What I have always wanted, more than anything in the world – Riches –Honors and Fame.”

“And what would you give up for these?” the creature replies.

Somewhat hesitantly I answer “Anything” for I know what the Devil really wants.  The bargain will be for my immortal soul, but he continues to provoke me “Be specific man, what are you willing to give up?”

“OK”, I answer, “I will give you my soul for Riches, Honors and Fame.”

“Ha” he laughs, “I have more souls than I need. Souls are a commodity these days.  I have enough souls to last for an eternity.”

“Well, than, what do you want from me?”

“Love” replies Satan.  “I want the love of your friends, your family and your wife. In exchange, I will give you Riches, Honors and Fame beyond your wildest imaginations.  No one in history will have ever had more than you of these treasures.”

I am somewhat taken aback by this request and admit that I do not fully understand it.  I think about this bargain for a minute and then request clarification.  “Do you mean, I will be unloved and no one will care about me?  No one to worry about my well-being and whether I am sick or not?  No one who cares whether I live or die?  No one to shed a tear at my funeral?”

“Come, come” says Satan, “Love is fickle, your wife may leave you tomorrow for another man, friends come and go and relatives are never much of a bargain.  What I am offering you is the adoration of millions, public acclaim, riches and recognition.  You can find dozens of willing women with all the money you will have.”

“Yes, that’s true, but more likely they will only love me for my money.  Money can’t buy true friendship.  My friends today like me because of who I am and not because of money or fame.  And my relatives, while I might willingly trade some and others are a pain, they would be the first to stand by me when I am in need.  As for my wife being fickle, she is my strongest supporter through my many ups and downs.  I have no reason to doubt she loves me today just the way I am and as Jesus said “Sufficient the day until itself.”

At the mention of Jesus’s name, the creature reacted as if struck by a hot poker.

“Enough,” he cried out “Give me your answer now or the offer is forever terminated.  You will in all probability die poor, ignored and unknown.  Buried in a pauper’s field somewhere!  Your vaunted loved ones will soon forget you ever existed and in less time than a fly’s lifespan, weeds will replace flowers at your grave site.”

“Nevertheless”, say I “I would not give up the love of my wife, friends and family for all the gold, diamonds, fame and medals in the world.  If only one tear is shed at my passing, only one tear that remembers who I was and what I tried to do in the world – that will be enough reward for the life that I have tried to live.”

At these words, the creature went back to Hell and I went back home to wash the dishes.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

— The First Letter of St. John

Time for Questions:

What would you sell your soul for?  What are the most important things in your life?  What are the things that give you the most joy?  How do we raise children to recognize the truly important things in life?  How do we keep ourselves on track and not get seduced by the riches and allures that the world offers for our soul?

Life is just beginning. 


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan Armstrong
    Jul 17, 2013 @ 01:57:00

    Love this, John.
    Thanks for invoking Tevye – I can see/hear him in my mind’s eye.



  2. Greg Gorman
    Jul 18, 2013 @ 06:08:33

    Hi John,
    This offering is one of the best that I’ve read. I loved its style, its creativity, the depth of thought, and especially its authenticity. My congratulations for producing such a fine piece of writing.

    1. What would you sell your soul for?
    I’m not sure what that means. If you are saying what compromises or sacrifices or injuries would I be willing to inflict on myself or those I love to create a life for myself that would show my “special qualities” and bring more money, fame, fortune and feed my ego, then I can say that my “soul” has never been for sale. I’ve always tried to do my best with the gifts that God has given me.
    Years ago at work there was a security officer with whom I was friendly. His post was directly across from a particularly wealthy neighborhood. One time he spoke to me of his envy for the life that he assumed that wealth was providing for them. I answered him simply by saying that all people live in a box. Each box may be different in the sense of its size and contents. However, the person with whom you share that box is the most important attribute that can bring the peace, joy and excitement of being alive.
    2. What are the most important things in your life?
    My wife and family are the most important. I try to ensure that they will profit from the hard work I’ve done all my life. I try to help my children in whatever capacity they ask of me. Nothing gives me more pleasure than being able to help in a way that improves the quality of their life, and nothing pleases more than by helping take care of my 6 grandchildren. In them will remain whatever messages I’ve tried to communicate.
    My work with Organizing for Action gives me great pleasure. My father-in-law spent a great deal of his life complaining about the world as he saw it. This organization allows me to play an active role in changing those conditions that I see as counterproductive to life of this nation. I want to die with hope in my heart.
    3. What are the things that give you the most joy?
    Without contest, I love seeing my children taking their role in the life of society. I love seeing my grandchildren grow. I love watching them as children discovering all the wonders of life. When it comes to what truly matters to me, I’m one of the wealthiest people I know. What do I care what others may think of my ideas, when I can discuss these same thoughts with my children, and I get a real good argument, and we still love and respect each other?
    4. How do we raise children to recognize the truly important things in life?
    Children learn what they live. No one is as observant as a child. Be open, be honest, love a lot, kiss and hug them, and show them that your chosen behaviors make you happy, and that this happiness can be shared.
    5. How do we keep ourselves on track and not get seduced by the riches and allures that the world offers for our soul?
    First of all, there are other paths to richness than corrupt behavior. One can make a loving decision to pass extreme amounts of time in study or practice in order to have that special quality that might result in a great book, or a superb violin solo. I believe that sincere communication with our loved ones can result in this “selfishness of time” to be accepted. In fact, they may even love you enough to let you seek your dreams, and you theirs.
    I do not necessarily think that unbridled ambition is something that must be controlled. If that is your life’s goal, go for it! Just keep the damage to a minimum.



    • johnpersico
      Jul 19, 2013 @ 04:05:39

      HI Greg, thanks, I appreciate your thoughtful replies to my questions. You make a great deal of sense and help to “Flesh” out the questions and thoughts that I hope my readers are left with. I guess wealth is not really what life is about and you show with your values the truth of that observation. I cannot think of a single prophet who emphasized wealth creation or popularity for that matter. The recent outrage over this weeks Rolling Stone cover raises some good questions about Fame and Infamy or Celebrity today and the blurring of the lines between them. It is hard not to get caught up in this and I imagine it must be even harder for kids growing up today with all the emphasis on image and style and form over function. Take care. John



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