Santo! Subito! Per Tutti?

During my zeal-filled neophyte year, I sometimes daydreamed about going off to some faraway land and being killed in odium fidei. Impressed with my bravery, the infidel leader would cry, “Shabash, Max Bahadur! Thou wearest the cross of a Frankish dog, but thou hast the heart of a ghazi!” before taking a Khyber knife to my carotid. Within five years, I’d be beatified, and people like Kathryn Lopez would be writing articles on why I deserved to be raised to the altars, even though I was in so many ways a scumbag.

Perhaps that sounds a bit lurid — indeed, discerning a vocation while reading Flashman might be a bad idea for anyone — but I’ve since learned that this type of fantasy is far from uncommon. St. Therese dreamed of being martyred in Vietnam; had she put out a hip-hop album instead of a spiritual autobiography, she’d have had to title it: Get Yourself Killed or Die Trying. Even my skeptical, anti-authoritarian mother once harbored ambitions of becoming a virgin martyr. Long into her adulthood, she could still tell you who got what hacked off in the reign of which demented, pansexual Roman tetrarch. (Diocletian racked up the highest body count, I believe.)

But why would we have these thoughts? Are we just a bunch of depressives who regarded Christian witness as a means of assisted suicide? Hopefully not. We may simply have recognized, with an unlikely mixture of piety and shrewdness, that the palm represented the quickest path through the gates. The editors of America Magazine might tend to agree. Not only are they calling for more lay saints, they’re specifying that a good share of the halos should go to people “who did not die in terrible circumstances (like St. Gianna Molla).”

That stipulation would exclude one candidate whose beatification the editors do approve — Piergiogrio Frasatti, a Turinese newspaperman and Azzione catolico activist who died of poliomyelitis he likely picked up from volunteering in a charity hospital. (Before taking ill, he attacked a pair of blackshirts, an act that could not help but melt my little Jewboy heart.) But rather than quibble, I’ll concede the point: When hagiographers and pleaders for a cause focus on a candidate’s death rather than his life — which Frasatti’s, to their credit, don’t — the whole thing gets a little morbid. As we’ve seen. The blood of the martyrs may be the seed of the Church, but Jiminy Christmas, somebody’s got to stick around long enough to water the thing.

The editors have other requests as well:

Though the logistics may be difficult, the church should find a way to recognize models of holiness in men and women who lived “ordinary” lives. These would include: someone other than a saint from the very earliest days of the church (like St. Joseph), someone who was not royalty (like St. Elizabeth of Hungary), a married person who did not found a religious order in later years (like St. Bridget of Sweden), a couple who did not initially plan to live as “brother and sister” while married (like Louis and Zélie Martin), someone who did not found a religious community or social movement (like Dorothy Day)

I agree in principle, but I find myself a little put off by two things. First, so many of these qualifications are expressed in the negative. That’s never a good sign. Second, they seem to be punting responsibility to the Vatican. Don’t the causes of saints typically get their impetus from below? I can’t imagine the head of a Vatican congregation screaming like a Hollywood mogul: “Monsignor! Did someone put retard juice in your grappa? I asked for ordinary. That’s O-R-D-I-N-A-R-Y, as in ‘ordinary time,’ cretino. What do you give me instead? A levitator. Is levitation ordinary? Do you levitate? No, you float, finocchio, but that’s a completely different subject. Now you get out of my office and get me Giuseppe and Giuseppina Six-Pack, or I swear by the shoes of the fisherman, you‘ll never take a siesta in this town again!”

The editors go on to make the point that promoting a cause requires far more in the way of money and technical know-how than most private individuals have access to. Fair enough. Most lay saints gained the patronage of a religious order (the Passionists sponsored Gemma Galgani) or an ecclesial movement (Focolare sponsored brand-new beata Chiara Badano). I suppose I’m just concerned that the bishops and investigators not be swamped. My mother is a saint. Wasn’t everybody’s?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    On behalf of St. Joseph, let me slap some sense into these people.

    So being an ordinary guy who was willing to marry a single mother and raise her child, and live and die in obscurity, and be much neglected (unless people are making ribald jokes about you being cuckoled) doesn’t count because sorry, you lived too early?

    Instead, if you had only had the good sense to be born in the twentieth century, we could appreciate you more! Oh, and be sure you pushed the cause of environmentalism – maybe the first person to successfully invent computer chips out of recycled Chinese takeaway boxes? – or anti-war protests, or you stuck it to The Man in some way, shape or form. A few saints who were editors of radical magazines would be good too – maybe there are a few overlooked toilers in the vineyard of American Catholic magazine publishing who are editors for a periodical with the initials “A” and “M” in the title who are deserving?

    I mean, it’s not like the universal Church already has a feast day on 1st November called “All Saints” to acknowledge all the saints, unknown as well as known, besides following it up the next day with a feast for All Souls who have died in the bosom of the Church, and encouraging people to visit graveyards, pray for their dead, and remember those who have gone before them.

    They may – and probably do – have a point, but wrapping that point up in temporal relevance makes me want to remind them that “Those who marry the Spirit of the Age soon find themselves a widow”. In three hundred years’ time (if God spares us all to last that long), a saint of the 20th century will be just as obscure, quaint and provincial to the folk of that era as the 17th century saints are to us.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m anti-war and pro-environment myself, but rating saints on how ‘relevant’ they are to our current lifestyles instead of how they can encourage us to holiness makes me grind my teeth. And no, I don’t think that having a saint who was Just Like Me necessarily does that any better. Some of the saints who encourage me were nothing like me, and some of the saints (or blessed or venerable) who were like me have nothing that seems to apply to my life.

    Who cares if Elizabeth of Hungary was a queen? The only reason that is important is that in general, the powerful and wealthy and elite don’t care tuppence about the poor. Nowadays, she wouldn’t be going out handing out food to the poor herself; she’d be organising glittering charity galas and thousand-dollars-a-plate fundraising dinners, and be making a big splash in the society pages with the must-be-seen-at philanthropy bash of the year. The actual feeding and clothing of the poor for whom all this glitter and glam is ostensibly for would be done by the little people, the workers very far down the ranks of the charity who don’t get the invites to the society ball.

    The lesson her life still gives is that this isn’t enough. Better for the society philanthropists to emulate Queen Elizabeth of Hungary and carry the food in their own hands, put faces and names to the people for whom they are doing good, know them and have a relationship, rather than patting yourself on the back for your charity work that involves nothing more than mxing with movers and shakers like yourself.

  • Anonymous

    Damn, girl. You smart.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, by the way, my patron, Moseigneur de Sales de Choisy, eveque et prince de Geneve, was a saint of the 17th century. I’m quite attached to him, even if I do sometimes marvel at his resemblance to another relic of that age, a chap named Shakespeare.

  • jkm

    Oy, Max. A couple of editorial notes: (1) Please don’t use terms like “retard juice,” even when putting them in the mouths of humorously fictitious Vatican officials. You’re better than that. (2) Ordinary-as-in-run-of-the-mill is not the same as ordinary-as-in-ordinary-time. You can be excused for not knowing this, because it’s liturgy-geek territory where even cradle Catholics are not at home, but Ordinary Time gets its name not from the lack of major holy days or differently colored liturgical seasons that occur during the Long Green Stretch, but from the fact that the Sundays are known by ordinal numbers–Third, Sixteenth, Twenty-Fourth, etc., Sunday After Pentecost.

    That said, you once again made my day with a priceless gem: “The blood of the martyrs may be the seed of the Church, but Jiminy Christmas, somebody’s got to stick around long enough to water the thing.” Brilliant. Poster worthy. Put it in the file for inclusion in the future Little Flowers of St Max.

    Which brings me to the matter at hand. Sadly, the only way to afford the long and expensive process of advocating canonization is to have been non-ordinary–to have been royalty or the founder of a congregation with coffers large enough and PR mechanisms robust enough to do the promoting. Maybe we non-ordinal-ordinary-people should establish an endowment for the promotion of likely candidates. We could call it the Saint Joseph Fund, after the man who, I agree, was the epitome of ordinary sainthood.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not the liturgy geek you are, but even I know the difference between ordinary and Ordinary. The scene was a farce — I meant for the cardinal’s behavior to look preposterous. If the joke fell flat — ah, well. Try, try again.

    Byt yeah, I agreee. It would be nice if the canonization process could be democratized (read: made cheap), but I don’t see how.

    However, if ever a cgyrcg by me does hold a bake sale to pay for kindly Mrs. So-and-So’s postulator, I’d definitely spring for a cruller.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    “During my zeal-filled neophyte year, I sometimes daydreamed about going off to some faraway land and being killed in odium fidei. Impressed with my bravery, the infidel leader would cry, “Shabash, Max Bahadur! Thou wearest the cross of a Frankish dog, but thou hast the heart of a ghazi!” before taking a Khyber knife to my carotid. Within five years, I’d be beatified, and people like Kathryn Lopez would be writing articles on why I deserved to be raised to the altars, even though I was in so many ways a scumbag.”

    LOLOLOL!!!! Max you are always good for a hearty laugh. Your humor is brilliant. That paragraph is blogging at its best.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    They also miss the point that the whole reason for the long-drawn out (and yes, let’s admit it, expensive) process of investigating a cause is that when you leave it to popular acclaim you get things like St. Christopher the Dog-Headed.

    Also, saying “Everyone knows Jane was a really nice person” is not sufficient grounds for declaring Jane a saint. Or is “America Magazine” not aware that the cardinal virtues are not sufficient for salvation?

    (I will now finish up this rant by waving my stick and yelling “You kids get off my lawn!” I have no idea when I turned into Conservative Religion Woman, but I suppose it was when I hit forty. Oddly enough, my tolerance for wishy-washiness went way down around the same time).

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martha-OKeeffe/100002559433793 Martha O’Keeffe

    I’m an ordinary person who fulfils all the requirements as listed above – not royalty, not married, not a foundress of any kind of religious or social movement, not from the earliest days of the Church.

    I am also most emphatically not a model of holiness. Trust me, you need more for canonisation than “Well, she wasn’t actually known as an axe-murderer”.

    Sometimes ordinary people are just ordinary. And patting us on the heads with sweet condescension by giving us Ordinary Saints Just Like Us puts our status as non-axe murderers in grave danger of being lost.


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