The eve of Saint Blaise

The eve of Saint Blaise

Today is Candlemas, when the Catholic Church blesses the candles to be used during its liturgy. Tomorrow is the feast-day of Saint Blaise, patron of ailments of the throat. Some churches still do the Blessing of the Throat, in which the priest uses the newly-blessed candles to bless the throats of congregants.



Saints become patrons in peculiar ways. Clare had a vision on the wall in front of her and became the patroness of television. Joseph of Cupertino levitated helplessly, yelping and crying, and became the patron of aviators. Blaise miraculously made a child cough up a fishbone, thus making him Mister Throat.




The Church asks and answers the question: Why doesn’t God always cure ailments of the throat, even if you pray for it? Why doesn’t he cure everything, while he’s at it? It’s a mystery.




Mystery schmystery. It’s still a pretty good question.




Disclosure: Partner gave a Saint Blaise medal last year, which I carry with me religiously, you should pardon the expression.




What could it hurt?

The heresy test

heresy test

Once upon a time, when the Internet was young – approximately 1996 – I had a funny little website which drew no traffic at all. (Almost like today!) It was mostly a nice way for me to practice writing HTML. I posted jokes, and had a family-history section.

I also had a nice heresy test.

It was very simple: five questions, multiple-choice. You were expected to answer from the dogmatically established Roman Catholic point of view. Otherwise, the test threw you out. You were a heretic and bound to burn in hell unless you renounced your heretical beliefs.

Here’s a sample question:



The Blessed Virgin Mary was the mother of Jesus. Jesus was, of course, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, which means he was God. If you follow this line of thinking, you will probably realize that this makes Mary (a human being) the mother of God (who is eternal).



How can a mother be younger than her own son?



A: Oh, to hell with logic. Mary is the Mother of God. Period. End of story.


B: Mary was the mother of the human part of Jesus. She’s not the mother of God; that wouldn’t be logical.


C: Mary is the mother of Jesus in some sense of the word, but not in every sense of the word. We shouldn’t try to define these things too precisely.

The correct answer is A. This was established (with some strife) at two Church councils: the “robber’s council” of Ephesus in 449, which claimed B to be correct, and the Council of Chalcedon in 451 (only two years later!) which reversed Ephesus and laid the Church’s path to the present day.

Did you get the question right?

I didn’t think so.

Burn in hell, heretic.

Kooky konklave


The Pope (as you probably know) resigned recently. Well, he sort of resigned. The Vatican announced the other day that he will be “Pope Emeritus,” and will continue to be addressed as “His Holiness.” In other words: he’s not giving up very much of his beloved privilege.

Except, of course, he won’t be in charge of the Holy Roman Catholic Church anymore. So he won’t be responsible for what happens from here on.

When he acceded to the Papacy some years ago, his questionable background – Hitler Youth? – was known to all. Christians were expected to forgive him for this. Also, he’d been John Paul II’s right-hand man for a long time and it was expected – expected! – that he would succeed John Paul II as Pope.

Well, Joseph Ratzinger got his wish, and became Pope at the age of 78. He wanted an old-fashioned Medieval papacy, sitting on the throne, making occasional pronouncements. He got a modern papacy, presiding over a church awash with scandal: financial, sexual, quasi-political. Every day brings a new scandal. A Scottish cardinal has agreed to stay away from the conclave electing the new Pope. An American cardinal has, contrariwise, refused to stay away, though he’s accused (along with a Mexican cardinal) of moving pedophile priests from post to post. Then there’s the Vatican butler who released papers last year. There was nothing really dreadful in those papers, but there’s always the suggestion that there’s something terrible in the wings, just waiting to be revealed.

According to Malachy’s list, the next pope – Benedict XVI’s successor – is the last.

I hope so.

The Catholic Church is worn out. It’s time for something different.

This week in the Papacy


It was big news the other day when we heard that old Benedict XVI had resigned. “Are you getting ready?” a coworker asked me. “Ready to be summoned to Rome?”

“If called,” I said modestly. “Who am I to ignore a summons from Holy Mother Church?”

Let’s not even worry about why Benedict is resigning; we’ll never know the real reason in any case. (I’m assuming the “age and feebleness” rationale being advanced by the Vatican is a big fat lie; he became Pope at the age of 78, and he wasn’t exactly a spry little bunny in those days either.) It’s fun to theorize about scandal, hidden secrets, blackmail, etc., etc., but it will end up being one of the Mysteries of Church History, like Pope Joan and the throne with the big hole in the seat.

The word is that there’s already a top contender, Cardinal Angelo Scola, to wear the Shoes of the Fisherman. The current Pope (soon to be Herr Ratzinger again) has apparently given him his blessing. We will see how well this works. (Two Africans and a Canadian are in contention too, but – I mean really – is the Church ready for a Canadian?)

To be honest, I’d love to be Pope, for about a billion reasons. The hats alone would make me deliriously happy.  I love being chauffeured around. I’ve always thought candles and incense dress up a place.

And then there’d be all the fun I could have with Church dogma. I have a couple of ex cathedra statements ready for my first couple of weeks – priesthood for women, marriage for priests, etc. It’s time to shake some of the cobwebs off the Church; the Second Vatican Council was a nice start, but it didn’t go anywhere near far enough, and the last two Popes did everything they could to take the church back to the way it was before Vatican II.

You might think it’s unrealistic of me to think I’d be made Pope, given that I’m not in holy orders. Not a problem! Any baptized Roman Catholic man is eligible. See?

Best of all, I could probably figure out a way to pre-canonize myself, so that I’d go straight from the Papacy to the Litany of the Saints upon my expiration.

I tell you: if there were a Pope like me, I might actually become a practicing Catholic again.

Teaching children to belittle gay people


John Jackson, the president of Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island (which describes itself on its website as a “Catholic, all male, college preparatory high school”) wrote a letter to the editors of the Providence Journal the other day.

The letter contains no real surprises. Jackson (in line with his church) condemns gay marriage, and says that President Obama is assisting in the continuing moral decay of our great country by countenancing gay marriage. He calls gay activity “disordered and immoral.” He resorts to the old “hate the sin, not the sinner” ploy: same-sex love is okay, but gay sexual activity is not, since it doesn’t lead to procreation.  He ends the letter with this grave pronouncement: “As the song goes, ‘God is watching us,’ and I can assure you he is not happy.”



(How does he know this? I wonder. How do these bejeezly idiots always know for sure what God is thinking?)






Well, this Church flunky is getting his face rubbed in it. Parents and alumni of Hendricken are slamming him in print and on Facebook. The point made most often is that his letter comes pretty close to hate speech, and that he is helping to create a negative atmosphere for gay students at Hendricken. (Assuming, of course, there are some. Gosh! Do you think that’s possible?)



Jackson, on Saturday, apologized for the tone of his letter. Not for his message, mind you, but for his tone.



The Church still doesn’t understand a thing. They don’t realize that “Catholic priest” has become a virtual synonym for “pedophile” in the public mind, and that Catholic prelates, as portrayed in movies and TV these days, are shown in the same way that Nazi officers were portrayed back in my childhood: stupid, pompous, mindlessly bureaucratic, and cruel.



Jackson thought (I assume) that he was helping reaffirm morality and good behavior. He did nothing of the sort. He showed himself to be a bigot. And I tell you, if there are any incidents of anti-gay bullying on the Hendricken campus this year, we will hear about them, and little Mister Jackson will be roasted properly. (He will probably be protected by his Catholic-prelate bosses, up to a point. But he’s a layman, so they’ll probably toss him out on his ear if it goes too far.)



(This is a link, by the way, to the song he referred to above, with the lyric “God is watching us.” It’s a beautiful lyrical song, sung by Bette Midler, about how local and sectarian differences break down when viewed from far away, and that God looks down from Heaven and loves us all. Funny how Jackson got a different message from it.)



Finally: let’s remember (as Stephen Colbert reminded us recently) that the Jesus portrayed in the New Testament said not word one about homosexuality.



The Jesus of the New Testament did, however, say the following:


Mark 10:14 Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.15 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16 And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

Mt 18:6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 

Mt 18:10 Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. 

Mt 18:14 Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Mr 9:42 And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea. 

Lu 17:2 It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 



Now let us think about the Church’s record on pedophilia, and the way in which they continue to protect pedophile priests, and the way they treated young girls in Ireland. Let’s add to the list the fact that John Jackson, President of Bishop Hendricken High School, is telling his students – children! – that gay people are “disordered and immoral,” thus encouraging a hostile environment for gay students at his school.



He is teaching children to hate other children.



Better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck.

Interdict in Wisconsin, AD 2012


First of all, a disclaimer. I converted to Catholicism in 1975, while I was attending a Catholic college. Like most modern American Catholics, I have run hot and cold on the Church over the (many) years since then. About six or seven years ago, I decided to give the faith one more try: I attended a downtown Mass almost every day at lunchtime, and even joined my local parish.  I found that it was more than enough, and that I couldn’t do it. There was just too much dissonance: so many good people trying to believe so many ridiculous things. I couldn’t bear to look at it anymore, and I left.






There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about a parish in Wisconsin which is going through a miniature civil war. Some years ago, a couple of ultra-conservative priests were sent in to bring the local parishioners (considered to be a little too free-thinking) to heel. Four hundred of the parish’s nine hundred parishioners signed a petition to get rid of the new priests. The new priests were backed by the local bishop, who is now (gently) threatening the parishioners with interdict.



What’s interdict? you ask. Ah yes. I last remember reading about it in a book of English history: Pope Innocent III put all of England under interdict, back around the year 1200. In brief, it’s religious quarantine. Within the interdicted area, you cannot get married (as a Catholic), buried (as a Catholic), baptized (as a Catholic), et cetera.



Are you as amused by this as I am?



I am not an English peasant circa 1200. I am not frightened of a bishop throwing imaginary thunderbolts.



And here’s the thing of it: this was the Wall Street Journal reporting on this story. On one hand, the WSJ is a very conservative rag; it’s all about money, and tends to side (in a genteel way) with the whole Fox/right-wing coalition (no surprise, since the WSJ is owned by Murdoch, who also owns Fox).  So the article is careful not to portray the priests and the Church hierarchy as anything but poor misunderstood bosses and owners.



However: the local parish is losing money. Church attendance is down one-third. Donations are way down. The parish is being forced to close its school.



And income is, after all, the bottom line.



So the hierarchy is trying to threaten the parishioners back into the church.



I say, without any intent at irony: dear Jesus.



I was discussing this with one of my student workers the other day. She was born Catholic, but has (like me) grown away from the Church, largely because of its various social attitudes – toward women, toward contraception, toward a couple of other issues. She was incredulous. “So the Church is basically saying that they’re going to fire their parishioners,” she said.  “I know what I’d do. Just what I’d do if it were a job. I’d quit before they fired me.”



Which is exactly what many of the parishioners are doing, evidently.



Let’s finish with some of Stevie Smith’s poetry:



The religion of Christianity

Is mixed of sweetness and cruelty

Reject this Sweetness, for she wears

A smoky dress out of hell fires.


Who makes a god? Who shows him thus?

It is the Christian religion does.

Oh, oh, have none of it,

Blow it away, have done with it.


This God the Christians show,

Out with him, out with him, let him go.





Catholics have an entire pantheon of saints to cover just about every contingency.  The attributions get pretty comical at times.   My name-saint, Lawrence, for example, was burnt to death on a gridiron; he is, therefore, usually shown holding what looks like a barbecue grill, and he is the patron saint of cooks and chefs.



Isn’t that lovely?



Then there’s Joseph of Cupertino, who may or may not have been mentally challenged, but who apparently levitated around the monastery, although he didn’t really enjoy it very much.  Of whom is he the patron?  Why, pilots and aviators, of course!



And Clare of Assisi, the onetime girlfriend of Saint Francis, who lay on her sickbed longing to see Francis perform the Mass, and who had a vision of it on the wall of her cell.  And of what is she the patroness?  Television.




What about Isidore of Seville (one of four siblings, all of whom were proclaimed saints)?  Why, he’s the patron of the Internet.  (He wrote a book called “The Etymologies,” a pre-Internet collection of information more or less like a database.)



For a long time I carried a medal of Saint Dymphya on my keychain.  Dymphna was an Irish maiden whose father lusted after her; she fled to Belgium, but her papa chased her and lopped her head off.  The church dedicated to her in Belgium cared for the mentally infirm, and the water from Dymphna’s well guaranteed peace of mind. 



She is the patroness of those with mental illness.



(Why do I care about all this?  I stopped being a card-carrying Catholic a while back.  But I am still fascinated by these things.)



(Do I still have my Saint Dymphna medal, I wonder?  It couldn’t hurt to carry it with me.  Because you never know.)



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