I’ll Fly Away

He comes from a family so poor that his widowed mother had to live in a stable where the saint was born. There’s an elbow in the ribs to the people who think it’s wonderful to be rich and powerful. He lived a life of constant and severe austerity and penance. There’s a rude gesture to all the people so pleasured out by sex and drugs and materialistic hedonism that they’re lying nauseous at sated like a fat hog. He’s persecuted by his superiors, banned from services and appearing in public. His brothers can’t jolt him from his mystical ecstasies even by poking him with a needle or burning him. Only the command of his superior shakes him. There’s one in the eye for those who value ‘self expression’ and scream in horror at the idea of obedience. Then he tops it all by levitating and floating up to the ceiling during Mass, and not only that, takes the pope with him for a little flight of fancy.

It’s all terrific fun. Furthermore, it annoys the heck out of the materialists, secularist, utilitarians, atheists and all the other dull and yawn inducing people in our society. It means that weird things happen. Here’s an article I wrote some time ago musing on the way we consider supernatural goings on in the Catholic Church. It’s pretty simple really. We admit that unexplainable things occur. We look for every natural explanation first, and then we shrug our shoulders and say, “Weird things happen.” It doesn’t prove God or the faith or that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the second person of the Divine Trinity. It just means weird things happen.

That is to say, reality is rubbery. Things are not as firmly set as we thought. The unexpected occurs. If this is the case, then we should be more alert and alive and curious and not cautious. We should be on the lookout for something odd and expect the unexpected. Another case happily comes up on today’s feast, which is that of St Januarius. Januarius was a bishop who was martyred in the persecutions of Diocletian in the year 305. His skull and other relics are in a cathedral in Italy and his blood is in a phial which is still brought out every year so the faithful can watch it liquify. You can learn about it here. No one is quite certain what is going on with the liquefaction of the blood of St Januarius, but it is presented (and will be today no doubt) to the faithful as “just one of those things.”

. Some of the more Protestant and cynical among us trouble themselves to disprove it all, doubt and heap scorn upon the foolish ignorant peasants who believe such thing. I happen to admire the nonchalance and insouciance of Catholics when presented with such wonders and such doubt. They look blandly at the raging cynic and shake their head sadly. “Why bother to dispute and disprove such things?” They seem to say. They operate according to another way of seeing. Their world is a different one from the world of the cynical doubter.

I’m cheerfully on their side. I’m with St Joseph of Cupertino and all the angels who the fat prophet said could fly because they take themselves lightly. I’m with the old ladies who weep and wail and ask for the blood of St Januarius to liquefy. I’m with them all because I would rather be guilty of believing too much than too little. When I get to the gates of glory, if St Peter says, “Look you were a bit gullible down there. You went for all those weeping Madonnas, those incorrupt saints and flying monks…” I’d like to hold up my hand, admit my fault and say, “You’re right. I was somewhat of a fool. I believed it all. I hope you will forgive me. Not only would I rather have been guilty of believing too much than too little, but it was really rather more fun than being a cynic.”