Have you ever noticed how there’s just too damn many saints, popes, royalty and leaders for any person with a reasonable social life to keep track of? I’m even fuzzy about the ones that are still alive, much less the untold hundreds of dead ones that people with a good inner-city education should have at least heard of. Did you know that Attila the Hun was from Hungary? Why did I think Mongolia?
Italy has no shortage of important people that I should at least have passing knowledge about and that’s creating a lot of extra work for me while I expand coverage for the LP book. It seems to me that someone should arrange of all the important people in history and present them all in one neat, chronological list. I realize that this might be more popularly known as ‘a history book’, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Just the really important people, done in a clear timeline, with cross references to other important people they interacted with. The current method of deluging us with information about every idiot that ever wore a crown, fed to us over the course of 18 years of schooling, is not sticking. And no, I will not be the one to compile that list. That’s a Bill Bryson job if I ever heard one. I know my strengths… If it isn’t about traveling or writing or complaining about something or cheap, yummy wine and coffee, I don’t want anything to do with it.
Nevertheless, lately I’ve been obliged to contribute to the array of random history lessons that no one is going to retain for more than five minutes. Last week I had to write a bunch of stuff about St Catherine of Siena, one of Italy’s two patron saints, a patron saint of Europe and an all around Global Saint All Star. Writing a straight piece about a saint was not easy for me, what with my natural tendency for cheeky cynicism and my distrust for pretty much all organized religion – except Buddhism, which as far as I know is the only religion in history that hasn’t sparked widespread wars, violence, ignorance and intolerance. In your face Christianity!!
Before I get into it about St Catherine, let me first say this: saints in general? Not very saintly. It doesn’t take much research and impartial scrutiny to spot disquieting smudges on the repute of most saints, both early in life and even after hitting their saintly peak. Take St Francis of Assisi. Although it’s usually glossed over, he was a ne’er do well trustifarian (trust fund baby cum hippie) that screwed around while he was young and buggered off to party and sow his wild oats on the Crusades in early adulthood. Back in Assisi he was such a public pain the ass that he’d have certainly been the victim of an ‘accidental drawing and quartering’ if he didn’t have rich kid immunity. It wasn’t until daddy finally threatened to cut him off that he found religion. And even then he and his crew just ‘gallivanted through Umbria, preaching to birds’. And he supposedly got the stigmata? How do we know he didn’t just get super drunk one night and stumble through a window?
Worse was St Rita of Cascia. OK, she started out with the right saintly intentions, she’d always wanted to go into the convent, but her parents forced her into marriage with a rich, abusive older man. He was eventually croaked by locals, as was the custom for dealing with irritating neighbors in the good ol’ days. OK, she might have had nothing to do with her husband being offed, but soon after her young and healthy twin sons somehow both died of “natural causes” within a few months of each other? And like ten minutes later she was at the convent like she’d always wanted? Hmm… If that happened today, there’d certainly be an inquiry or two. An autopsy, a car chase in LA, a circus-like televised trial, a million dollar book deal…
But let’s get back to St Catherine. She didn’t party out or bear witness several mysterious deaths in her immediate family, but she was unquestionably frea-kay. Apparently as a small child she liked to run out into the street and kiss the ground that Franciscans had walked on. At age seven she ‘consecrated her virginity to Christ’. She what???? Where were her parents while this was going on? Something like that would so end up on Springer if it happened today. Hell, I didn’t know what the crap ‘virginity’ was when I was seven, much less have the wherewithal to consecrate it to anyone! Well, maybe Wonder Woman…
At 18 she assumed the life of a Dominican Tertiary. She somehow felt this excused her from pretty much everything. No job, no helping around the house… She just hung out in the basement ‘focused on devotion’ and experiencing ‘ecstasies’. You know what we call that today, don’t you? ‘Playing computer games’ and ‘tripping balls’. She was noted for fasting and living solely on the ‘Blessed Sacrament’, better known now as ‘take-out pizza and cheap wine’. She never even bothered going to school, because apparently she didn’t learn to write until she was in her 30s. Is scholastic truancy a sin?
After a ‘series of visions set in Hell, Purgatory and Heaven’ (i.e. ‘bad trip’), she started to come around. Finally, possibly out of sheer boredom, she came out of the basement. Since her family and friends were all pissed off at her for years of laze and anti-social behavior, she had little choice but to go hang out with the sick and poor (we called them ‘burnouts’ in high school). Since they didn’t judge her for ‘keeping it real’, she eventually just moved in with them, helped feed and cure them and the saintly mystique was born.
She also spent much of her life writing letters to royalty and popes, chastising them for their behavior. Much like the paranoid, activist, conspiracy theorist cookies of today.
So what have we learned here? If you totally bomb as a parent and your kid retreats to the basement for a few years of getting stoned and first-person, shoot-em-up “Xboxstacies”, there’s still hope! Just wait them out. They’ll probably shake it off in their 20s, eventually move out and settle into an underachieving, scattered, but harmless lifestyle. Then, in two hundred years, some pope with a sketchy, biased account of their lives will canonize them and you post-mortemly become the greatest parents on earth! Well, until some smart-ass, heathen travel writer decides to zing you…