Sainthood is in the news lately. Mary McKillop is now officially St. Mary of the Cross. The Sunday Age even had a poster of her like they do with football players. Despite being born and spent my childhood where Catholicism was ‘the norm’ in Italy I have lapsed quite a long time ago. Catholicism has moulded the culture of Italy but this doesn’t mean that it is a devout country, quite the opposite I think. While I dislike intensely the interference of the Church in Italian affairs I don’t have that intense hatred for the Church that someone like Catherine Deveney seems to have. Maybe is because my parents, while exposing me to the Church (I have been baptised and confirmed) never forced me to go to church, and unlike many ex-Catholics in Australia I didn’t go to a Catholic school (despite some attempts by the Church in Italy education is a mainly state run enterprise) so I didn’t get that pent up of resentment that seems to fuel anti-Catholicism which borders on hate. Look at this example in today’s Age letters to the editor:
The behaviour of the Australian media and our politicians in this has been shameful; the coverage given to this tedious non-event would seem to belie the previously assumed notion of Australia as a secular, pluralistic society. What century are we living in when those who claim to speak for all Australia are falling over each other to prostrate themselves before the Vatican, all critical faculties suspended for mindless, joyous rapture? Remember just a few months ago when the horrific scale of the Catholic Church’s child abuse became known? Have we all forgotten that institution’s myriad sins just because of a shiny prize being dangled in front our faces?
As I said, I am no fan of the Catholic Church, but surely why this hate towards an event that really lasted only a couple of day?
A great article which explains very much about I feel about this (but expressed much better than I could have) was written in the Drum by Scott Bridges (although I define myself as a Possibilian rather than an Atheist).
Is it rational to ignore and diminish the positive aspects of religion just because there are negative aspects? Sure, the Catholic Church, as an organisation and a collection of individuals, has been responsible for many terrible crimes through the years (as have most, if not all, organised religions), but churches and their non-Christian counterparts also do an awful lot of good for people and communities around the world. For every paedophile there are thousands of hard-working clergy whose only mission is to improve others’ lives. Is it rational to hate this?
So when I saw images of happy Australian Catholics in Rome I thought good on them. I hope they went to some of the Caffè there because the coffee is absolutely fantastic….but I digress. Whether St Mary of the Cross did intervene and cured people of terminal disease it doesn’t really matter. If people want to believe it that’s fine. After all it can’t be rationally believed that a human being representing God in human form was born by immaculate conception, died in excruciating circumstances on a cross but returned to life three days later and ascended to heaven. But that is faith, and if people want to believe that that’s their choice. I still think that Jesus Christ is still an important person even if he was mortal like us. His re-enforcement of the ethic of reciprocity (which was not new when he said it) of ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ is important. And important that he extended this not only to people we liked, but also to those we disliked is powerful concept, and something that it rarely practiced, even amongst avowed Christians and religious dogma that prefer a punitive approach to religion rather than a loving and understanding one.
Personally I am thankful that the Church has commissioned and inspired great works of art, especially music. For instance the Ambrosian Chants (who were performed in my hometime in Milan around the 8th century AD) are incredibly powerful (watch this youtube video as an example). And another religious music composer that is one of my favourite is Tomás Luis de Victoria (here is another youtube video of his music). But this blog is about saints. At my desk at work I got pictures of my top saints. That’s because even if I may not believe in miracles, I like the iconography and they are relevant to me. So here they are:
Saint Jerome and Saint Lawrence – Patron saints of Librarians.
As a librarians I got two saints! Saint Jerome gets the gig as the second most voluminous writer (after St. Augustine) in ancient Christianity (according to Wikipedia). While St. Lawrence was ordained a deacon and was placed in charge of the administration of Church goods and care for the poor. For this duty, he is regarded as one of the first archivists and treasurers of the Church and was made the patron of librarians. As an early Christian in Rome he was killed in the usual truculent way ancient Romans tended to invent to create most pain and suffering. They built a iron grid, lit a fire underneath and literally grilled him to death. Apparently while he was on the grate he said something like stating something along the lines of, “turn me over … I’m done on this side”. That is why he is also the patron saint of cooks. True. Who says that Catholics have no sense of humor? And that is why when he is portrayed in art there is a grill next to him, as you can see from the picture above.
Saint Clare of Assisi
Italy has two patron saints, and both come from the same town. St Francis of Assisi, which many will know, but also Saint Clare of Assisi. She followed a Franciscan way of life which was very simple and miles away from the pomp and riches of the Vatican. Also Pope Pius XII designated her as the patron saint of television in 1958, on the basis that when she was too ill to attend Mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room. So she has to be one of my favourite saints. Patron saint of the nation where I was born but also of one of my favourite activities.
St. Isidore of Seville
St. Isidore should technically not be on the top saints list because he is not an ‘official’ patron, but amongst the cyberspace he is the titular patron of the internet, and as such he is here.
He was the creator of the first primitive database, Etymologiae, (Etymologies) a 20-volume encyclopedia on subjects ranging from art and animals to history and mathematics. Religious and virtual Web communities in Spain have taken him as their patron and why not? However despite his undoubtedly importance as an intellectual and the fact that he may be the patron of something I use and like I don’t know whether I would like him that much and maybe we can pick someone else. He called for the forced removal of Jewish children from the parents and their education by Christians and forbidding Jews and Christians of Jewish origin from holding public office. If he has to represent a phenomenon which represent freedom and exchange of ideas maybe Isidore doesn’t really fit the bill.