Timely Sermon for Steven Slater and Us

Marybeth Hicks

8/18/2010 1:16:36 PM - Marybeth Hicks
Sometimes I wonder whether my parish priests stand outside the windows listening to what goes on in my house during the week. How else could they deliver homilies from Sunday to Sunday that speak directly to the things we face at home?

One week we'll be dealing with financial worries, and the sermon is about trusting God to provide everything we need, even if we can't quite see how that's possible.

Another week will find us stressed by too many obligations and commitments, and we'll hear a lesson reminding us "From everyone to whom much is given, much will be required" (Luke 12:48).

Either the stuff we're dealing with is universal, or someone is feeding talking points to the padres.

This week, Father Joe displayed his typical, uncanny insight into my family's spiritual challenges. How did he know we're getting a little tired of spending so much time together, sharing bathrooms and cars, wondering when someone else will take a turn to replace the shampoo or fill up the tank?

Must be my family isn't the only one counting the days until school starts. Either that or short tempers are serendipitously part of the liturgical calendar. Father Joe challenged us with the words of the late Pope John Paul II to "act as we wish we felt." Basing his lesson on the seminal work "The Acting Person" by the late pontiff, Father Joe reminded us that rising above our own selfishness and self-interest, even in little things, can lead us to heroic acts of love.

Now, let's not tell Father Joe, but my mind wandered just a bit while he was talking. I didn't stray from the topic, mind you. But I'm sure he wanted me to reflect on my own behavior and not on the antics of one Steven Slater, erstwhile steward for JetBlue Airways.

Mr. Slater is America's new celebrity because of his actions at the conclusion of JetBlue's Flight 1052 on Aug. 9. After claiming to have endured a final indignity of rude behavior on the part of a passenger, he delivered a cuss-filled rant over the aircraft's public address system, grabbed two beers and his suitcase and then exited the plane via the emergency inflatable slide.

When his "Take This Job and Shove It" moment made the press, he became a folk hero. Within a few days, a Facebook fan page for him had garnered tens of thousands of members — there are more than 210,000 as of Tuesday — and he was the subject of a musical tribute on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," among other noteworthy accolades.

Now there's talk of a TV reality show in which Mr. Slater would help people quit their jobs. Pretend you're surprised.

Not everyone was impressed.

Mr. Slater was arrested for illegally enabling the emergency chute and improperly exiting the airport, and he faces the prospect of jail time. Investigators so far have not found anyone to corroborate his story about a disrespectful passenger and instead have found lots of people who say he was the rude one — treating several people discourteously from the time they boarded the plane.

Yet Mr. Slater is the "everyman" for a disheartened American working class.

True, we're a stressed-out country that is drained from worrying about our finances and our jobs. And we're sick of putting up with the rude behavior that seems to be our new national norm.

But I'll bet we all can name a dozen people who, despite their stress, remain cheerful and act with kindness and patience, no matter how others behave.

It's disappointing that a guy like Mr. Slater has evoked the sympathies of our emotionally immature culture. The real heroes are the people who act as they wish they felt, lovingly and patiently toward the people God has put on their paths.