This past weekend I spent nearly 17 hours over two days going through headshot after headshot, reel after reel, in an attempt to cut 6000 applicants down to a mere 100 for coming auditions. The monotony was stultifying, but I bothered doing the work because, as someone who drafted the story for the film in question, it’s a passion-project. I’m not, however, writing about this experience to raise money or drum up attention for such a small feature (in fact, our online campaign for funding is long closed); rather, the tedium of casting drilled home a lesson, a lesson both eternally true and of special circumstantial importance, an old truism in need of constant regeneration: love of neighbor requires displacement of self.
As a graduate student, I’ve applied for scholarships and fellowships; I’ve applied to masters and doctoral programs as well as academic and writing competitions. And that’s not even the half of it. But the unifying factor undergirding these various experiences is that I have always been an applicant, never a reviewer; I have always found myself hoping, never deciding. In reality, finding myself on one side of these applications made judges faceless bureaucrats out to ruin my day; it created an antagonistic relationship between me and my hoped-for benefactors. The idea of having to “stand out” seemed an arbitrary criterion intended to make my life harder. Now, however, I know that’s not the case, that is, occupying both sides of the application divide have forced me to confront both the judge and the applicant as human beings. Every actor whose profile I reviewed, I tried to approach as a person, even as the process itself begged me to work faster and more viciously.
This placement of God’s humanizing love between self and other has long been practiced in the Catholic Church. Ever since Christ’s command not to cast the first stone, believers from St. Stephen to Pope Francis have practiced the dislocation of self as a way of loving the other. Dorothy Day, for example, is supposed to have quoted the respectable sayings of Lenin and Mao, among others, as a way of asserting the universal love required by the imago Dei. Day copied this practice from Peter Maurin, who did something similar with quotations from Marshall Pétain and Father Coughlin. Recognizing the hardship of all (and with it the wisdom that follows) forces us to embrace our neighbor, even when such an act seems impossible, even, to our egos, sinful.
Understanding the value of this lesson today is integral. I mean today both in the sense of November 4th, 2015 (the day I am writing) and our specific historical context. Today’s readings all deal with love of neighbor, with the unfitness of one who cannot love, in the most extreme sense, to follow Christ. The Messiah’s exhortation to love is even more urgent in a time marked by strife: between Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli, between various groups in the episcopate, and between sections of the Church in diverse parts of the globe. We would do well to imagine ourselves as both applicant and judge, to put ourselves in the place of the other, to say with St. Paul, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” (Rom. 13:8).
*Photo Credit: TPD.com*